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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021

Committee (9th Day) (Continued)

Debate on Amendment 224 resumed.

My Lords, I will speak to the amendments to which I put my name in this group, which are in the names also of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but before I do so I will make a few remarks about two amendments that I have not put my name to but now see clearly that I should have done, namely Amendments 226A and 226B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top. These amendments address a part of the Bill that makes one potentially subject to a serious violence reduction order for what one “ought to have known”. The noble Baroness dealt with it from the point of view of its equalities implication when she spoke to her amendments. I will deal with it from the point of view of its absurdity.

What ought one to know? Your Lordships’ House is full of astonishingly complicated rules about which carpet you can and cannot stand on, what date you have to put amendments down by and things like that. As a relatively recent Peer, I have spent most of the last year wandering around the place wondering what I ought to know. Is that a basis for culpability of some sort? How is it to be established? I am not a lawyer at all and I have no experience of the criminal justice system, but it is surely hard enough to establish in court as a matter of evidential fact what a particular person knew or did not know, let alone what they ought to have known. This is all to be worked out by a judge, without the benefit of the wisdom of a jury, with no particular guidance and no idea what “ought to have known” means. The whole thing is completely absurd. The idea that one should have one’s liberties restricted simply because of what one “ought to have known” should be taken out of the Bill. These amendments would effect that and I lend my support to them.

On the amendments to which I have put my name, noble Lords have already made the case extremely well. We need to start with a clear understanding that a serious violence reduction order is a criminal sanction. It is nothing less. We cannot make it the same as civil penalties. This all started back in the 1990s when parking offences were decriminalised. In my service as a local councillor, I benefited hugely from that. It was a tremendous idea and worked extremely well, but we cannot then carry on applying the same principle. An SVRO is not a parking ticket; it is a potentially serious restriction on your liberties that travels with you and, if you are a young person, stigmatises you, if are trying to make your way in university or wherever you might move to around the country, by making you go and register and so on. This is not a parking ticket; it is very much more serious.

The rest of the amendments that I have put my name to in this group essentially try, as noble Lords have said, to match the criminal standard of the offence to the process that is followed. The evidence should be of a kind that is admissible in the criminal court. The standard of proof should be beyond a reasonable doubt and not on the balance of probabilities. The evidence in the proceedings that follow the criminal trial without the benefit of a jury should be led either by the prosecution, or by the defence, and not by random interlopers who might present themselves in court.

That may not be the Government’s intention—and I would be very happy to get my noble friend’s assurance that it is not—but as drafted it is perfectly possible that this hearing could turn into some sort of multiagency case conference, with all sorts of people turning up to give evidence to the judge as to whether a serious violence reduction order should be imposed. The whole process of fairness and balance would rely on the good sense of the judge. I am confident that that would be evident, but how much better would it be for everybody—indeed, for the judge—if he was working with the tried and tested processes of a criminal prosecution, using the evidence and the adversarial form that he is used to? That would give a much more just outcome if these orders are proceeded with.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has said, before the break we moved to the highly controversial area of serious violence reduction orders, and I moved Amendment 224 on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I then gave way to the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, who has to chair a Select Committee at this time. Then I sat down. That is why I am now standing.

We have tried to make this group more manageable by restricting it to the considerations for granting SVROs by the courts, and related matters, and moving what happens once an order has been granted to another group. It is still, however, an enormous and complex set of amendments. So, to misquote Captain Lawrence Oates, I may be some time.

This section of the Bill gives the police power to stop and search people without any reasonable suspicion that they may be in possession of anything unlawful. Its origins are in the Conservative party manifesto, which says:

“Police will be empowered to target known knife carriers with a new court order, making it easier for officers to stop and search those known in the past to have carried weapons.”

That statement seems to regard all knives as weapons. On the face of it, chefs and Sikhs, to take but two examples of innocent knife carriers, could be targeted with the new court order. Surely what the public, reading this part of the manifesto, would have been hoping for, is that the police would target criminals who have carried knives intending to use them illegally as weapons, or who have used knives in the commission of an offence, not just anyone “known to be a knife carrier”.

Furthermore, would the public have expected that, if you were with someone when you were caught committing an offence, and the other person—your accomplice—had a knife concealed on them, you too would be regarded as a “known knife carrier”, even though you were not carrying a knife? There may be a convention that we should not stand in the way of provisions set out in a governing party’s manifesto, but when they are as poorly drafted as the few lines the Government are relying on to include serious violence reduction orders in the Bill, perhaps we should make an exception.

These measures are controversial for many reasons, but two fundamental principles are breached here. The first is the use of previous convictions, as my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames said before the break. When an accused person is before a court that is to decide their guilt or innocence, in almost every case the accused’s previous criminal record is not considered relevant to whether, on the occasion the court is considering, they committed the offence. Convicted criminals have to be given the chance to turn their lives around and to move on.

The provisions in this part of the Bill allow the police to stop and search people because, at some time in the past, on the balance of probabilities, even based on hearsay, they, or someone they were with, may have had a knife on them. Unlike convictions that become spent after a period of time—the Government are making some welcome changes in this regard in another part of the Bill and unwelcome changes when it comes to cautions—these serious violence reduction orders can be renewed indefinitely. The individual could have a stop and search target on their back for the rest of their life.

The second fundamental principle, that could only be breached in very limited circumstances in a limited geographic area for a limited period of time and authorised by a senior police officer—although we think Section 60 should be abolished—is that the police can stop and search someone only if they reasonably believe that the person has something on them at the time of the stop and search that they should not have, whether it is drugs—usually it is, as 63% of stop and searches are for drugs—or something else that it is unlawful for them to have in their possession.

The trouble is that the overwhelming majority of stop and searches result in no further action being taken, but you are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than if you are white, even when it is supposedly based on reasonable suspicion. As noble Lords heard in answer to an Oral Question earlier, it gets even worse. Only one in 100 Section 60 “no suspicion required” stop and searches results in a weapon being found, while disproportionality increases to 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black compared with if you are white. It might also be useful for the Committee to note that, on stop and search based on suspicion where you are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black, you are no more likely to have anything illegal on you than a white person.

The evidence is irrefutable; stop and search, where no reasonable suspicion that the person you are searching has anything illegal on them is required, is ineffective and damaging to police-community relations. Yet here we are, with the Government are proposing more suspicionless stop and search. It is not just about damaging police-community relations. For those repeatedly stopped and searched by the police, there is a personal impact. It tends to increase offending, is associated with anxiety, the loss of sleep and the ability to study, which further inhibits an individual’s ability to turn their life around and be a productive member of society.

Turning to Amendments 224, 227 and 237, as my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames has said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has just said, for any order that has serious consequences—in terms of a breach of the order resulting in a criminal conviction and potentially a prison sentence—the court should be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the conditions necessary for the order to be imposed are satisfied, not, as the Bill proposes, on the balance of probabilities. We have consistently argued this for other such orders, and I do not intend to rehearse those arguments today.

It is obvious to any reasonable person that, before such a serious order can be imposed, the court must be absolutely convinced that the conditions for making the order are satisfied, whether, in the case of Amendment 224, the offender had a knife, or, as in Amendment 227, it is necessary to make the order to protect the public or particular members of the public or to prevent an offence being committed involving a knife, or, in the case of Amendment 237, that the court considers beyond reasonable doubt that it is necessary to renew or lengthen the duration of an SVRO. Amendment 228, in my name, ensures that an SVRO can be imposed only if the court is satisfied that it is a proportionate way to ensure that people are protected or offences involving knives are prevented.

As we can see, these are draconian orders; they are likely to be ineffective based on evidence of other suspicionless stop and searches and to disproportionately impact on ethnic minorities. This amendment is designed to ensure that courts take these unintended negative consequences into account before imposing them.

Carrying a knife is not a criminal offence. The criminal offence is committed only when the knife is carried without reasonable excuse or lawful authority. Amendment 225 would disallow a serious violence reduction order from being applied if a person simply had a knife with them when the offence was committed.

I will illustrate with a fictitious example. Two louts are walking down a road. One of them smashes the window of a car that has been parked and left unattended. They are both arrested and charged with criminal damage. The active participant is found to have had a knife with him because he is an electrician who was on his way home from work, and he uses the knife in the course of his work. He could still have an SVRO made against him, under the Bill as drafted, even though he was lawfully in possession of the knife. Amendment 225 is designed to restrict SVROs to cases where the knife was used as a weapon in the course of the offence.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, and my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames have said, the legal concept of “joint enterprise” is already controversial—for example, where members of a gang who are present when one of the gang stabs another can all be guilty of murder. This is taken to another level by these provisions. The court should not be able to give the accomplice an SVRO—to go back to the manifesto, someone who is not a known knife carrier. That is the intention of Amendment 226, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, to which I have added my name.

Not only can an SVRO be given to the electrician’s mate even if the electrician did not use the knife to smash the car window, it can be given if his mate

“knew or ought to have known”

that he had a knife. Well, he knew he was an electrician, so I suppose he should have known he might have had a knife. No. We support Amendments 226A and 226B tabled by the noble Baroness, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, seeking to remove the condition that the offender

“ought to have known”

that his accomplice had a knife. The noble Baroness clearly explained the unintended consequences for women and girls who are often coerced into offending.

SVROs can be made not only on the balance of probabilities but on the flimsiest of evidence. For example, even if the evidence that the person had a knife with them when the offence was committed would not have been admissible in the trial for the offence, it could be used in deciding whether to impose an SVRO.

Let us go back to the example of the electrician and his mate who have smashed a car window. Imagine that, for whatever reason—perhaps it was his day off—the electrician did not actually have a knife with him when he smashed the car window, but then his mate says to the police, “He’s an electrician, and he usually has a knife”. This is hearsay evidence and it is not relevant evidence, in that it does not prove or disprove the offence of the smashing of the car window. Therefore, it would be inadmissible during the trial. But, as drafted, it is evidence that could be considered by the court in deciding whether to impose an SVRO. It may not even be true. Amendments 229, 230 and 231 attempt to strengthen the evidentiary requirements prior to an SVRO being made by excluding evidence that would have been inadmissible in the trial for the offence leading to the consideration of imposing an SVRO.

Amendment 240 proposes a far more rigorous examination of the piloting of SVROs—for example, whether they reduce knife carrying and serious violence; the impact on disproportionality; what types of offences led to the making of the order; and requiring the Secretary of State to obtain, record and publish relevant data before SVROs are rolled out.

The nonsense of this monstrous Bill, where the Government have tried to force so much controversial legislation into one Bill, and then tried to force as many provisions of the Bill as possible into each group of amendments, has resulted in my longest ever speech on the Floor of this House in my eight years here. Do not blame me—I am looking at the Minister.

If I am to end my speech here, all I can ask is for noble Lords to read my remarks on this group of amendments in their entirety in the official record and to take them collectively as the reasons why this clause, and serious violence reduction orders in their totality, should not stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I was listening with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It was a very good contribution and he raised a huge number of real concerns shared by many noble Lords across the Chamber. The question for the Government is whether they will actually listen to some of the points being made and change the legislation. In the light of some of the comments made by the noble Lord and by many others across the Chamber, I hope that they will. Irrespective of one’s view of this, there is a need for the orders to change; even if one disagrees with them as a whole, they need to be improved, and that is the point of Committee.

To be fair to the Government, I understand what they are trying to do. Noble Lords will know that I am not a lawyer, but I go to the facts to find things out, and I usually find it helpful to quote the Government’s own facts because then they do not accuse me of making them up. So I will quote from the Serious Violence Reduction Orders: Draft Statutory Guidance, of October 2021. Here we see the scale of the problem. According to the Government, these orders are needed because

“Recorded knife crime has risen over a period of several years.”

These are the Government’s own figures:

“For example, offences involving knives or sharp instruments increased by 84 percent between the year to June 2014 and the year to June 2020.”

Whatever the reasons or the rights and wrongs, that is a huge increase.

The public, and all of us, would expect the Government to do something about that, but the questions being posed here are these. First, are serious violence reduction orders the way to do it? Secondly, even if they are, are the Government going about it in a sensible way? I would say that the answer to both is probably no.

There are a huge number of concerns about these serious violence reduction orders, not least of which is, if you have a serious problem with knife crime, what has been shown to be successful over the decades—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will know this from his policing days, and others have had experience of this, including the Minister in her local authority—is targeting police activity alongside the community, with all the various agencies diverting people, and young people in particular, away from it. That has been proven time and again. If the Minister goes back to the Home Office, she will find research after research to say that that is the way to deal with it: increase policing, work with local authorities and other local partners, and work with the community to take action.

I tell you what I think has happened: the Government have said, “My goodness, we have a real problem here, what are we going to do?”, and reached for an order which gives the impression of doing something. Of course, everyone wants the Government to do something—all of us want knife crime reduced—but is this the most effective and best way of doing it? Is this proportionate? Will it work? I have very serious concerns about the process but also about whether these orders will actually do what the Government, and all of us, want them to do, which is to reduce knife crime and stop people of whatever age offending. The Minister needs to explain why these will work. Why will they do what the Government intend? Will we read in a year or two that that 84% figure has been reduced?

Nobody in this House believes that stop and search is not a necessary action for the police to take at certain times, but it is the most controversial aspect of policing. I am sure that many people will have experienced or witnessed—it may not have been themselves personally—stop and search. It is a real infringement of people’s liberty, but communities accept it for the common good. That does not mean that they want it to happen carte blanche. The use of Section 60 is sometimes allowed, and communities will agree with it, but Section 60s do not last for two years. They last for a very short period, where the community has agreed that such is the crisis facing their particular area that, when it comes to whatever age of people, they will allow the police to have what they regard as a draconian power in order to further the public good.

The Government have driven a coach and horses through that with this serious violence reduction order. It is not just me who thinks this: the former Home Secretary and Prime Minister, Theresa May, talked in her contribution to this debate about the unintended consequences of this legislation and what she would have wanted. That is why my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has indicated that he will oppose Clause 140 standing part of the Bill. A general debate needs to take place and the Government need to justify to this House and to the public why this clause will work and why it is necessary.

We have heard lots of contributions on the various amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, but nobody could have failed to have been moved by what my noble friend Lady Armstrong said. She was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in another good contribution, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. As they pointed out, everybody knows that what my noble friend Lady Armstrong said is true: if this Bill goes through unamended, there will be young people—and people of any age—who will, by implication, be in trouble because they “ought to have known”. What sort of standard is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, asked? They ought to have known? I was a schoolteacher: you could not even give someone detention sometimes on the basis of “ought to have known”. This is serious: it is about taking away someone’s liberty. It is about stopping them in the street; it is about doing all of that. I do not know about your Lordships, but I have been in the company of lots of people in different sorts of situations and I did not always know what they were going to do, especially not criminal activity. I am sure that we all have said: “They did what?” That could even happen with friends, yet the Government are basing serious violence reduction orders on the basis of “ought to have known”. My noble friend Lady Armstrong was quite right.

Women are coerced into criminal activity. We all accept that—it is beyond debate—yet the Government are going to criminalise them. It beggars belief. I do not believe that either of the Ministers facing me believe in this. I think that they accept that women are coerced into activity that they do not want to get involved in, but they are going to pass legislation that will allow them to be criminalised. It just does not add up; it does not make sense. The Government have the power to change this—that is what is so frustrating. This is not yet the law. That is why we are debating it and why people are raising these issues. They are saying that it will not work, that it is unfair, that it is unjustified or that it is not in accordance with the principles of the legal system of our country, of which we are all so proud. There are doubts about its effectiveness. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me on this stand part debate, as Clause 140 goes to the nub of it. There are all sorts of amendments that we could put, but on this particular order—it will be for noble Lords to decide—that clause goes to the nub of what we are talking about.

My noble friend Lady Lawrence, who is not in her place, is a remarkable woman. Continually, year after year, despite the horror of her own circumstances, she points out in a calm, respectful, dignified way that the Government have to understand the consequences of some of the things that they are imposing on black and ethnic minority communities. She is not saying it just because she is a Labour Peer and wants to have a go at a Conservative Government; she is saying, “From my experience, from my knowledge, from my understanding, this will be the consequence of what the Government are going to do.”

We know that black and ethnic minority people are disproportionately affected by these changes. Go to these communities and talk to them, as I did when I was a Home Office Minister, and as I am sure Ministers will do, and if you get their agreement, they will support you. They do not want their young people stabbed; they do not want crime all over; they want their young people and their adults to be safe—of course they do—but they want it done with them, not to them. I have statistic after statistic around the disproportionality that exists, as well as what the College of Policing says about it. The House of Commons Library states:

“Available statistical analysis does not show a consistent link between the increased use of stop and search and levels of violence.”

If that is wrong, where is the evidence to show that it is wrong? I would say that, while stop and search may work in a blanket way, we need to look specifically at where it is targeted. I think that stop and search does make a difference, but it is where it is targeted: it should not be a blanket “Here you go; do it when you want”, which is what perverts the figures. As I say, we have real concerns, epitomised, and I make no apology for repeating this, by what the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, said.

I have a couple of things to say about the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. Amendment 226 would remove the provisions that allow an SVRO to be applied to a person who has not actually handled a knife, as we were saying, or any kind of weapon, but who was in the company of someone else who had used a knife and, as the Bill says, either

“knew or ought to have known”

that their companion was armed. I just think that that will have to change. These orders allow a person to be stopped and searched without grounds; they can be stopped and searched without reasonable suspicion for up to two years. I think that there is an amendment, although I cannot remember if it is in this group, that questions whether that can be continually renewed and whether two years is the limit. From my reading of the Bill, it seems that it can go on and on, so it is quite a draconian proposal.

On Amendment 239—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has signed both the previous amendment and this one—the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee says that too many of these powers are going to be applied by the negative procedure. It says to the Government, even if it is right to take away some of the liberty of the citizen in our country, on the street, by giving the police additional powers, surely that should be debated in Parliament. It should not just be for Ministers to make it up and lay it and that is it. Are we really saying that freedom of the individual in this country is dependent on a Minister in an office determining what the regulation should be on something as serious as this? Do we not agree with the committee, particularly regarding stop and search as well as other matters in the Bill, including these violent crime reduction orders, that at least the affirmative procedure should be used? We cannot amend the instruments, but we can at least debate them and I think that people would reasonably expect that.

Finally, if the Government are going to go ahead with this, as I expect they will, Amendment 240, in the name of the noble Baroness, Baroness Meacher, is essential: the pilots that the Government are running must be of a real standard, a real quality, and must be strengthened. If the evidence from those pilots is not what the Government want it to be—if it shows that they do not work—can we be assured that they will listen to what the pilots are telling them?

I could go on, and I am sorry that I have gone on a little while, but I think that stop and search, particularly without reasonable suspicion, is one of the most important powers that the police have to tackle serious and violent crime, but it is also one of the most controversial and, as such, should be handled with real care. I suggest that these amendments say to the Government that even if they are right to introduce these orders, they have not really, through the Bill, shown us that care and demonstrated it to the public. The Government need to think again.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Coaker, for speaking to these amendments, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, who is back in her seat—the timing was pretty good, because we had an hour’s break; in fact, it was an hour and a half by the time we had finished Questions.

Before I turn to the specifics of the amendments, it might be helpful to the Committee if I first outline why we are introducing these new orders and why we think they will make a positive contribution to tackling knife crime, which has risen over the last seven years, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out. I agree with him on the multi-agency approach. He brought up our local government days. Absolutely the most effective initiatives, which have grown over the last few years, are those which take that public health approach, with all agencies working together. On testing, the pilots will be a very good way of assessing whether what we have proposed is effective when put into practice. There are four pilot areas, which I shall go through shortly. I say to the noble Lord that it will be independently evaluated.

The Committee would not disagree that every time someone carries a knife, they risk ruining their life and the lives of others. Knife crime is blighting our communities and the Government are determined to tackle the scourge. I again totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—again, this probably goes back to our local government days—that engagement with communities is vital, because they not only support their young people not being knifed to death but they will support the police in what they are trying to do. We have just talked in the Urgent Question repeat about trust from communities in what the police are doing.

We have committed to putting an extra 20,000 police officers on our streets. We have also committed £176.5 million over the last two years through a serious violence fund to address the drivers of serious violence at the local level and significantly bolster the police response. This includes £70 million to support violence reduction units in 18 areas across the country most affected by serious violence. We have also committed a further £130.5 million to tackle serious violence and homicide in the current financial year.

Stop and search has taken 11,000 knives off the streets and resulted in 74,000 arrests in 2019-20. However, we all know that we have more to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said—I apologise that I keep quoting him—we all want to know what works and what will drive out the scourge of knife crime. Too many criminals who carry knives or other offensive weapons go on to offend again—that is indisputable. We need to send a clear message that if people persist in carrying knives, they can expect to be caught and face a prison sentence.

As I have said, stop and search is a vital tool to crack down on violent crime. As I indicated in an earlier debate, we have already made it easier for forces to use existing powers. Our message is simple: if offenders are vulnerable and want to move away from crime, we will support them, but if they continue to carry knives and weapons over and over again, serious violence reduction orders, or SVROs, help to end that reoffending cycle. They will give the police powers to take a more proactive approach and make it easier to target those already convicted of offences involving knives or offensive weapons, giving them the automatic right to search those offenders and help tackle prolific, high-risk offenders.

SVROs are intended to be used as part of a wider approach to support offenders. We expect that they will provide a credible reason to resist pressure to carry weapons, thus acting as a deterrent and helping to protect vulnerable first-time offenders from being drawn into further crime and exploitation by criminal gangs.

We understand the concerns around disproportionality and the impact of stop and search on our BME communities but, as I said in an earlier response, let us not forget that young black people are 24 times more likely to be victims of homicide than young white people. Young black people are dying, their families are suffering and their communities are being disproportionately impacted. We must do better. We must give the police tools that will enable them to take a more targeted approach, focusing their efforts and resources on those they know carry knives.

As I have said, these orders will be piloted before being rolled out across England and Wales. Clause 141 sets out the detail of this. The pilot will help us build an understanding of the impact and effectiveness of the new orders and, as required by Clause 141, we will lay a report before Parliament on the operation and outcome of the pilot. I hope that this gives the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, some comfort.

I now turn to the specifics of the amendments. Amendments 224, 227 and 237 would raise the threshold for the standard of proof required to impose, vary or renew an SVRO from the civil standard, which is the balance of probabilities, to the criminal standard, which is beyond reasonable doubt. Before I go any further, I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan; I forgot to acknowledge that he made a very good speech earlier.

New Section 342A(3) of the Sentencing Code provides that an SVRO can be made if the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that a bladed article or offensive weapon was used by the offender in the commission of the offence, or that the offender had a bladed article or offensive weapon with them when the offence was committed. An order can also be given if the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that a bladed article or offensive weapon was used by another person in the commission of the offence—the commission of the offence is the crucial point here—or that another person had a bladed article or offensive weapon with them when the offence was committed and the offender knew, or ought to have known, that that would be the case.

This means that, when considering any applications for an SVRO, the court should apply the civil standard of proof when determining whether the individual in respect of whom the application is made has committed an offence involving a bladed article or offensive weapon. This civil standard is not new; it was accepted in your Lordships’ House in the context of domestic abuse protection orders earlier this year, or at the end of last year.

I am aware that there are concerns about this approach. However, the Bill provides that the court may hear evidence from both the offender and the prosecution when considering whether to make an SVRO. It is anticipated that, in most cases, it will be clear beyond reasonable doubt whether the offender used or had with them a knife or offensive weapon in the offence, and the offender may have been convicted of a knife or offensive weapons offence.

However, there may be cases where the fact that an offender used or had with them a knife or offensive weapon cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In these cases, we believe that the civil standard, namely the balance of probabilities, is appropriate to enable the court to consider whether an SVRO is necessary in respect of an individual, given the aims of the order to protect communities and deter offenders from future offending. The criminal standard of proof will apply in any criminal prosecution for breaching an SVRO. As I said, this approach is in line with other civil orders, such as domestic abuse prevention orders, which we debated at the beginning of the year.

Amendment 225 would restrict the circumstances in which an SVRO may be made. Currently, proposed new Section 342A(3) provides that an SVRO can be made if a bladed article or offensive weapon was used by the offender in the commission of the offence or that the offender had a bladed article or offensive weapon with them when the offence was committed. This allows for circumstances where a bladed article or offensive weapon was not used in the offence, but the offender had a bladed article or knife with them when the offence was committed.

I remind the Committee that for an SVRO to be made a person must be convicted of an offence involving a knife or offensive weapon. So the Sikh or chef, in the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, would not generally be convicted of an offensive weapon attack—and that applies to the electrician and his mate. I am sorry; I am trying to read my own writing here.

I have a quick question, because I want to be clear about this point in relation to something the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said earlier. If a Sikh, who is carrying just their religious knife, is in a fight and is convicted of common assault, is the SVRO now available in that context?

It is always dangerous to talk about specific cases but, if the knife has not been used in the commission of the offence—

If the Sikh was going about his business with his knife in his pocket, he would have reasonable excuse. If he then got into a fight and the knife was not used in the commission of the common assault, the knife would be irrelevant to the case. But I must absolutely caveat my comments: the court would decide the facts of the case.

Could I further clarify what the Minister has just said? If the Sikh becomes involved in a fight and does not go for the knife that they are carrying during that offence, the Sikh can still be made subject to an SVRO, because they committed an offence and had a knife with them at the time the offence was committed, even though the weapon was not used.

My Lords, I have just fallen into a trap that I do not like to fall into, which is to take on specific cases. The court would have to determine the facts of the case to decide whether the knife was relevant and, therefore, whether an SVRO could be made.

This is Committee and it is important to get this clear. My clear understanding of the legislation is that it does not matter whether the knife was used in the commission of the offence; it is simply the fact that the person had a knife with them when they committed the offence which means that not only can that person be made subject to an SVRO but any person convicted with them who did not have a knife can also be made the subject of an SVRO by the court. So, without using specific examples, can the Minister please clarify that I am correct?

What I can clarify is that I will not take theoretical cases again. But the court would need to consider whether in the circumstances it is proportionate to make an order. That does not go into the specifics of any given case.

The Minister might want to take some advice on this, but I think the relevant piece of legislation in Clause 140 is proposed new Section 342A(3)(b), which says that

“the offender had a bladed article or offensive weapon with them when the offence was committed.”

They do not have to use it; it is just the fact that they are carrying it and have it on them.

I think I backtracked quite a bit to say that the courts would then make the judgment call on whether the SVRO would be made, based on the facts of the case. I am not saying that, theoretically, it could not happen, but the courts may decide otherwise. It would depend on the facts of the case.

Perhaps I may just add that it seems so widely drawn that the first condition, in proposed new subsection (1), is that there has to be an offence. It does not say that there has to be an offence involving violence. So, first there has to be an offence. Then you engage proposed new subsection (3)(b): during the commission of the offence, whatever it might have been, did the person involved carry a knife? If the offence was, say, a driving offence, I am sure that an SVRO would not be applied for or granted, but there is a large area of discretion here. When you take it a little further into proposed new subsection (4), it is simply an offence—the carriage of a knife and the question of “ought to have known”. So the whole thing wanders off into this speculative landscape where evidence does not seem to matter and it is all mental constructions. I am sorry for going on.

It is no problem at all; this is Committee, where we clarify these issues. But I think it is fair to say that the trigger for the SVRO, essentially, is the conviction.

An interesting criminal law debate is developing and I cannot resist joining in. I very respectfully suggest to the Minister that this is a situation in which the use of examples, if they are worked up, is very important and would be extremely useful. My view is that she is right about some of this but possibly not all of it, and that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is possibly right about quite a lot of it but wrong about some of it—for example, the relevance of previous convictions, which may be used far more these days than he imagines. Previous convictions are available as evidence of propensity and are frequently used in criminal trials. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that a series of indicative examples should be worked up and put in the Library in advance of Report, because it would make these questions much easier to answer.

I thank my noble friend—and he is my noble friend because he has come to my rescue time and again. I am not a lawyer and even less of an expert in criminal law.

Perhaps I could just say that those examples should include, if they are right, non-violent offences where a weapon is not used in the commission of the offence in any way, where the person only has the weapon on them, and they have an accomplice who did not have a knife on them but should have known that the person had one concealed on their person when they committed a non-violent offence without using the weapon.

I will most certainly do that. So this is offences where the knife is not actually deployed and the person with the individual with a knife in their pocket would not have known that the knife was in their pocket. Without getting myself into further trouble, I would say that the courts would take those facts into consideration—but I will elect to write to noble Lords with as many permutations and combinations as I can possibly think of before Report.

I have no wish to get the noble Baroness into more difficulties, but the problem arises because she said that the court would have to consider the relevance of the carriage of the knife to the offence, and that is quite simply wrong. I would be very grateful if the noble Baroness, before any examples are produced, would concede that, and then discuss whether these amendments are not very important in light of the answer. There is the weakness—the lack of the nexus between the carriage of the knife and any offence that is proved.

I think I need to reflect further on what noble Lords have said. I will try to answer the noble Lord’s question in a letter before we start talking about examples. We are, after all, in Committee, and I am learning, like other noble Lords, as we go along.

Amendments 226, 226A and 226B would remove the provisions that enable a court to issue the SVRO if two or more people commit an offence but not all of them used or were in possession of the weapon—that is slightly going back on what we were discussing. When a knife offence or offensive weapon-related offence is committed, it is not always the case that all the offenders had the weapon in their hands—as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out—during the commission of the offence. But if the court is satisfied that a person knew or ought to have known that another person committing the offence had a knife or an offensive weapon during the commission of the offence, and this person committed an offence arising out of the same facts, we think it would be appropriate for an SVRO to be available. Again, I will put the various permutations and combinations to noble Lords in a theoretical way. This would allow SVROs to be made in relation to all the individuals who were involved and were convicted of such an offence, should the court consider an SVRO to be necessary in respect of those individuals.

This provision intends to cover situations such as a robbery or a fight where a weapon was used by one individual, but where other individuals convicted of offences related to the same facts knew, or ought to have known, that a weapon was being used or carried by another person involved in the offence, even if they themselves were not carrying the weapon. This is very similar to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, except that that individual was brandishing the weapon.

I am sorry, but that is not what the proposed law says. It does not talk about when there is a fight and somebody uses a weapon, and a person who was with them should have known they had a weapon. What the Bill as drafted says is that anybody who commits any offence—such as, for example, smashing a car window—who has a knife in their pocket can be given an SVRO. It may be that that is what was intended, but it is not what the legislation says.

What I am saying, and what I said earlier, is that it will be up to the courts to decide whether it is appropriate, bearing in mind the facts of the case, and whether the court thinks an SVRO in respect of an individual is necessary to protect the public or any particular members of the public in England and Wales.

First, I want to thank the Minister and do not want her to think any of this is meant to be aggressive or to interfere with what she is doing. Secondly, these hypotheticals are incredibly important to test the provisions; they are not some attempt to be clever and dance on the head of a pin. It is super important to get the criminal law right, and that can only be done, in my view, by testing it against the sorts of scenarios being offered.

The Minister quite rightly says, “We are creating a disposal, and in the end the courts will have to administer it”. None the less, the Government are creating the disposal and setting thresholds for its availability. With respect to her, the Government must have a policy and intention, and there is therefore a valid question about whether it is the Government’s intention in drafting and pursuing this legislation that, for example, any male Sikh, or any Sikh, who carries a ceremonial knife, however small, will always theoretically be subject to this additional exposure to a disposal to which, by definition, people of other faiths will not be subject. I am not saying that to be inflammatory, but we have to get this right. The Minister herself has talked about equality impact assessments, and so on. It may be that this proposal slipped through the net and is worth looking at again before the next stage.

This is not just an issue for the Sikh community but for other people such as chefs or electricians who are carrying knives and are involved in a crime that theoretically is potentially not even violent crime but perhaps minor shoplifting, possession of prohibited drugs or whatever. They are now, suddenly, potentially subject to this disposal. It is not simple enough to assume that when a specific disposal such as this one, with draconian consequences, is made available for sentences it would never be used. The courts might rightly think that the Government’s policy must have been that if you carry a blade or point, regardless of whether you were carrying it illegally in the first place, you take your chances, and that if you get involved in shoplifting or is found in possession of drugs, that is too bad—you now get this additional penalty and it serves you right. That is the signal that we are sending on violent crime. I hope that that is not the intention but if it is, the Committee will need to know.

We have covered a spectrum of different types of offending and behaviour. We must not forget that at the point at which—no pun intended—someone is issued with an SVRO, they will have been convicted by the court of a knife or offensive weapons offence. The court will also, I am sure, take into consideration previous patterns of behaviour. If the Sikh who got involved in a fight and had his knife with him had no previous convictions for weapons offending, that would be quite different from a repeat offender. It would be for the court to consider whether to impose the SVRO. I hope that I have made that clear and that it will become clearer to noble Lords by the examples I will provide.

Of course, we will consider, in the light of the Committee, whether we have got all the permutations and combinations right. That is what noble Lords do best—scrutinising legislation, and I have the benefit of some serious legal players around the Chamber.

I now move on to the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, about the disproportionate impact that SVROs might have on some vulnerable groups—primarily women who might be coerced into carrying weapons. I completely empathise with the circumstances in which such women might find themselves. We discussed domestic violence only a few months ago and know the effect that coercive control can have on women. At the heart of what we are doing is committing to preventing offenders of all ages, genders and backgrounds becoming involved in serious violence by developing resilience, supporting positive alternatives and delivering timely interventions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister. My amendment takes out the part that states that a person “ought to have known” that someone else was carrying, rather than that person carrying. That is the bit that is particularly pernicious in terms of the woman that I was talking about.

I completely understand that point it in the context of the previous debate. One of the things that we will be testing as part of the pilot is the impact of SVROs on the individuals subject to them, and how to ensure that vulnerable offenders—because sometimes people are caught up in these things completely unwittingly—are directed to local intervention schemes to help steer them away from crime. But SVROs used as part of a wider crime prevention approach will send a clear message that, if people are vulnerable and want to move away from crime, and in particular if they are being coerced into carrying things, or coerced generally, we will of course support them.

Amendment 228 seeks to increase the requirements for SVROs to be made. It would require that an order can be imposed only if the SVRO is proportionate to one or more of the relevant aims of the order. It is already a requirement for the court to consider the making of the order necessary to protect the public, or any particular member of the public, including the offender, from the risk of harm, and to prevent the offender committing an offence. It would be for the court to decide the seriousness of any offence, based on the individual facts of the case, and to decide whether it is necessary and proportionate for an order to be made in respect of an individual. Any order made will be at the court’s discretion.

An individual convicted of an offence involving a bladed article or offensive weapon could cause harm to any member of the public, including particular individuals. The provisions in the Bill allow a wide range of considerations to be made, so that an SVRO will have the greatest impact and protect members of the public, including the offender themselves, from the risk of harm.

Amendments 229, 230 and 231 seek to amend the evidentiary requirements for an SVRO to be made. They would provide that the court may consider only evidence led by the prosecution and by the offender and would remove provisions that allow courts to consider evidence that would have been inadmissible in the proceedings in which the offender was convicted. We think it appropriate that the court can consider a wider range of evidence about the offender that may not have been admissible in the proceedings. This goes in some sense to the heart of what we have just been discussing. For example, in answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the offender may have a history of knife carrying that would be relevant to whether an SVRO would be necessary to protect the public.

Amendment 239 would make the guidance to be issued under Clause 140 subject to the affirmative procedure, as recommended by the DPRRC in its report on the Bill. As I have indicated in response to other amendments, we are considering carefully the arguments put forward by the DPRRC and will also reflect on today’s debate before responding to the committee’s report ahead of the next stage of the Bill.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—through the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—has tabled Amendment 240 to Clause 141, which makes provision for the piloting of SVROs. I talked about this earlier. I can assure noble Lords that we will take the matters set out in Amendment 240 into consideration as we progress the design work for the pilot and agree the terms of the evaluation. That said, the general point is that it is not necessary to include such a list in the Bill. The approach adopted in Clause 141 is consistent, for example, with the piloting provisions in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 in respect of knife crime prevention orders.

Working with the four pilot forces our aims are: to monitor and gather data on a number of different measures—including, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the impact of SVROs on serious violence; to build evidence on reoffending and the outcomes for offenders who are subject to SVROs; to understand and learn how we ensure that vulnerable people are directed to local intervention schemes; and to understand community responses to the orders.

I think we can conclude by agreeing on the need to do all we can to tackle the scourge of knife crime, which is wrecking far too many lives. I hope that I have been able to persuade noble Lords of the case for the new orders as part of our wider work to prevent and reduce serious violence, and that I have reassured the Committee—although not on certain things, on which I will have to write—that many of the issues raised will be considered as part of the piloting of SVROs in advance of any national rollout. I reiterate my commitment to consider further the DPRRC’s recommendation in relation to parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this group, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Coaker.

The Minister asked what works. The centre-right think tank Policy Exchange recently produced a report saying that, in reducing serious violence, the emphasis should be on community policing and not on stop and search. That summarises what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was saying. The Minister, in earlier proceedings in the House this afternoon, talked about how trust in the police had been seriously damaged recently. Despite that, the Government are giving the police more and more powers that are likely to further damage trust in the police.

The Minister talked about communities—particularly black communities—wanting this sort of thing in order to stop their young people dying on the streets. After I left the police, I went to a pupil referral unit, and students from the unit took me to a local council estate where a young mother holding a baby had been stabbed to death. As we looked at the scene, they said to me, “Yes, we want the police to take knives off the street, but we want them to target stop and search at the people who have got the knives.” To do that, and to target stop and search at those people who are carrying knives, the police need community intelligence, and these sorts of provisions are likely to push the community away, rather than encourage people to come forward with information. Do not get me wrong: targeted, intelligence-led stop and search based on community information can be effective in taking weapons off the street, but quite clearly, as I said on Section 60, with suspicionless stop and search, only one in 100 stop and searches results in a weapon being recovered.

The noble Baroness said that these provisions are very similar to domestic violence prevention orders on the balance of probabilities versus reasonable doubt. Throughout the course of that Bill, we persistently said that that was not acceptable, so the noble Baroness should not be surprised that we are saying it about these orders. However, we need to do all we can to reduce serious violence on our streets. The difficulty is where you have provisions such as this that prove to be counterproductive.

We will come back to this at Report—I can guarantee that. But at this stage, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 224 withdrawn.

Amendments 225 to 231 not moved.

Amendment 231A

Moved by

231A: Clause 140, page 130, line 46, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 131

My Lords, I move Amendment 231A in my name and speak to the other amendments in this group. These amendments relate to what happens after a serious violence reduction order has been granted.

Amendments 231A and 231B remove the requirements for the offender to give, and update the police on, information about where they are living, including the home address on the day the order is given—which will be given to the court in any event and is therefore not necessary—any other place they regularly reside, and any place they move to or intend to spend more than a month living at. Noble Lords should ask themselves what the purpose of this power is. Is it so that the police can trace the offender, track their every move and then wait outside the place where they live, to stop and search them as soon as they leave? Create a power to stop and search someone who may or may not have carried a knife in the past if you must, whether you suspect them of having a knife on them at the time or not, but to enable, or even encourage, harassment of these individuals by supplying the police with continually updated information about their whereabouts smacks of stalking by the state.

As I will point out in a moment, SVROs can be renewed indefinitely. One of the most important ways a young criminal can turn their life around is to move away from the area where they were involved in a gang, for example, to start a new life. These provisions mean that their reputation follows them, making it even more difficult for them to be rehabilitated. They may have moved on, but the police will continue to stop and search them at will, without any reasonable cause to suspect that the individual is doing anything wrong. The offender would be justified in thinking, “What is the point? May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.” On the previous group, the Minister said that if an offender wants to move away from offending the Government will support them. Updating the police continually about where this young person has moved to, and enabling them to target that individual through stop and search, even though they are trying to turn their lives around, does not sound to me like supporting them in trying to move on from offending.

For similar reasons, the proposed power to give a chief constable for the area where the offender lives, and the area where the police believe the offender is or intends to come to, to apply to a court to extend or renew the SVRO should also be removed, as proposed by Amendments 235 and 236. The chief constable for the area where the offence was committed should be able to apply to have the SVRO varied, renewed or discharged—that is fair enough—but this should not be the case for any chief constable, anywhere in the country, who knows or even just thinks that the offender might be coming to their area. Offenders who genuinely want to turn their lives around should be able to move on with their lives. If they move home and fall into their old ways, the police in the area where they have come to notice can ask the chief constable in the area where the original offence was committed to make an application on their behalf. These provisions are unnecessary and potentially counterproductive in reducing serious violence.

Amendment 238 limits the number of times an SVRO can be imposed. Although each SVRO is restricted to a maximum duration of two years, SVROs can be renewed indefinitely. This means that our electrician’s mate could potentially be stopped and searched by the police, without any reasonable suspicion that he has anything unlawful on him, for the rest of his life. There are very few offences where there is not a spent period, after which the conviction no longer has to be declared. Yet the provisions in this Bill mean that, on the balance of probabilities, someone for whom there is no evidence of their ever having carried a knife could be targeted by the police for suspicionless stop and search for the rest of their life.

The Government will point to the safeguards, such as they are in the Bill, and say this is very unlikely to happen. We would point to the Metropolitan Police gangs matrix, a database of alleged street gang members created by the Metropolitan Police Service in 2012, which has been criticised for its use of circumstantial evidence. A 2018 investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office found that the use of the gangs matrix at the time was in breach of data protection laws and issued an enforcement notice to bring the operation of the system in line with the law. There is a real danger of circumstantial evidence being brought by the police before the courts to justify continued renewal of SVROs when that would be wholly unjustified. Amendment 238A in my name ensures that an SVRO can be varied, extended or renewed only if the court is satisfied that it is a proportionate way to ensure that people are protected and offences involving knives are prevented. This is almost identical to my Amendment 228 in the previous group in relation to consideration of the original grant of an SVRO. As I explained on the previous group, these orders are draconian, are likely to be ineffective based on evidence of other suspicionless stop and searches, and are likely to disproportionately impact on ethnic minorities. This amendment is designed to ensure that courts take these unintended consequences into account before varying or renewing them.

There is a new offence of obstructing the police. SVROs and related offences are created by amending Part 11 of the Sentencing Code. New Section 342G sets out offences relating to SVROs, including in new subsection (1)(e) that the offender subject to an SVRO commits an offence if he

“intentionally obstructs a constable in the exercise of any power conferred by section 342E”,

which is headed “Serious violence reduction orders: powers of constables”. Other than a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment, what is the difference between that offence and the offence under Section 89(2) of the Police Act 1996, which is that the offence of obstructing a police officer is committed when a person

“wilfully obstructs a constable in the execution of his duty”?

What is the difference other than the sentence? Surely a constable exercising any power in relation to SVROs is acting in the execution of his duty. We believe that one month in prison is a sufficient deterrent and the new offence is not necessary. Amendment 234 seeks to remove this new offence from the Bill.

These are good amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has tabled because, as he said, they deal with what happens after an SVRO is given. The various amendments raise various questions that the Minister will need to answer. I want to highlight a specific point which, in terms of proportionality, I would like the Minister to consider. A Section 60—stop and search without suspicion—is normally given for 24 hours and, if extended beyond that, is very limited. As the noble Lord pointed out, and did so in the previous debate, this can be six months or up to two years. It can then be added to again; there is no time limit to end it. We need some clarity on that. In Committee, that is the sort of detail we want to go into.

More generally, so much of this—again, as in much legislation—will be by regulation. New Section 342B on the meaning of a serious violence reduction order includes subsection (1)(b), which says that the requirements and prohibitions will be done by order—admittedly, to be fair to the Government, by affirmative order in this case. But it is quite an ask of Parliament to pass an Act which gives the Secretary of State the ability to have these serious violence reduction orders with all sorts of requirements and prohibitions in them without us really knowing what they would be. I looked on the website and tried to find a draft, skeleton or suggested possibility of what they might look like, but I could not see one—unless I missed it. Often, with respect to legislation, you get draft regulations or a draft idea. It would have been extremely helpful for the Committee if some idea of the sorts of things that might be considered had been given to us.

New Section 342C(1) states:

“A serious violence reduction order may impose on the offender any requirement or prohibition specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State”.

Again, to be fair, that will be subject to the affirmative procedure, but these are the sorts of details which mean that we are passing this legislation almost blind in terms of some of these things. These will be really severe restrictions on the liberty of the individual. Even if they are regarded as a good thing in terms of reducing knife crime—which is what we all want to achieve—we are giving the Government the power to legislate and make all sorts of regulations and prohibitions to be included as part of a serious violence reduction order without knowing what they may be.

New Section 342B(7) says that these regulations will be made only after the pilots have taken place. I do not expect this to be done by Report, but could we ask the Government to consider giving us an idea of what these regulations and prohibitions might be as those pilot projects proceed, so that we get some idea of them as the pilots go on? We would then have some way of understanding what they might be when we come back to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is quite right to have raised many of these issues, which seek to press the Government more so we can try to understand what they mean by some of the proposals they have listed. I ask whether more information could be given as to what prohibitions and regulations we might expect to be included in any serious violence reduction order.

My Lords, I propose to deal with just one amendment, Amendment 233, which is concerned with the defence of reasonable excuse. I concentrate on that because my noble friend Lord Paddick has covered the ground in this group. But it seems to me—and I agree with what my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, have said—that this group offends against principles of our criminal law and rides roughshod over them, because the overall purpose of the Bill seems to have taken precedence over any degree of thought being given to the detail of what is actually being done.

Amendment 233 in the names of my noble friend Lord Paddick, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, would permit a reasonable excuse defence to an offence committed where an offender subject to an SVRO tells a constable that they are not subject to such an order. The Liberty briefing, for which we are all very grateful, points out that an offender may have committed the proposed offence of telling the police constable falsely that they are not subject to an order even where they honestly and even reasonably believe that the order—the SVRO—is no longer in force, or where they do not understand the question because English is not their first language, or for any other reason.

Looking at the proposed offences under new Section 342G(1), the reasonable excuse defence is presently available only in respect of offences under (a) or (b) of that subsection. The first is if the offender

“fails without reasonable excuse to do anything the offender is required to do by the order.”

The second is where the offender

“does anything the offender is prohibited from doing by the order.”

But there is no reasonable excuse defence available for any of the other three offences. Under (c), I think “notifies the police” means providing to the police,

“in purported compliance with the order, any information which the offender knows to be false”,

while (d) covers denying the order which is the subject of Amendment 233m which I have addressed, and (e) is where the offender

“intentionally obstructs a constable in the exercise of any power conferred by”

the legislation. None of the last three has a reasonable excuse defence available.

In thinking about this proposed section, one is reminded that reasonable excuses may arise in odd and unpredictable ways. Legislation ought to avoid criminalising any behaviour for which the citizen has a reasonable excuse, because criminalising behaviour in these circumstances brings the law into disrepute. If there is no reasonable excuse, the offence is committed and conviction will follow—but if there is a reasonable excuse, there ought to be no conviction.

We have only to remind ourselves that there may be a reasonable excuse for disobeying police officers’ requirements. Tragically, Sarah Everard was persuaded to enter Wayne Couzens’s car, with awful results, because he purported to have the right to require her to do so. We should be open to the view that automatic obedience to the requirements of a police officer is not always sensible, and that offenders, even though subject to SVROs, might well have reasonable excuses for non-compliance with police officers’ requirements.

I suggest that the Minister and her colleagues ought to think about whether reasonable excuse should not be a defence to all these offences. Initially, they might consider that there would not be many cases where a citizen would have a reasonable excuse for non-compliance. But they might also wish to reflect that that does not mean that, in those cases where citizens do have a reasonable excuse, they should be found guilty of a criminal offence. This is an important lacuna in the proposals made here—that reasonable excuse will be no answer to conviction.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has explained, this group of amendments deals with further aspects of the new serious violence reduction order. Amendments 231A and 231B would remove the requirement for an offender subject to an SVRO to notify the police of their home address; any changes to their home address; the address of any other premises at which the offender regularly resides or stays; or the address of any place they decide to live in for a period of one month or more.

We included notification requirements in the legislation in order to help officers to identify those subject to an order in their area. It is a common feature of other offender management regimes, including in relation to sex and terrorism offenders, so we are not breaking any new ground here. We stated in the draft statutory guidance that the police should use the notification stage to engage with the offender and clarify the effects of an SVRO: that is, to explain to the offender in ordinary language the requirements and effects of an SVRO and what offences may be committed if they breach the order. This, along with an up-to-date description, could be used to assist with future identification when conducting a stop and search. It is therefore important that we keep the notification requirement as currently drafted to ensure that officers are able properly to identify those subject to an order.

Amendment 233 would create a defence so that an offender can tell an officer that they are not subject to an SVRO if they have a reasonable excuse to do so. I do not see any circumstances where it would be reasonable for an offender not to tell an officer that they are subject to an SVRO if they are asked. It may be that the noble Lord wants to cover circumstances where an offender subject to an SVRO has a reasonable excuse for carrying a knife. In such circumstances, it would be for the police, and ultimately the courts, to decide whether the reasonable excuse defence was made out in the event that the offender was arrested and then charged with an offence in relation to the possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon.

Amendment 234 would remove the offence of intentionally obstructing a constable in the exercise of any power conferred by new Section 342E. The noble Lord is of course right that there is an existing offence of wilful obstruction of the police in the execution of their duty under the Police Act 1996. However, the offence in the 1996 Act carries a maximum penalty of a fine of £1,000 or one month’s imprisonment or both. We believe that a higher maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or two years’ imprisonment or both is appropriate for the offences relating to SVROs.

Amendments 235 and 236 would limit who can apply for the variation, renewal or discharge of an SVRO. These amendments would remove the power of the chief officer of police for the police area in which the offender lives, and a chief officer of police who believes that the offender is in, or is intending to come to, the chief officer’s police area to vary, renew or discharge an SVRO. There will be instances in which a chief officer of police sees it necessary to vary or renew an SVRO to reflect changing circumstances or, indeed, they may conclude that the order can be discharged. We believe that the chief officer for the most relevant force should be able to make such an application, which may well be the force where the offender currently lives or where they are about to reside.

Amendment 238 seeks to limit the number of times an SVRO can be renewed to no more than once. We do not consider this amendment to be necessary given that, although an SVRO can be renewed, the court can only renew an order to lengthen its duration if it is considered necessary to protect the public or any particular members of the public in England and Wales from the risk of harm involving a knife or offensive weapon, or to prevent the offender committing an offence involving a knife or offensive weapon. That said, we will reflect on the debate and consider whether to provide further guidance to the police on factors to consider when determining whether to apply for an SVRO to be renewed in draft statutory guidance.

In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, we cannot say in advance of the conclusion of the pilot whether it will be necessary to make regulations under new Section 342B.

Amendment 238A seeks to increase the requirements for an SVRO to be varied or renewed. It would require that an order can only be varied or renewed if the SVRO is proportionate to one or more of the relevant aims of the order. The issue here is broadly the same as was the case with Amendment 228 in the previous group. As I said in response to that amendment, it is already a requirement that the court considers the renewal or variation of the order necessary to protect the public or any particular member of the public, including the offender, from the risk of harm and to prevent the offender committing an offence. Again, it would be for the court to decide that it is necessary and proportionate for an order to be renewed or varied on the facts of the case, and in reaching their decision the court is required to act in compatibility with ECHR convention rights under the Human Rights Act.

Finally, turning to government Amendment 232, as I have set out, under new Section 342B of the Sentencing Code, one effect of an SVRO is that the offender is subject to certain notification requirements. Among the information which the offender must provide to the police within three days of the order taking effect is their home address. Amendment 232 simply provides for a definition of “home address” for the purposes of the notification requirements. I hope that my explanation of these provisions will enable the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am again grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his support on the duration of SVROs, about which I did not hear an explanation from the Minister. I presume that the Committee can assume that we are right that SVROs can be renewed indefinitely and that there is no legal restriction on that. That is clearly unacceptable, and we will return to it on Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also made an important point about the blank cheque nature of the prohibitions that can be imposed when somebody is subject to an SVRO. They will be decided only by regulation, which on all accounts the House will not see until after the Bill has received Royal Assent.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames for covering my omission in not talking about the reasonable excuse defence amendment.

The Minister said that we are not breaking any new ground. With respect, allowing the police to stop and search somebody purely on the basis of previous conduct without any reason to suspect that they have something on them at the time of the stop and search is breaking new ground. Therefore, different rules should apply.

I understand the provisions in the Bill about various chief constables in various parts of the country being given the power to vary or extend these orders, but, again, the Minister did not answer the question why the chief constable in that area cannot simply ask the chief constable where the original order was made to vary, revoke or extend.

The Minister seems to place a lot of reliance on the pilot schemes. I am reminded of my lengthy service in the Metropolitan Police, where I was told that there was no such thing as an unsuccessful pilot. It was rather telling that the Minister said that account would be taken of what happens during the pilots before the SVROs are rolled out to the whole of England and Wales, but not “if” the pilots prove to be effective, they will be rolled out to the rest of England and Wales.

However, we will return to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 231A withdrawn.

Amendment 231B not moved.

Amendment 232

Moved by

232: Clause 140, page 131, line 34, at end insert—

“(9) In this section, “home address”, in relation to the offender, means—(a) the address of the offender’s sole or main residence, or(b) if the offender has no such residence, the address or location of a place where the offender can regularly be found and, if there is more than one such place, such one of those places as the offender may select.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides a definition of “home address” for the purposes of the notification requirements which must be included in a serious violence reduction order.

Amendment 232 agreed.

Amendments 233 to 239 not moved.

Clause 140, as amended, agreed.

Clause 141: Serious violence reduction orders: piloting

Amendment 240 not moved.

Clause 141 agreed.

Clauses 142 to 157 agreed.

Schedule 17 agreed.

Clauses 158 to 162 agreed.

Schedule 18 agreed.

Clause 163 agreed.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely in debate on the following amendment.

Amendment 240A

Moved by

240A: After Clause 163, insert the following new Clause—

“Women’s Justice Board

(1) There is to be a body corporate known as the Women’s Justice Board for England and Wales.(2) The Board is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown or as enjoying any status, immunity or privilege of the Crown; and the Board’s property is not to be regarded as property of, or held on behalf of, the Crown.(3) The Board must consist of 10, 11 or 12 members appointed by the Secretary of State.(4) The members of the Board must include persons who appear to the Secretary of State to have extensive recent experience with women in the criminal justice system.(5) The Board has the following functions, namely—(a) to meet the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system;(b) to monitor the provision of services for women in the criminal justice system;(c) to advise the Secretary of State on—(i) how the aim in subsection (5)(a) might most effectively be pursued;(ii) the provision of services for women in the criminal justice system;(iii) the content of any national standards the Secretary of State may see fit to set with respect to the provision of such services, or the accommodation in which women are kept in custody; and(iv) the steps that might be taken to prevent offending by women;(d) to monitor the extent to which the aim in subsection (5)(a) is being achieved and any standards met; (e) for the purposes of paragraphs (a) to (d) above, to obtain information from relevant authorities;(f) to publish information so obtained;(g) to identify, make known and promote good practice in—(i) meeting the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system;(ii) the provision of services for women in the criminal justice system;(iii) the prevention of offending by women;(iv) working with women who are, or are at risk of becoming, offenders;(h) to commission research in connection with such practice;(i) with the approval of the Secretary of State, to make grants to local authorities and other persons for the purposes of meeting the aim in subsection (5)(a) and the provision of services to women in the criminal justice system, subject to such conditions as the Board considers appropriate, including conditions as to repayment;(j) to provide assistance to local authorities and other persons in connection with information technology systems and equipment used or to be used for the purposes of the aim in subsection (5)(a) and the provision of services to women in the criminal justice system;(k) to enter into agreements for the provision of accommodation for women in the criminal justice system, but no agreement may be made under this paragraph in relation to accommodation for women in the criminal justice system unless it appears to the Board that it is expedient to enter into such an agreement for the purposes of subsection (5)(a);(l) to facilitate agreements between the Secretary of State and any persons providing accommodation for women in the criminal justice system;(m) at the request of the Secretary of State, to assist in carrying out the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to the release of offenders detained in accommodation for women in the criminal justice system; and(n) annually—(i) to assess future demand for accommodation for women in the criminal justice system;(ii) to prepare a plan setting out how they intend to exercise, in the following three years, the functions described in paragraphs (k) to (m) above, and any function for the time being exercisable by the Board concurrently with the Secretary of State by virtue of subsection (6)(b) below which relates to securing the provision of such accommodation, and(iii) to submit the plan to the Secretary of State for approval.(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument—(a) amend subsection (5) above so as to add to, subtract from or alter any of the functions of the Board for the time being specified in that subsection; or(b) provide that any function of the Secretary of State which is exercisable in relation to women in the criminal justice system is exercisable concurrently with the Board.(7) The power of the Secretary of State under subsection (6)(b) includes power—(a) to provide that, in relation to any function that is exercisable by the Secretary of State in respect of particular cases, the function is exercisable by the Board only— (i) where it proposes to exercise the function in a particular manner, or(ii) in respect of a class of case specified in the order, and(b) to make any supplementary, incidental or consequential provision (including provision for any enactment to apply subject to modifications).(8) No regulations under subsection (6) may be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(9) In carrying out their functions, the Board must comply with any directions given by the Secretary of State and act in accordance with any guidance given by the Secretary of State.(10) A relevant authority—(a) must furnish the Board with any information required for the purposes of subsection (5)(b), (c) or (d) above; and(b) whenever so required by the Board, must submit to the Board a report on such matters connected with the discharge of their duties as may be specified in the requirement.A requirement under paragraph (b) above may specify the form in which a report is to be given.(11) The Board may arrange, or require the relevant authority to arrange, for a report under subsection (10)(b) above to be published in such a manner as appears to the Board to be appropriate.(12) In this section “relevant authority” means a local authority, a chief officer of police, a local policing body, a local probation board, a provider of probation services, a clinical commissioning group and a local health board.(13) Schedule (Women’s Justice Board: further provisions) has effect.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause makes provision for the establishment of a “Women’s Justice Board”, along the lines of the Youth Justice Board. The drafting closely follows the form of the provisions establishing the YJB in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

My Lords, Amendments 240A and 259C in my name and that of my noble friend Lord German, who has had to leave, call for the establishment of a women’s justice board. It has been pointed out in Committee that these are very long amendments. I understood from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that the second of them may be the longest in what is still, on day 9, an extremely full Marshalled List, but the drafting is modelled on the drafting of the legislation establishing the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I do not propose to spend any time considering its detail.

However, it is widely acknowledged that the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales has been a great success. It has benefited from the effect of concentrating effort, research, learning and resources on youth justice. It has focused on recognising and addressing the difficulties of young offenders in the criminal justice system and on helping children to achieve their potential while aiming to minimise the harms that follow from young people’s contact with the system.

Perhaps most significantly, it has had the outcome of the number of children entering the youth justice system reducing year on year. Between March 2006 and 2020, the population of under-18s in custody in England and Wales fell from 2,832 to an average of 780 in the year 2019-20. Of course, the remaining cohort represent the most intractable cases and present the most difficulties. Nevertheless, that success in reducing youth offending has been remarkable. It is the aim of these amendments to establish a women’s justice board that can produce similar successes.

Much has been attributable to the success of the Youth Justice Board in attracting extremely effective and committed leadership. On these Benches, we are very proud of the work that has been undertaken by my noble friend Lord McNally, but the leadership of successive chairs, such as Frances Done and Charlie Taylor, as well as the current chair, Keith Fraser, has been a major factor in the board’s success. Establishing a women’s justice board on similar lines would also be likely to attract effective leaders, who would bring immeasurable benefit to women in the criminal justice system.

Of course, one can overstate the parallels between the particular needs of women and the needs of children, and I do not wish to do so. However, from reading the Youth Justice Board’s Strategic Plan 2021-2024, one cannot but be struck by the similarity between the challenges facing the Youth Justice Board in improving the workings of the system for children and those we face in attempting to improve the system’s response to the particular issues faced by women. Phrases used by Keith Fraser and his team in describing the Youth Justice Board’s vision have a cross-cutting resonance. I quote two passages from the strategic plan:

“These challenges can be multiple and complex in nature. Children may be vulnerable due to health, including; mental health issues or through their family/care circumstances or homelessness. Children with special educational needs, again, may be more vulnerable and many children have experience as victims of crime. All these vulnerabilities can lead to children being exploited or exposed to negative influences, hindering their ability to thrive.”


“Evidence also tells us that contact with the youth justice system can increase the likelihood of children reoffending. This means that we should prevent as many children as possible from coming into contact with the system. It also means that we need to carefully consider how we prevent any longer-term damage caused to children who are in contact with the system.”

I suggest that debates in this House on the particular needs of women and girls show that there is a significant read-across between what is required as a strategy for women’s justice and what is required for youth justice.

In these debates in Committee, we have already considered a number of times the particular issues facing women and girls in negotiating the criminal justice system, most notably in the debates we had on sentencing women to custody. We have heard about the issues that so often bring women into the criminal justice system, such as histories of physical and mental abuse, both in adulthood and dating back to childhood; of mental health issues, often consequent on a history of abuse; of drug and alcohol dependence; and of homelessness. We have also heard of the appalling effect of custody on families, of sudden separation from children, of children being taken into care, and of the health, welfare and financial disasters for women that so often follow criminal convictions.

We firmly believe that efforts to protect women who come into contact with the criminal justice system, or who are at risk of doing so, could benefit greatly from the existence and support of a specialist organisation dedicated to practical action, as well as to research and to giving advice to government on tackling the issues they face. The Minister has shown genuine and reflective commitment since he took office to improving the response of the criminal justice system to the particular problems it poses for women and girls. We suggest that establishing a women’s justice board could be the single most effective measure the Government could take to bring real and lasting help for women and girls who are currently let down by the system, or at risk of being so let down in the future. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of Amendment 240A and to agree with everything my noble friend Lord Marks said. In particular, I echo his support for the work of the Youth Justice Board over the years.

Amendments earlier today have discussed the problems with the regime of youth offenders, and the Youth Justice Board has proved that this particular expertise is vital in a holistic approach to youth offending. A key element of that is the specialist training for all staff in contact with young people in the criminal justice system. The Youth Justice Board has very successfully reduced the number of young people in custody.

Many of the amendments to the Bill are about women, whether around violence against women and girls or the specific difficulties that women and girls face in the criminal justice system. Time and again, we have heard that different parts of the criminal justice system—police, courts, the Prison Service and probation —do not understand the particular problems that these women face. It is very important to note that the majority of female offenders have committed non-violent offences, and that a large proportion have suffered domestic and sexual violence or coercive control, usually at the hands of their partners.

The creation of a women’s justice board would mirror the principles behind the Youth Justice Board. It would oversee the key issues relating to prevention, custody and rehabilitation, and ensure that everyone in the justice system—not just the criminal justice system but also the family courts system—would receive specialist training.

One important area to consider is alternatives to custody. These should be consistently used, where appropriate, because evidence suggests that they work much better. There are benefits for the welfare of children; this should be considered when sentencing mothers and carers, to prevent the lives of their children being more disrupted. There is also evidence that this will reduce the chances of their children having problems at school and entering the criminal justice system themselves. The wider benefits of maintaining family and community links mean that female offenders’ rehabilitation will be more successful.

I know that the number of women offenders with custodial sentences has reduced, but this Government have placed the protection of women, especially those at risk from violence, at the heart of the Bill. The creation of a women’s justice board would be a key pillar in ensuring that women are given the support that they need to prevent them committing offences and to take into account their family responsibilities in considering custody and rehabilitation.

My Lords, I support Amendments 240A and 259C, so comprehensively introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames. Ever since the formation of the Youth Justice Board, I have been keen on the idea of a women’s justice board, with the accompanying offender management teams, particularly if it was matched by a Prison Service appointment of a director of women’s prisons—a change to the operational management structure of the Prison Service that the MoJ should consider, as I advocated to the Minister when debating an earlier amendment.

The Minister for Prisons and Probation could chair an executive board, consisting of the directors-general of the prison and probation services and the chairmen of the Youth Justice Board and the women’s justice board, obviating any need for Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, which merely inserts a layer of bureaucracy into the executive board—in other words, between the Secretary of State for Justice and individual prison governors.

My Lords, I absolutely love this amendment—that is probably the kiss of death for it, so I am sorry about that. The noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, has a superb idea in seeking to establishing a women’s justice board. Importantly, it would not just look at prisons, courts and policing but would advise on the steps that should be taken to prevent offending by women in the first place. That is crucial. Obviously, the women’s prison population is very different from the men’s: far fewer are convicted of violence, sex offences and drugs offences, with the majority being sentenced for low-level offences such as theft, and trivial things such as non-payment of the TV licence or council tax debt. As has been said, women in prison are also very likely to be victims as well as offenders, with more than half of women reporting suffering domestic violence and more than half reporting childhood trauma.

I know the Government have a whole thing about being tough on crime, but actually, you have to be fair as well. At the moment, the Government are being totally unfair to all kinds of groups and populations within our society: this would be a good way to start rebalancing.

My Lords, although we have equality—quite rightly—there is no doubt that women need to be dealt with differently from men in their situations of going to prison and in prisons. There is no reason not to be tough on crime, but there is every reason to follow these two admirable amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames. It is time that women’s very special situations were recognised, partly as the mothers of children—we have had some appalling stories of women in prison who are pregnant—but partly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just said, to stop them offending and to find the best way to deal with them. It may well be that prison is necessary for some of them, but it may well not be necessary for some of those who actually do go to prison if this new board were in place and could provide some of the services that are so admirable in the youth justice system. So I strongly support these two amendments.

My Lords, I add my support to these amendments. Will the Minister, when he comes to reply, agree that the application of the justice system to women poses especial challenges for everyone involved in the justice system, from the Secretary of State downwards? Does he agree that, at the moment, regrettably, there is a crisis of confidence as to how the criminal justice system in particular, but also the civil justice system, addresses the needs of women? Does he therefore accept, as has been suggested by previous speakers, that the creation of a women’s justice board would focus much-needed attention on these important topics?

My Lords, my role as a loyal government Back-Bencher is to help my noble friend the Minister, and I think I can do that best by strongly supporting these amendments.

We on this side of the Committee strongly support these excellent amendments. The Youth Justice Board was set up in 1998. Its first chair—a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Warner—gave it a really good start. The whole point is that it gives real drive, not as part of government but within the state, to make changes, because everybody recognises that children and young people have different needs, both to divert them from the criminal justice system and when they are there. Similarly, in respect of women, this is a real opportunity; give it drive.

My Lords, as the amendments’ explanatory statements make clear, and as the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, identified, the intention is to provide for the establishment of a women’s justice board for England and Wales which mirrors the rather lengthy provisions setting up the Youth Justice Board. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind words. I can assure him that I gave his amendment very careful thought, and my approach to it has not been adversely affected by the support given to it by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I also heard what my noble friend Lord Attlee said about his role being to help me: with noble friends being so helpful—well, I will leave that one there.

It is fair to say that this is not a new proposition. The House, as I understand it, has looked at this before. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that I agree with her about the importance of ensuring that the criminal justice system caters for the special needs of women. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that women in the criminal justice system pose a special challenge. Respectfully, I do not agree that there is a crisis of confidence: we have actually done a lot and we are doing more. The fact that we have to be alert to the special needs of women, however, is common ground across the Committee.

I therefore broadly agree with the proposition that women in the criminal justice system have particular needs, and we need to identify them. For example, they have a higher prevalence of mental health problems and previous experience of abuse than male offenders. Binge drinking and class A drug use are risk factors more strongly associated with reoffending for women than for men. I acknowledge that, at one level, there is a point to be made that the particular differences and challenges faced by children in the criminal justice system, which led to the establishment of the Youth Justice Board, could support the argument that we should have a women’s justice board. The key point, however, is this: unlike for children in the criminal justice system, we do not have a separate legal framework for women in the criminal justice system. Although their needs are special, and we are careful to identify and cater for them, women are managed as part of the adult criminal justice system.

Perhaps I can put it this way: our criminal justice system needs to be gender-neutral but that does not mean that it should be gender-blind. To that extent, I agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Women have special needs in the criminal justice system, but that system applies equally to all offenders as a matter of law, while recognising their specific individual circumstances. We remain committed to delivering the female offender strategy, which we set out back in 2018. We have set up the Advisory Board on Female Offenders, which brings together government departments, criminal justice agencies and key external stakeholders. I accept that it is a different model from what is set out in the amendment, but it in fact delivers many of the functions that the proposed women’s justice board would do, without the need for new legislation. We are at the moment refreshing the board’s membership to make sure that it has the right blend of knowledge, skill and experience to support delivery of our overall strategy.

I will add two further points. First, I am concerned about, and conscious of, the time it would take for a new body to be set up and establish relationships with the relevant organisations that would make a real difference. As we have the advisory board up and running, I would rather work with—and improve if need be—the organisations that we currently have. Secondly, there is a cost implication. As a point of comparison, if we are going to look across to the Youth Justice Board, its staff costs alone in the 2019-20 accounts were £5.5 million. I really do not want to divert any money from our primary task of fully delivering the female offender strategy. For those reasons, therefore, which I think are a blend of principle and practicality, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of noble Lords from around the House for the proposal to establish a women’s justice board. I pick on two points made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, arguing that women have very special needs. Those are sufficient justification for considering the establishment of a women’s justice board.

I then move to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said about the establishment of the Youth Justice Board. He talked about how it gave “drive” to the consideration of the needs of young offenders and the assistance and help given to them; I should have mentioned the work of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, as the board’s first chair because it was extremely important. It provides some answer to the point made by the Minister, who picked up on the issue of time. The Youth Justice Board was established in 1998. Under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, it started work in that year. It is 23 years since then, and every one of those years has been a success. That is extremely important. In the view of those who spoke in favour of this amendment, we could get equivalent drive and movement in catering for the special needs of women through the establishment of a women’s justice board. It is entirely artificial to draw a distinction between youth justice, where there is certainly a separate structure, and women’s justice, where there is no separate structure and women offenders are treated as part of the adult population.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lady Brinton drew attention to the family needs of women and the devastation produced for women and their children by contact with the criminal justice system. When it is acknowledged that women in the system have very particular needs, as the Minister did fairly, it is enough for me to say that the distinction he drew is artificial. I also accept my noble friend Lady Brinton’s point that the women’s justice board would deal with family court issues as well as criminal court issues. Although I have talked about the criminal justice system, the wider justice system and its help for women are also seriously in need of the extra drive of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, spoke.

Saying that, I detected some flexibility in the Minister’s speech. I hope that, in discussions with him between now and Report, we may find some room for movement. On that basis, even if he does not admit that flexibility now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 240A withdrawn.

Clause 164 agreed.

Amendment 241

Moved by

241: After Clause 164, insert the following new Clause—

Training for offenders

(1) The Sentencing Code is amended as follows.(2) After section 276, insert—“276A Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure for offenders aged at least 18 but under 27(1) A sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure is available to a court dealing with an offender for an offence where—(a) the offender is aged at least 18 but under 27 when convicted,(b) the offence is punishable by that court with imprisonment in the case of a person aged 21 or over,(c) the court is not required to pass a sentence of—(i) detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure (see section 259), or(ii) custody for life (see sections 272 and 275), and (d) the court is satisfied the offender would benefit from the training that would be provided.(2) The power of the court to impose such a sentence is not subject to section 230 (threshold for imposing discretionary custodial sentence).(3) Section 244 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (duty to release) is not applicable to a sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure.276B Term of sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure(1) The maximum full term of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure that a court may impose for an offence is the same as the maximum term of imprisonment that it may impose for the offence in the case of a person aged 21 or over.(2) The minimum term of a sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure is 12 months.(3) The term of a sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure must be the term (not exceeding the permitted maximum) that in the opinion of the court is commensurate with—(a) the seriousness of the offence,(b) providing enough time for the three stages of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure to be effective, and(c) providing a sufficiently strong incentive for the offender to be motivated to meet the improvements in conduct, training, education and performance determined under section 276C in order to move onto Gradual and Safe Release under section 276I.(4) In forming its opinion for the purposes of subsection (3), the court must take into account all the information that is available to it about the circumstances of the offence, or of it and the associated offence or offences, including any aggravating or mitigating factors.(5) The pre-sentence report requirements in section 30 apply to the court in relation to forming that opinion.(6) See section 232 for additional requirements in the case of an offender suffering from a mental disorder.(7) The court may impose a sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure only if it is satisfied that the offender would benefit from it.276C Improvements in conduct, training, education and performance(1) When imposing a sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure, subject to subsection (2), the court must determine what objectively measured improvement in conduct, training, education and performance is to be achieved by the offender before being considered for the final stage of training (gradual and safe release).(2) When making the determination mentioned in subsection (1) the court must set improvement requirements that—(a) are demanding but achievable,(b) can be objectively measured using the system mentioned in subsection (3),(c) take into account the capacity of the offender to improve, given sufficient incentive,(d) take into account the seriousness of the offence in question,(e) take into account the needs of the offender,(f) take into account the availability of training offered by the Secretary of State, and(g) significantly improve the chances of the offender exclusively engaging in legitimate employment. (3) The Secretary of State must devise and implement an objective system for measuring the offender’s improvement in education, training and conduct.276D Location and security of training and electronic communications(1) The Secretary of State must locate the necessary training centres in rural locations sufficiently remote to—(a) sever the trainees from malign gang influences,(b) eliminate trainees’ access to illegal substances,(c) eliminate trainees’ access to mobile phone signals and illegal electronic equipment,(d) provide the necessary security by means of remoteness rather than physical security, and(e) minimise expenditure on physical security.(2) Subject to subsections (3) and (4) the Secretary of State may—(a) direct telecommunication companies to take steps to have the effect of electronically isolating trainees, and(b) make a drone exclusion order and emit electronic signals designed to cause any drone to crash or to come under the control of the Secretary of State.(3) Before making any direction under subsection (2), the Secretary of State must individually consult every adult resident directly affected by the requirements of any such direction.(4) The Secretary of State may offer inducements and compensation to residents adversely affected by directions made under subsection (2).(5) The Secretary of State may conduct the training mentioned in sections 276G and 276H in such locations as he or she sees fit.276E Training teams (1) The Secretary of State may arrange for trainees to undertake their training as part of a team.(2) The Secretary of State may arrange for training teams to be composed with trainees from multiple regions.(3) The Secretary of State may arrange that the teams are competing against each other, especially in exercises.(4) The Secretary of State may arrange that a team can be disadvantaged in terms of privileges and conditions for the team if—(a) the team does not predominate in a training exercise, or(b) a member of the team commits misconduct. 276F Components of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure(1) There are to be three stages of Detention for Training at Her Majesty's pleasure—(a) Basic Compliance Training;(b) Employability Training;(c) Gradual and Safe Release.(2) Trainees must be required to pass out on each stage of training before attempting a later stage of the training.276G Basic Compliance Training(1) The Secretary of State must structure Basic Compliance Training to instil—(a) hope,(b) pride, and(c) discipline.(2) The components of Basic Compliance Training must include, but are not limited to— (a) hope for the future,(b) appearance, dress and bearing,(c) teamwork,(d) nutrition and cooking,(e) basic literacy and numeracy,(f) map reading,(g) first aid training,(h) personal conduct and anger management, both theory and practice, and(i) field craft and camping.(3) The purpose of Basic Compliance Training is to allow the Secretary of State to take greater risks with the trainee and to give the trainee increased personal responsibility for his or her actions.276H Employability Training(1) Employability Training must be composed of trade training, education and personal development.(2) The Secretary of State must structure Employability Training to minimise the probability of re-offending and maximise the offender’s chances of securing permanent good quality legitimate employment.(3) The components of Employability Training must include, but are not limited to—(a) hope for the future,(b) dress and bearing,(c) teamwork,(d) nutrition and cooking,(e) basic literacy and numeracy,(f) map reading,(g) first aid training for a First Aid at Work Certificate,(h) personal conduct and anger management, both theory and practice,(i) adventure training,(j) training in basic fire fighting,(k) training in safe operation of hand-held power tools,(l) training in basic risk assessment,(m) training to acquire a basic construction skills certificate,(n) training to operate a forklift truck,(o) training to erect a prefabricated aluminium access tower, and(p) training exercises both long and short, to test and practise skills.276I Gradual and Safe Release (1) The Secretary of State must structure Gradual and Safe Release to minimise the probability of re-offending and maximise the offender’s chances of securing accommodation and permanent good quality employment.(2) The components of Gradual and Safe Release must include, but are not limited to—(a) arrangements for safe accommodation, not necessarily in the area where the offender was previously resident,(b) arrangements for employment to suit the capability of the offender,(c) requirements not to visit designated areas or places,(d) curfew requirements,(e) abstinence from substance abuse requirements, and(f) tagging requirements. 276J Release on temporary licence for offenders Detained for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure(1) The Secretary of State may grant Release On Temporary Licence (ROTL) to any offender serving a sentence of Detention for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure subject to the conditions in subsection (3).(2) When granting ROTL the Secretary of State may require the offender to—(a) wear an approved tag,(b) adhere to geographical limits,(c) adhere to sobriety requirements,(d) not engage in substance abuse,(e) not use an unauthorised mobile phone or other types of electronic equipment, and(f) not meet or communicate with certain persons or classes of persons.(3) The conditions mentioned in subsection (1) are—(a) an offender who has not passed out on Basic Compliance training can be granted ROTL only in exceptional circumstances,(b) ROTL can be granted for weekend leave,(c) ROTL can be granted to enable an offender to travel from one training location to another, and(d) when the offender is on the final stage of Gradual and Safe Release, ROTL can be granted to attend work or live away from prison facilities for extended periods.276K Effect of non-compliance or not engaging with training(1) Where the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) are met, the Secretary of State may apply to the court to have the remaining part of the offender’s sentence converted to a sentence of imprisonment for the remaining portion of the sentence.(2) The conditions mentioned in subsection (1) are that the offender sentenced to be Detained for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure consistently—(a) fails to make reasonable efforts to comply with the training requirements,(b) makes little or no attempt to address areas for improvement identified by the court under section 276C, or (c) fails to honour the terms of ROTL under section 276J.276L Appointment of mentor for offenders Detained for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure(1) The Secretary of State must appoint a mentor to each offender Detained for Training at Her Majesty’s pleasure.(2) The role of the mentor is to provide—(a) a positive male role model for the trainee,(b) a lay person with the necessary skills to look after the interests of the trainee,(c) a person to whom the trainee can complain about any mistreatment, perceived or real,(d) a person who can skilfully deal with bureaucracy on behalf the trainee when on Gradual and Safe Release, and(e) a person who can attend any passing out or other events.(3) The Secretary of State and prison governors must engage constructively with any mentor appointed under this section when the mentor is undertaking these duties.””

My Lords, I have already sent a detailed paper to most noble Lords. I would like to make it clear that I will not seek the opinion of the Committee or the House at any point. When we debated short sentences and Amendments 212 and 213, I think that most of the Committee was sure that the current prison system was largely ineffective at preventing reoffending. After looking closely at our penal system during 2018 and 2019, I would say that the current system is not able, or even designed, to secure an improvement in education, training and conduct. Without improvements in these areas, reoffending is inevitable. Noble Lords frequently berate Ministers for the poor state and ineffectiveness of our prisons. Rather fewer noble Lords have been prepared to suggest significant reforms and how we could do very much better.

Internationally, we need to be an exemplar rather than a laggard in prison reform. Although there are many areas of potential improvement in our prison system, none is as pressing or potentially beneficial as the management of prolific minor offenders, or PMOs. I am sure that the Committee will accept that it is almost impossible for a functionally illiterate or innumerate young person to secure legitimate employment. At YOI Feltham, I have seen high-quality, well-motivated teachers with good facilities struggle to get illiterate offenders even to sit down in a classroom, let alone learn. I am not convinced that a conventional classroom environment is the right one for these youngsters. Furthermore, they need exceptionally strong incentives to improve their standard of education as well as their conduct. Unfortunately, there can be cultural issues pulling in the opposite direction.

Several factors militate against securing an improvement in their education, training and conduct. Most significantly, within conventional prisons, there is a drug and gang culture with a huge illicit economy, coupled with an illegitimate hierarchy. All this is facilitated by illegal mobile phones. In recent years, I have come to hugely admire prison officers and governors for their work. They do their very best, but it is the regime we ask them to operate that is a problem.

With my Amendment 241, I propose a new sentence for PMOs, and that is detention for training at Her Majesty’s pleasure, or DFT. Release would be dependent upon achieving the required, objectively measured improvements in education, training and conduct, and the level of improvement required would be set by the courts. If the offender fails to make reasonable efforts to comply, the court would be able to require the whole of the rest of the sentence to be served in the conventional secure estate. That is a very strong incentive.

I would like to be clear that this is not a rehash of “short, sharp shock”, a scheme that was designed to be beastly to offenders in order to deter them from reoffending; nor is it a boot camp. With the former, little was done to improve offenders’ skills, so it was not surprising that they continued to reoffend.

The training would be undertaken in remote rural locations in order to sever connection with local gangs, drugs and illegal mobile phones. The remoteness would provide the security rather than the secure estate, with its forbidding stone walls. The training would be undertaken as part of small, multiregionally composed teams, and being a leading light in the Peckham Warriors would not cut much ice. Since the training would be demanding and fulfilling, at the end of the day the trainees would be more interested in sleep than drugs or getting up to mischief.

I will not weary the Committee with too much detail, as it is set out in my amendment, mainly on page 14 and 19 of the Ninth Marshalled List, as well as in my paper. However: the first component is what I call “Basic Compliance Training”, which is designed to instil hope, pride and discipline. Hope is extremely important, because we currently have a suicide rate in the prison system of at least one per week. The purpose of BCT is to allow greater risks to be taken at later stages of the training. One of these could include the use of ROTL, if appropriate, to comply with the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, with respect to contact with families.

The employability training phase is self-explanatory. The point is that trainees need to be given some useful qualifications to make them employable. Take construction work: you cannot just put on a pair of safety boots and walk on to a construction site as a labourer. You need to have a basic construction skills certificate to be safe and competent. DFT would provide the necessary training and testing. This is just an example. Why are we not already providing PMOs with that training—universally and not just in one or two lucky cases?

At the risk of enraging the Daily Mail, I can assure the Committee that there would be elements of fun in the training. This could be especially so in exercises which might be held in an international aid scenario. In my experience, fun is essential to motivate trainees within a disciplined organisation.

The final stage is “Gradual and Safe Release”, which is essentially a glide path to full release rather than what we talked about at Amendment 210, which is a binary “in or out” situation and often doomed to failure. The Committee has already discussed UC and accommodation problems associated with release. There is also provision for a mentor to prevent a variety of adverse outcomes and help the trainee deal with bureaucracy on release.

Regarding the economics, we spend about £44,000 on 12 months of imprisonment, which is more than the cost of a boarding school. By comparison, an Army basic training course costs just under £30,000 per student on a 14-week course after the recruit’s wages are stripped out. I envisage an intense 16 to 20-week course, so what I am proposing is not unaffordable. In making these comparisons I am not proposing a military training course per se; however, my military and international aid experience obviously informs my thinking.

I accept that this is not a perfect proposal: there will be parts of it that are not quite right. I have no intention of pressing this matter tonight, and I doubt that I will return to it at a later stage of the Bill. The question remains, however: are we going to continue to tolerate a prison system that is so hopelessly flawed, or drastically reform it, at least in respect of prolific minor offenders? I look forward to the Committee’s response. I beg to move.

My Lords, I like many elements of the proposal from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We all know that the youth justice system, in theory if not in practice, is focused on diverting young people from criminal justice towards a better life. At 18 years of age, however, this sort of falls off a cliff as young adults get dropped into the mainstream criminal justice system and are left to fend for themselves. This leaves a huge population of young adults stuck in the adult prison system and missing out on essential learning and the foundations for developing work, family and social lives. These young people are also often illiterate.

Those important years of young adulthood—when one is no longer a child but lacks experience and wisdom—are lost in prison, and can never be retrieved. I like the aspect of this amendment, therefore, that would create a structured system of personal development and rehabilitation for those too old for young offender institutions but too young to be written off by society as lifelong criminals. There are issues about the tuition they would be given, because many of them might have problems such as autism or dyspraxia: they would need specialist help. That they would, however, be leaving better informed and educated than they went in is a positive for them as individuals and for society.

My Lords, I have some sympathy for the noble Earl’s amendment because of two experiences of mine. First, I had to undergo 10 weeks of basic compliance training when I did my National Service. It had many of the elements listed here. Hope for the future was there. Certainly, a lot of attention was paid to dress and bearing, teamwork, first aid training, conduct and anger management, fieldcraft and so on. I underwent that for 10 weeks as a recruit. Later in my national service, having become a commissioned officer, I was responsible for training recruits, and I noticed a remarkable difference in their behaviour and appearance between the beginning and the end of the 10 weeks. That impressed on me the value of the training that the Army was then able to provide.

At a later stage in my life, when I was prosecuting criminals, usually in Glasgow High Court, a lot of those who were being prosecuted I could see in my mind’s eye as people who might have been among my platoons of people undergoing training. My great regret was that we had not been able to get hold of them before the gang fights took place that led them to being prosecuted and ultimately going to prison. There is a lot of force in what the noble Earl has suggested. In those days—I am talking about my national service days—there was an enormous force available within the Army to conduct all these procedures. This is not easily managed. You are required to train the trainers and you must have the facilities. However, the philosophy and thinking behind the noble Earl’s amendment has a great deal to recommend it. He is talking about people who have already been convicted, but it would be lovely if one could intercept them before they got into the criminal system in the beginning. We cannot do that but, at least if they have been convicted, we can do something to prevent reoffending, which is what I think his amendment is driving at.

My Lords, perhaps I may respond to what noble Lords have said. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned young offender institutions. When I was getting educated by Frances Crook, I asked her, “How often do inmates at a YOI get taken out on camp?” She said to me, “John, you should ask how often they are taken out of their cells.”

In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, I am not proposing conscription or a national service-type solution. However, the points that he makes are absolutely what is informing my thinking. He made a valid point about the need for instructors and I am not proposing the use of the military to provide that function. Prison officers ought to be taking up that role and I envisage, among other things, youngsters who trained as Outward Bound instructors who cannot necessarily get particularly well-paid employment then training as prison officers and being double-hatted. There are a lot of things that we could do if we wanted to do them.

My Lords, I will not address the detail of the noble Earl’s amendment, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that there is a great deal of merit in the call for more and better training within the penal system. We have long taken the view that training within prisons in particular is inadequate, poorly arranged and often unavailable. We therefore commend the noble Earl for the thrust of his amendment and certainly commend him for the care and dedication that he has given to setting it out in detail and in the briefing that he circulated.

We are not convinced of the need for a new sentence of detention for training at Her Majesty’s pleasure but we agree with the heart of the amendment, which is the focus on skills to train for future employment, for which there is a great need. The classroom-style of training does not always work. What is needed is training for skills on the job and for soft skills because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out, not everyone is suitable for the basic training that perhaps the noble Earl has in mind. There should be a combination of practical, soft and technological skills. We are all for better training. However, we seek the Government’s work to be directed towards the provision of that sort of training—better training and more of it—within the criminal justice system and overcoming the barriers to prisoners being work-ready by the time they finish their terms of imprisonment because, at the moment, there is a serious deficiency in that area.

My Lords, I join noble Lords in commending the noble Earl for the effort and work that he has put into this and the fact that he has thought it through. I also commend what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said. It was obviously not a detention for training centre that he was passed to, but his experience was successful in diverting him from the criminal justice system. That is an indication that it worked, even if he ended up in the criminal justice system as the Lord President of the Court of Session and a member of the Supreme Court.

I very much agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said. There are parts of this that we would all agree with. However, we on this side would not support this as a separate sentence. If one looks at the detail, it requires the setting up of a number of rural detention centres. The right thing is for the Government to look at the elements aimed at trying to rehabilitate those in the criminal justice system and use them in the existing system, rather than setting up a whole new network. We admire the noble Earl’s work but think that this is not the appropriate way forward.

My Lords, the amendment from my noble friend Lord Attlee would seek to introduce a new sentence of detention for training at Her Majesty’s pleasure. It is aimed at offenders who are at least 18 and under 27. The key principle is that release would be gradual and dependent on the offender reaching the required performance levels in conduct, education and training. It would be served in training sites in remote rural areas.

I thank my noble friend sincerely for presenting his genuinely interesting idea—I was going to say “novel”, but we have all watched “Yes Minister”. He has done what he said others have not by thinking positively and constructively about what we can do in the future, rather than just criticising what we do now. I think that we all share his desire to reduce the reoffending rate for young adults. Training and education can enable people to turn their lives around and stop reoffending. I reassure my noble friend and the Committee that the Government are already taking action that addresses those issues.

My noble friend is right to be concerned that offenders leave prison illiterate and innumerate and is right to say that that significantly increases the prospects that they will reoffend. We all share those concerns. I can reassure the Committee that many offenders already achieve accredited qualifications in the fundamental basic subjects of English and maths while in prison. We recently published data that shows that, between April 2019 and March 2020, over 30,000 prisoners started English and maths courses and over half of this number completed the courses and received accreditations. Over and above that, many more will also have undertaken vocational training. However, we are not sitting on our laurels. We recognise that there is more to do. We welcome external scrutiny by the Education Select Committee, which has launched an inquiry into prison education, and Ofsted, which recently announced that it will be conducting a review of reading in prisons.

On employment, we want to make sure that the prison education and skills offer for prisoners is aligned with what employers want and need. We know that there is a correlation between getting a job when you come out of prison and not reoffending. We want to prepare prisoners for employment and the Deputy Prime Minister has made that a clear priority. We want to have partnerships with more businesses and build on the work that we already do with companies such as Halfords, Timpson and Willmott Dixon. We are also making sure that the Civil Service plays its part. In the beating crime plan, we have committed to recruiting 1,000 prison leavers into the Civil Service by 2023.

Over and above that, we want to make sure that we have effective community supervision. Not only will that keep the public safer by providing early intervention, it will deflect offenders away from future offending as well. We set out in our sentencing White Paper an agenda of reform for not only punishing but, importantly, rehabilitating low-level offenders. We have set out a number of measures in this Bill as well: problem-solving courts, suspended sentence orders and extending the use of electronic monitoring. I believe that those measures will support offenders to change their lifestyles for good. In that, of course, I share the aims set out by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

The youth adult cohort is particularly important in this regard. The Committee may be interested to know that we are working with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and other government departments to run a two-year pilot, from this year to 2023, to meet the needs of 18 to 25 year-olds on probation, and also 17 year-olds who are due to transition from youth offending services into adult probation services in London. We also want to make sure that existing community order requirements can be tailored to the particular needs of young adults.

I listened with interest to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said. I am not sure we can or would want to reintroduce National Service here, but certainly the values that underpinned what the noble and learned Lord was talking about are the values that I think we all know do help offenders turn their lives around and stop reoffending. But, if I can channel Juvenal in what I think is Satire VI, who will train the trainers might be an important point there.

I hope that what I have said will reassure my noble friend that we take the issue seriously. We think we are doing quite a lot of what underpins his proposal, and we very much welcome proposals such as this because they stimulate debate and thought. None the less, for present purposes, I invite him to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the response of all noble Lords in this short debate. I would tease my noble friend the Minister and invite him at some stage to read a recent report to the Chief Inspector of Prisons that stimulated some of my thinking.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, mentioned soft skills, which are extremely important. I know that anger management training is done within the prison system, but one thing I envisage is on exercises: the trainees have to practise anger management scenarios where they are faced with someone being stroppy and have to respond in the right way, and you can really only do that in an exercise outside the ghastly prison environment.

That takes me on to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, about isolation. The inside of a prison is absolutely ghastly. If you have youngsters who are already mentally fragile, having had a ghastly upbringing, which everyone in this Committee knows about, and then stick them in a conventional prison, it is the worst possible environment. That is why I am proposing that, to try to rebuild these youngsters, we need to do it in the beautiful countryside, not inside a ghastly prison. But I am extremely grateful for the response of the Committee and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 241 withdrawn.

Amendment 242

Moved by

242: After Clause 164, insert the following new Clause—

“Rehabilitation of offenders who are addicted to drugs or alcohol

(1) Offenders who commit offences other than murder, manslaughter, terrorism or sexual offences, and who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, must be given a sentence with a requirement to attend a residential rehabilitation unit.(2) An offender who refuses to attend or fails to remain at the unit must serve the remainder of their sentence in prison.”

My Lords, picking up on what the Minister said about rehabilitation, this is a probing amendment; I have no intention of taking it further. However, there are a very considerable number of people who arrived in prison with drink and drug addiction. All too many of them pick up addiction—perhaps not drink but drug addiction—in prison. The trouble is that, when they leave prison, they almost certainly will not have had very much, if any, help. There are a few systems—but very few—and they are almost certain to reoffend because, once you are addicted to drugs or to drink, you are going to reoffend because you need the money.

There is a cycle of offences by vulnerable people who have taken up drink and drugs who may be committing drug offences but are equally likely to be committing offences of burglary, theft and other similar crimes. So I am suggesting that the Government put in place at least one residential unit as a pilot project. I know Governments like pilot projects; the great problem is to get them beyond the pilot. In this case, I would like them to get to first base, to a pilot project where a drug or drink addict—generally a repeat offender—should be sent to that residential unit as a probation order, with a requirement to stay there. If they do not want to go or do not stay the course, of course they have a sentence of imprisonment and go back to prison.

It really might help a considerable number of people. With any luck, it might reduce some of the prison population. So, although the up-front cost of such a residential unit would no doubt be expensive, I suspect it would become cost-effective in the long term. I am not certain that this is really appropriate for primary legislation, but I have put it here to nudge the Government into trying to do something. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the probing Amendment 242 from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As the Minister referred to “juvenile” earlier, I remind the Committee of his views on heavy drinking: that it can be either a civilising force or the bane of civilisation. In society today, particularly in those who offend, it might be the latter.

The Liberal Democrats have long believed that the best treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is to treat it as a health emergency for the individual and society. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, outlined, there are already interventions in prison for those with addictions, whether drug or alcohol. But many are talking therapies, many of which, as a result of the pandemic, remain on the phone or on Zoom, and it is certainly true that we are hearing that offenders are finding that less effective.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is right: a custodial sentence is the right time to think about dedicating time and energy to a residential rehabilitation course, where there are no distractions or problems of cancellation or changes of prison where you cannot continue with the same course. The NHS Integrated Substance Misuse Treatment Service in Prisons in England report, published in 2018, says:

“The purpose of health care in prison, including care for drug and alcohol problems, is to provide an excellent, safe and effective service to all prisoners equivalent to that of the community—whether the aim is stabilisation, crisis intervention or recovery from dependence.”

The guiding principles are “Recovery”, “Reducing harm”, “Reducing deaths in custody” and “Reducing reoffending”.

Recovery is key, but the reality is that the numbers are not good. The last report from the Ministry of Justice Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Secure Settings: 2018 to 2019, shows that the current arrangements have mixed results. It reports that of 53,000

“adults in alcohol and drug treatment in prisons and secure settings”

in that year, around 65% started treatment and just under 60%

“left treatment in secure settings.”

The report says that only just over a quarter of those who were discharged after completing their sentence were free of dependence. The figures for young people receiving treatment, principally for alcohol and cannabis problems, are not dissimilar. Of those young people who left secure settings in 2018, under 30% completed their treatment successfully.

Continuity of care between treatment services is absolutely vital, and the proportion of adults successfully starting community treatment within three weeks of release was only a third. The intensity and focus of residential courses for people addicted to drugs and alcohol already has a higher success rate, and if attended near the start of their sentence could well mean that they have a real opportunity to learn to live with recovery.

Public Health England’s evidence review of drug treatment, published in 2015, says:

“The costs to society are significant. Latest estimates by the Home Office”,

in 2013,

“suggest that the cost of illicit drug use in the UK is £10.7bn”.

Of those costs, NHS costs are 1%, enforcement costs 10% and drug-related crime costs 54%. Public Health England’s review notes that, in all, around 50,000 people received drug treatment in prison in 2015-16. Nearly one-third had also received drug treatment in the community. The numbers are stuck. They are not improving.

The review makes two key points: waiting times to access a course and active steps taken to prevent a drop-out are significant in achieving a good outcome. This amendment proposes a mechanism that would not only prove beneficial to the offenders attending it, with a higher rate of success than the range of other interventions currently used, but would serve society and significantly reduce the costs of drug-fuelled crime.

My Lords, I had a very sheltered upbringing: I do not know where I could get any recreational drugs. If I went to a pub, I would probably find myself trying to buy recreational drugs from an undercover police officer. The one way I could certainly get some drugs is to get myself sent to prison on remand, because I could get drugs in a prison. I would like to hear from my noble friend the Minister what he is doing to stop drugs getting into prisons. It would be very helpful to understand how drugs get into prisons. Who is bringing them in? That is why my previous amendment referred to “remote” and “rural”, because it would be virtually impossible to import drugs into that establishment.

My Lords, we support this amendment from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As she said, there is a cycle of offences for vulnerable people with drink and drug problems. In many ways it forms the vast majority of cases that we see in magistrates’ courts. I have come from Westminster Magistrates’ Court today and I can assure her that I dealt with as many drug and alcohol cases as I usually do. To use the word of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the numbers are stuck where they are. Things are not getting better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gave a very full and insightful summary of the statistics. I have been a long-standing member of the drugs and alcohol all-party group. This is an intractable problem that we see throughout the criminal justice system.

The initiative from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is to have a residential rehabilitation unit at the start, essentially, of any potential custodial sentence, and if people dropped out, they would then get a custodial sentence. It might work and it may well be worth a try. I will make one comment—I hate doing this, because one of the consequences of being a magistrate is that one becomes a sceptic, but nevertheless I will say that I think drug therapies work better when people do them voluntarily. I often say to people when I release them on bail on a drugs offence, whatever the offence, “If you can engage voluntarily in drug rehabilitation”—very often those are the same services that they are statutorily required to go to—“then any sentencing court when you come back to be sentenced will look on it more favourably.” Sometimes that message gets home.

Despite that note of scepticism, I still support the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment. It is another approach. There needs to be a multitude of approaches to address this scourge, and this particular approach is worth a try.

My Lords, this probing amendment from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, would require the courts to impose a sentence with the requirement to attend a residential rehabilitation unit where the offender has a drug or alcohol addiction, unless they had been convicted of murder, manslaughter, a terrorism offence, or a sexual offence. So, we are dealing here with the position at sentence. I will come to my noble friend Lord Attlee’s point about drugs in prison, although that is a slightly different, albeit related, point from that raised by the amendment.

I recognise the noble and learned Baroness’s intention to address the drug or alcohol—sometimes drug and alcohol—misuse problems that may be at the heart of the offending. I reassure her and the Committee that there are already ways in which we are doing this, and I will say something about that, but I am concerned that this approach would unduly restrict sentencers and remove some decision-making powers from them. When deciding what sentences to impose, the courts obviously have to take into account the circumstances of the offence and any aggravating or mitigating factors, in line with the sentencing guidelines from the Sentencing Council.

At the moment, community sentence treatment requirements can already be imposed by the court as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. They can include drug rehabilitation requirements, alcohol treatment requirements and mental health treatment requirements. Any magistrates at court, as we have heard, or Crown Court can already impose a drug rehabilitation requirement or alcohol treatment requirement as part of a community order or suspended sentence order, where that is recommended by probation and where the court is satisfied that the offender is suitable for treatment, arrangements have been made for treatment, and importantly—I will come back to this—the offender has consented to the treatment. The treatment would take place under the supervision of the probation service.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, pointed out, consent is a vital component in any treatment requirement. A court can enforce residential provision at the recommendation of probation, but we are clear that a court cannot, and, I suggest, should not, force an offender to undergo a treatment programme, because consent is essential. Even when an offender consents to treatment, the Committee will be aware that residential treatment placements are unfortunately scarce, expensive and in high demand from substance misuse services in the general community as well as those in the criminal justice system.

We have to give priority for places to those who have demonstrated a sustained and successful commitment to their sobriety or a drug-free life, which can be hard to establish ahead of sentencing. Also, those who are offered a place in many cases have to be prepared to travel to locations far from home, which would, in the case of offenders, disrupt essential case management by probation. Demand for community drug and alcohol services is high. We are rolling out £80 million in drug treatment funding with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, which will include funding to ensure that prison leavers and those who have been given community sentences with treatment requirements can access the services they need.

I hope that I have set out a response to the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment. My noble friend Lord Attlee started off by asking how he could most easily obtain drugs; in response, I have to say that there are some limits to the assistance that Ministers can provide to Members of the House. However, so far as drugs in prison are concerned—I will not take too much time on this—while there are urine tests for people going into prison and we have scanners, searches and increasingly sophisticated chemical tests, I recognise that there is still a problem. With respect, though, that is a separate point, and therefore I will not say any more about it now. I hope that I have addressed the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment, which I invite her to withdraw.

My Lords, I thank those who have spoken in this short debate. I say to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that I deliberately pitched this too high because I recognise that consent is an absolutely crucial part of any treatment. The nub is that I would like the Government to set up their own residential unit and make it an extremely important part of the sentence, so that the judge or the magistrate can say, “If you are prepared to agree to go to the government residential unit, where you will have to stay until you are told that you can leave, you will not go to prison, but if you do not agree then the sentence will be” whatever it may be. That is what I am looking for from the Government. At the moment, the Government are using everybody else’s residential units. They are expensive, infrequent and insufficient. If we are to crack what is going on, even to a small extent, with rehabilitation for those who are constantly in and out of prison suffering from drink and drug addiction, the Government must put some money up front, produce a residential unit and then say, “That should be a pilot project to see what the success rate is.” Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 242 withdrawn.

Clause 165: British Sign Language interpreters for deaf jurors

Debate on whether Clause 165 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I oppose the Question that Clause 165 stand part of the Bill; I seek not to add but to remove something from the Bill. Section 9B of the Juries Act 1974 gives the judge the power to consider whether a disabled person can undertake their duties as a juror when there is doubt on the part of court officials. New Section 9C requires the judge to consider whether a British Sign Language interpreter would enable the juror to be effective. The rest of the clause is concerned with sensible, consequential provisions.

The Committee should note that the judge is involved only if there is doubt on the part of officials. A potential juror with an effective hearing aid would not go through the Section 9B process since there would be no doubt that they could be effective. I undertook jury duty many years ago, long before arriving at your Lordships’ House. It was indeed interesting to me, but I regarded it as a duty or an obligation. It is not a right or a privilege in addition to being a duty, as, for example, voting in a general election is. Therefore, I see no requirement to make these special provisions so far as a completely deaf juror is concerned.

I accept that many deaf people can also lip-read, which would no doubt supplement the assistance of a BSL interpreter. My concern is surely that many cases turn on the credibility of the witness and, sometimes, which witness is not telling the truth. Suppose in a case involving an expert witness, counsel is asking searching questions and makes a provocative suggestion. The expert witness might calmly respond, “No, that is not correct”, knowing full well that opposing counsel will return to the matter later. However, what the deaf juror inadvertently could pick up is, “No, that’s wrong”, which might appear to be the counsel having the witness on the ropes, when that is far from the facts.

A further difficulty might arise in the jury room when deliberating the verdict. I have been in the jury room. Discussion could be fast and furious, and I cannot see how the interpreter could possibly keep up. It would be possible to slow the proceedings down, which might be beneficial, but since we do not research how juries operate we cannot tell what the effect would be. The other jurors may simply ignore the deaf juror.

Finally, the clause also, quite properly, makes consequential provisions that put the interpreter under the same obligations of confidentiality as the other jurors. However, he or she is not a decision-maker and will still be in a different position, and we cannot know what, if any, chilling effect on discussions may arise from the interpreter’s presence. I expect noble Lords supporting me will come up with far better arguments than mine, but I oppose the Question that Clause 165 stand part of the Bill.

I have added my name to the noble Earl’s opposition to Clause 165. I understand that jury service is a civic duty and there are strong equality arguments that a deaf person should not be disqualified because they cannot proceed without an interpreter. I also understand that the judge has discretion over whether the nature of the issues in the case makes it appropriate for a sign language interpreter to retire with the jury, and that the clause makes it very clear that the interpreter will have a duty not to interfere in or influence the deliberations of the jury. I understand all that, but I have concerns about the consequences of allowing a 13th or 14th person to sit in the jury room. I say 13th and 14th, because there will be a need for at least two interpreters, as any one interpreter is going to struggle to perform this task for more than 30 minutes at a time.

The first set of concerns relates to the effects on the dynamics of the jury. A jury depends on effective communications between the 12 persons serving on it. To ensure that the interpreter performs their role effectively, he or she may need to intervene in the deliberations to prevent people from talking over each other; and the interpreter may need to ask people to repeat themselves or to clarify what they are saying. This will have an effect on the dynamics of the jury room. There is also the potential problem that what is said by the interpreter to the deaf person cannot be understood and monitored by the rest of the jury.

That was the first set of concerns. The second type of concern is that Clause 165 makes provision only for a subset of otherwise excluded members of a jury. We are not making any provision for potential jurors who have insufficient command of English to participate effectively, or persons who cannot read relevant documents because of a low level of literacy or poor eyesight. The clause also makes no provision for deaf or hearing-impaired people who do not use British Sign Language but instead use text communication systems. It is a bit odd to make provision only for deaf persons, and then only for a subset of deaf persons.

My third concern is that, as I understand from helpful discussions with the Minister, provisions similar to Clause 165 have been the subject of testing in other jurisdictions, but no modelling has been done with shadow juries in this country. The noble Earl mentioned that we cannot do research with real juries, but research is often done with shadow or model juries. I ask the Minister whether it would not be sensible, before such a significant change to jury trial is introduced in this country, to conduct some research with shadow or pretend juries to see how this is going to work.

My Lords, I participate in this debate and support this amendment with personal reluctance. I think I am allowed to say this: my wife spent the whole of her professional working life treating children born with genetic or birth injuries. Her whole ambition was that that little boy or girl should be able to lead a full and complete life as a member of the community. Some of them did lead absolutely full lives, but some were too—to use the word that was used in the days when she was working—disabled to do so. I know from her experience how crucial it is that opportunities are available to people who have either been born with or acquired disabilities of this kind so, on a personal level, I am reluctant.

However, on a professional level, I must remember that I served as a barrister, doing many jury trials, then as a judge, also doing many jury trials. I have dealt with interpreters of language and interpreters for the deaf. I will not say much more than Mr Pannick—the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—did, but I do want to say one or two things.

First, this paper misses that one of the most crucial facts in what a jury must decide is an analysis of who is telling the truth. It is obvious in almost every case. May I draw noble Lords’ attention to a case I had to deal with? A man was charged with rape. There was a long record; it was just after tape recorders were introduced and before the police had learned to realise that you do not bully people into confessions. There on the tape recorder was a clear admission: “I admit I raped her.” The counsel for the defendant gets up and says, “I want the jury to hear the tape recording.” “Why?”, asked the judge—me. “Have you not checked that it is correct?” “Yes, I have, my Lord”, said the defence. “That is why I want the jury to hear the tape. I shall be submitting to the jury that, if they hear the tape, they will realise that the admission that is plain on the paper simply was not a true confession.” Of course, I agreed. The case unfolded and the tape recording was heard. I have no idea what the 12 members of the jury thought about it but, to me, it was perfectly obvious that, after he had been told about 23 times that he had in fact committed the rape, the man said, “All right, I admit it”, in a tone of complete resignation. His mind was not going with an admission; he was just fed up with the fact that the police had not listened to him.

Can we pause and think of that case in the context of the proposal here? What is to happen to a deaf juror who cannot hear the resignation in the admission? The interpreter cannot do it. They cannot say how it is said—for example, “I think that he was reluctant” or “I think that it is a true confession”. The interpreter cannot help the juror, or they become part of the jury. What happens then? What happens in that case is simply a more vivid example of what happens in just about every single criminal case: someone, as the noble Earl suggested, is lying. It may be the defendant. It may be the witness. Perhaps a kind way to put it is that somebody is badly mistaken, if it is a witness. However, the analysis of who is right and who is wrong is a long, drawn-out process in which the jury must see and hear the witness and observe any hesitations or changes of expression. There are all sorts of little clues about how to make the decision on credibility. With great respect, somebody interpreting using sign language is not going to be able to get across the tone in which the evidence is given. It is simply not possible.

I move to another point—the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has made it already. Go with me into the jury room. I have seen jurors who are very cross and upset. You can tell that when they come back, because they are not agreed on their verdict and there they are: heated, anxious and worried. That is because every member of a jury, or virtually every member, I ever came across was determined to exert himself or herself to fulfil their public responsibility to reach a true verdict, so if they disagree about whether somebody is guilty, of course they are going to get steamed up. How will the dynamics work? Is it really being suggested that, within the jury room, the 12 of them should be together and that every time any one of the 11 who is not deaf makes a contribution, whether a comment, a long sentence or a paragraph, nobody can respond until such time as the interpretation has finished? I do not think that is real. I also think that, with the presence of interpreters—there will undoubtedly be at least two because half an hour of that work is extremely arduous—there will be at least 14 people. Go to any meeting that you are involved in and if somebody is there who is not actually involved, not responsible for what is going on, it changes the dynamic for all.

Let me leave the 13th or 14th person in the room and come to my fundamental objection. It will be the first time, as far as I am aware, when a jury room’s sanctity will be broken. We have always worked on the basis that what goes on in the jury room is private—not just confidential—to the 12 members of the jury. This is a very serious step for us to be taking. I can assure you that the next stage will be, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, suggested, “Well, somebody is not able to speak English but has a citizen’s obligation. He or she should serve on a jury with a language interpreter.” I can assure you too—and this is perhaps more urgent—that there will be a whole series of academic professors dying to get into the jury room to see how juries reach their verdicts. So far, we have resisted it—in England, at any rate. What will happen to the confidentiality and privacy of the jury system if we let this door open?

That seems a fundamental issue of principle; it is not a matter of practical possibilities—as things improve, as science and technology get better. We are setting a very serious precedent. Although, of course, we cannot imagine it ever happening, I cannot help feeling in my remote dreams that, one day, a Secretary of State for the Home Department may say, “Why are these people being acquitted? It is a very good thing for us to have somebody in the jury room just to make sure that they are following the judge’s directions to them.”

I have three further points to make. The first is the language point—I have made that. Secondly, what is the role of the deaf juror in the context of his or her obligations to do jury service? If somebody turns up at court who can use or understand sign language, will it be compulsory that he serves on a jury? Everybody else has to turn up; there has to be a very good reason—there is an obligation to act as a juryman. Do we say, “Well, in the case of the deaf person, there’s a special dispensation?” In which case they are not being treated like everybody else. We need to examine that, because I would have thought that there is many a deaf person who would be willing to serve on a jury, but there will be quite a lot who would not.

Finally, while we are examining the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about possible shadow research, why are we not looking at the technology that is available? It is at least possible that my objection in principle could be addressed through technology. We all know that any time we turn on our television and some extraordinary language from the Baltic countries is being used, little lines come up to tell us what is being said. All members of the Bar with successful practices—and I never did have one—work in courts where all the evidence emerges on a screen as it is given. Why is that not being looked at? Why in relation to the principal issue are we not finding ways that a deaf juror can be accommodated within the jury room without any interpreters being present at all?

My Lords, I ask the Committee to forgive me for using legal language. Some years ago, I had a case in Newport. It was a murder trial in which the victim was profoundly deaf, the defendant was profoundly deaf and four or five of the witnesses were profoundly deaf. This trial proceeded with three sign language interpreters always in the courtroom: one for the defendant, one for the witness and one behind the judge, positioned so that everybody, including the many profoundly deaf people in the public gallery, could see what was happening.

When I first looked at this provision, I thought, like everyone else would, that surely a person who is profoundly deaf should be entitled to carry out their public duty. But the practicalities of it make that an impossible idea. For a deaf juror, there has to be a succession of people interpreting what is going on in the court in sign language. First of all, that is an immense burden on him—he is different from everyone else; and, secondly, while what is said in the court can be heard by everyone else, we do not know whether the person doing the signing gets it right. Nobody can really tell if that is the case, unless, as in my case, you have someone familiar with sign language in the box with the defendant.

How can we be sure that that juror understands the nuances of a summing-up, in which the judge sets out the law that the jury is to apply? Can it be the case that some other person who knows sign language checks that the proper interpretation is being made of what may be very technical language? As I learned, the sign language interpreter is not translating word for word but is conveying ideas. During that case I also discovered that sign language interpreters and witnesses who give their evidence by signing are quicker than people using ordinary speech. It is not a slower procedure, rather it actually speeds things up; the rest of the court have to hold the sign language interpreters back.

However, in the jury room, there is no way in which a profoundly deaf person can follow the arguments being made—passionate and otherwise: nobody can be sure that every nuance of what the other jurors are saying is being transmitted, and nobody can be sure that an interruption or question from a profoundly deaf person is being accurately translated and represents his thoughts.

I take the argument of principle that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, put forward, but from a practical point of view, and from my experience of that trial, it is impossible for a fair trial to take place.

My Lords, I do not think I can add very much to the points that have already been made on the difficulties which this proposal is likely to give rise to, except to say that one has to remember that hearings in criminal trials take a very long time. I do not know whether we, who have never had to be instructed in sign language, are able to tell whether a deaf juror can maintain concentration by that method throughout the entire day that the trial goes on, and indeed whether the interpreter can conduct that process throughout the entire day without relief. Maybe you would have to have another interpreter to come and take over after a reasonable interval, as you often had to do with shorthand writers in the days when they were used.

I absolutely understand the points that have been made with great force, particularly by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge. On the other hand, I think I understand where the Government are coming from, if I can put it this way. We have to face the fact that disability is not itself a ground for exemption from jury service. That extends to all disabilities, whatever they are. I think there is an obligation under the Equality Act on a public institution such as we are dealing with here to take all reasonable steps to assist those who are willing to serve as jurors and are suffering from a disability. Of course, that is relatively easy if you are dealing with somebody who cannot walk properly, is paraplegic, or has a disability of that kind, but it becomes much more difficult when you are dealing with a blind juror, and even more difficult, I suggest, with a deaf juror.

I add to those comments something about other jurisdictions; the jurisdiction I am familiar with is Scotland. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service conducted a survey and made some proposals in a document called Enabling Jury Service, which was published in February 2018. Having looked at the Equality Act and the fact that disability is not a ground for exemption, it concluded that certain steps should be taken to fulfil what it regarded as the requirements of that Act. One recommendation relevant to our discussion was that

“consideration be given to amending current legislation to enable the presence of additional approved persons to be present in the jury room during the jury deliberations; furthermore that consideration be given to prescribing a specific form of additional oath for this purpose.”

A further recommendation was

“that the final decision relating to the suitability of proceedings, in which a particular juror may serve, based on the court’s ability to set in place a suitable and reasonable adjustment, and having considered the nature of the evidence to be led, will be one of the presiding judge, and that a suitable statutory power to this effect be created.”

Those recommendations are rather superficial compared with the very detailed provision set out in this clause, but the Scottish service did apply its mind to this possibility.

However, that report was issued in February 2018 and, so far as I can discover, no steps have been taken to amend the legislation to enable these recommendations to be put into effect. I suggest to the Minister that he should make inquiries as to why that has happened. It may be that the Scottish service concluded, for the reasons that have been given so forcefully by other noble Lords, that the difficulties are so insurmountable that one can never imagine a judge giving permission. What is the point of the clause if, to be realistic, no judge having regard to the interests of justice and all its accommodating factors could possibly authorise this juror to sit?

I can see where the Minister is coming from, but one has to ask whether there is a realistic prospect of any judge applying his or her mind to the interests of justice ever giving sanction for this to take place—in which case, it may be that this clause is simply not worth the paper it is written on.

My Lords, this is a very difficult issue and one on which I would normally expect to find myself on the side of assisting persons with a disability, for precisely the reasons given just now by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, but also by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, at the beginning of his speech. That would be assisting persons with a disability such as deafness to take a full part in jury trials, even as members of a jury, so I completely share the reluctance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in finding myself opposing the Government’s proposals and wishing to restrict the assistance proposed for people with the disability of deafness.

One has every respect for the fact that similar proposals were considered in Scotland in 2018, as explained by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, but I have come to the conclusion that it is simply incompatible with a fair trial by jury for one or more of the jurors to be assisted by one or more sign language interpreter—it is an important point that it may take more than one to give coverage throughout a trial. It seems to me that the presence of an interpreter in the jury room would raise a number of questions that are simply impossible to answer in a way that is compatible with this new proposal. The questions may reflect some of the concerns that noble Lords and noble and learned Lords have expressed in this debate.

The first is: would the interpreter be bringing a personal view of the evidence and the discussions to bear on the juror concerned, for whom he or she was interpreting? The associated question is: how would we know that the interpreter was bringing that personal view to bear on the juror concerned? The next question is, in one sense, the converse of that: would the contribution of the juror concerned to the deliberations of the jury as a whole genuinely reflect the contribution which that juror would have made had the interpreter not been present? That, of course, affects not just the juror concerned but all the other members of the jury as well.

Then there is a third and very obvious point, made as a result of the speed with which jury deliberations necessarily take place and which reflects the points made by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford: how accurate is the interpretation that is achieved in any particular case? Again, the second point that arises from that is: how is that accuracy to be monitored? How do we know how accurate the interpretation is? Of course, it is not just the interpretation of the contributions to the deliberations that that particular juror has to make, but also the interpretation to that juror of what all the other jurors who might agree or disagree with that juror’s point of view may be saying.

Also, how far would the contributions of other jurors be affected by any actual or perceived views of the interpreter? We come back to the questions raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, of the dynamics of the jury room. We all know from experience that people gathered together carry different degrees of forcefulness, persuasiveness and believability. It is almost impossible, it seems to me, to rule out forcefulness or persuasiveness on the part of the interpreter, as distinct from the part of the juror concerned.

So I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on the principle and with other noble Lords who have spoken on the dynamics of the jury room. I also agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the point he made about the centrality of privacy in the jury room. We have always believed and held to be cardinal that jury deliberations are private and nobody else should be involved. The noble and learned Lord took the Kafkaesque point that maybe the Government would ultimately want a representative in the jury room. Even if we do not go that far, the principle is there to protect the privacy of jurors. The presence of third parties—or 13th and 14th parties—weakens that. I also take the point that many potential jurors who are deaf may not wish to serve on a jury and may see the effect of their disability as something that cannot be overcome by recourse to an interpreter.

These difficult questions are recognised in Clause 165 by the proposed new Sections 9C(4) and 20I of the Juries Act 1974, which create a new offence of an interpreter intentionally interfering with or influencing the deliberation of the jury. For my part, I cannot see that those proposed provisions could ever provide a satisfactory answer to the problems. The difficulties come not from the risk of intentional interference or influence but from the actual effect of unintentional and unintended interference or influence by a forceful interpreter, or a jury that did not follow what the interpretation was affecting.

Our system depends on the interaction between the views of 12 independent jurors, who have all listened to and considered the same evidence in the same way during the course of the trial. Each and every one of those jurors will have weighed up the truthfulness and accuracy of the evidence given by witnesses giving oral testimony and will have been influenced, partly at least, by the way in which that testimony was delivered. They will have formed their own views of that before they ever get to the jury room.

In this context, Section 10 of the Juries Act requires the discharge of potential jurors with insufficient understanding of English to enable them to act effectively as jurors. They need that understanding in order to interact with and understand the meaning, force, style and believability of the evidence, as they must. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out, no foreign language interpreters are permitted, for obvious and good reasons, and I am entirely unpersuaded that the interests of justice would be best served by permitting interpreters of any language, including sign language, to accompany jurors into the jury room.

My Lords, there have been some very strong speeches from some very eminent lawyers, talking about the underlying principles of the jury room. Set against that, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, there are very strong equality arguments in favour of the proposal by the Government.

I served on a jury many years ago, but I want to talk about my experience as a magistrate. Magistrates are both judge and jury. About two years ago, the Greater London Family Panel of magistrates recruited a deaf magistrate. As far as I know, she has been sitting successfully for the last two years. I am in a position to know because I am currently chairman of the Greater London Family Panel and would be told if there were any complaints or observations related to the way she was performing. I have not heard any and, as far as I know, it is absolutely fine. She sits with a regular interpreter, who is familiar to her, and with the other magistrates when they are determining these very sensitive issues.

Maybe it is going further when you are talking about the 12 people in a jury room and then a 13th and 14th. Maybe that is different; I understand that argument and I look forward to the Minister’s response. But I will just make the point that a colleague of mine is deaf and sitting as a magistrate. I also understand that she sits on other tribunals as well. Having said that, I will reserve judgment and listen to what the Minister says, and I will see what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has to say about what he intends to do with this amendment.

I would like to quickly pick up on one thing the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, touched on, which was the position of a blind juror. I would have no problem at all with a blind juror. I expect that there are blind jurors and that the current legislation in Section 9B already provides for that without any difficulty.

My Lords, this was an especially thoughtful and constructive debate. I agree with the words that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, used to describe the debate. His reference to the magistrate was interesting, but the problem with all analogies is that they are different. I am going to focus specifically on the jury issue because I recognise that a number of Members of the Committee have made particular points about jurors.

I will start with the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who referred us to the Equality Act; that is an important starting point for the debate, although it may not be the finishing point. We must ensure that the services of the courts are accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. We must pay due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity wherever possible. That, in a nutshell, is why Clause 165 is part of the Bill. Having said that, and because I know that this will be a debate that is looked at by those outside this House as well as by those inside it, let me place on record what need not be said but I am going to say it anyway: that everybody in this Committee shares that aim. We heard a very personal example from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, of Lady Judge’s work in this area. Again I say this for the avoidance of doubt where there should not be any: I am proceeding on the basis that all who have questioned or opposed our proposals do so with the very best of motives and certainly not for any other reason.

Trial by jury is a fundamental aspect of our criminal justice system, and serving as a juror is one of the most important civic duties that anyone can be asked to perform. I agree with my noble friend Lord Attlee that it is a duty and not a right, but the Government and I want to ensure that as many people as possibly can perform that duty. Reasonable adjustments can be made by our courts to enable most people with disabilities to complete jury service. This, importantly, includes deaf jurors who can lip-read. I invite the Committee to reflect very carefully on the position of the deaf juror who can lip-read and to consider it in respect of each of the objections that have been put. I will come to some of them to which this would not apply, but a number of the objections would potentially apply to a juror who is deaf but who can lip-read. Nobody else in the court is likely to know how good the lip-reading is, whether the lip-reader gets every nuance, or how lip-reading affects the dynamics either in the jury box or in the jury retirement room.

That is the first point we get from the deaf juror who lip-reads, but there is another point as well: it underlines the proposition that there is no bar in principle to a deaf person serving on a jury. This is about one issue only, which is the 13th—I will come back to the 14th—person in the jury retirement room. That is why we need the legislation, because at the moment it is 12 and no more; I put the jury bailiff to one side. The issue at the moment is that, unlike a lip-reader who, if the judge considers that they can effectively discharge their duties as a juror—which I will come back to—can serve on a jury, a juror who needs a British Sign Language interpreter is unable to get that assistance because entry to the deliberation room is limited to the jurors, and no one else may enter. The essential point that this clause focuses on is permitting the BSL interpreter to go in, thereby enabling that juror to fulfil their duty.

I recognise that there have been what I might call practical, and almost philosophical, principled objections and concerns raised about the proposal. I note that the Bar Council of England and Wales has expressed its support, subject, it is fair to say, to the right safeguards, which I believe we have in place. I reassure the Committee that we considered the safeguards very carefully in developing the legislation. We looked at research and current practice in the USA, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland—which is planning to legislate for this form of interpretation—and Australia, where provision is already made for BSL interpreters or the equivalent in its jury systems.

I will first deal with the philosophical or principled objections. I understand the reservations that this might undermine the jury deliberation process, and I understand the argument, although I do not accept it, that interpreters could unduly influence or impact the dynamic of the discussions. There has been a lot of research, particularly in New South Wales, to explore whether deaf people can sufficiently access court proceedings and make informed decisions as jurors. The research suggests that deaf jurors are not hindered from speaking during deliberations and that other jurors seemingly have no issue with the presence of the interpreter or interacting with the deaf juror.

We have put safeguards in the Bill to help to address these issues. Offences relating to research and sharing research during the trial will apply as much to the interpreter as they do to the jurors. As has been pointed out, there is a new offence whereby an interpreter intentionally interferes in or influences the deliberations of the jury or proceedings before the court. I have said “interpreter”, but I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out—I acknowledge my gratitude to him and others for sparing time to discuss this with me—that there will be two BSL interpreters present in the jury deliberation room, not only because they need to switch over as it is a very intensive process for the interpreter but because it has the benefit that they will be able to monitor each other and maintain a consistently high quality of interpretation. To take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I say that the nuances will be as much picked up by the sign language interpreters as we can anticipate—or not—that they will be picked up necessarily by a lip-reader.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that the jury room is not just confidential but also private; those things are different, and it is both. There is no intention to allow the academics or the researchers in. There is certainly no intention to move from what I think in the judicial review context is called “the judge over your shoulder” to the Minister standing over the juror’s shoulder. We are certainly not going there.

The interpreters will be bound by a confidentiality agreement and be bound by law, and there is an offence to keep everybody honest. They will also be required to swear an oath or affirmation to that effect, alongside their existing interpreter’s oath or affirmation.

I turn to the practical concerns around the nature of evidence and whether a deaf juror will be able to interpret facial expressions, together with audio evidence, effectively. Again, I heard the example from the noble and learned Lord as to how something was said in a tone of complete resignation. The word used in the Act, and in this clause, is “effectively”. The judge would have to decide whether the juror could effectively discharge their role as a juror. This provision does not require judges to admit such jurors on to the jury; it simply removes the blanket ban that would otherwise be present. It means that jurors who need a BSL interpreter can be considered alongside other jurors for whom other reasonable adjustments might be required.

The ultimate decision will be for the trial judge, who will take into account the nature of the case and the nature of the evidence that is going to be heard. No doubt he or she would want to hear submissions from the parties, although they would not be bound by them. As I have said, none of this is new. Again, I ask the Committee to consider how the trial judge should deal with a juror who says, “Well, I lip-read.” The trial judge, again, would have to consider what the evidence in the case was going to be and whether they were going to be able to fulfil their role effectively. There is no difference in principle, and the test and approach of the judge would have to be the same.

I accept that there will be cases where a deaf person would not be able to serve on a jury. I expect that there will be cases where a lip-reading juror might not be able to serve on a jury—for example, if the evidence is audio only and there is nobody to look at; there is just a telephone call playing.

I ask this question out of ignorance. Can the Minister confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, which is that a BSL interpreter does not interpret in the way that a foreign-language interpreter would, but rather attempts to summarise the gist or essence of what has been said?

I was going to come to that point, but let me deal with it now. BSL is treated as a language. It has its own grammatical structure and syntax; it is recognised as a minority language in the UK. There is not a sign for every word, but words can be spelled out where a sign is not possible. The noble Lord and I have both had cases where we have had simultaneous foreign language interpretation. It is also the case that not every word in every language is easily translatable into another language. Certainly, we have looked at that point, and we do not think that that should be a bar to a deaf juror effectively participating in a jury. For these purposes, BSL is sufficient to enable the juror to participate effectively, but depending again on the nature of the case, that may be a factor in a particular case which the judge would want to take into account.

It is important to start from the proposition that everyone should be able to serve as a juror unless there are good reasons to believe that they would be unable to do so effectively. I underline that word “effectively” in the instant case. I come back to the fact that deaf jurors who can lip-read serve successfully, and we do not believe that there is a reason why there should be a blanket ban on jurors who need BSL interpreters to serve.

Picking up some other points, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, asked about the obligation point and whether there would be a special dispensation. No, there would not be a special dispensation. Like any other juror, the deaf juror who needed a BSL interpreter would have to ask for permission to be excused. Of course, given that the judge would also be considering whether they could effectively participate, perhaps the anterior question would be their effective participation, and then the question would arise as to whether they could be excused. That would also apply, of course, to any other juror who was a lip-reader. One would imagine that a judge would be sympathetic to a lip-reading juror who might say to the judge, “I know that I can serve, but I am very concerned that I might miss something. My lip-reading is good, if not 100%, but I would rather not serve.” Ultimately, however, that would be up to the judge. There would not be a special dispensation.

On the technological developments which the noble and learned Lord also raised, we are absolutely looking at that. The problem with the technology at the moment—and here it seems that BSL interpreters are better—is that the technology is not as good for debates or discussions, but I imagine that were we to be having this discussion in five or 10 years’ time, the landscape might be different. It is certainly something we are keeping a very close eye on.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, asked about people who do not speak English and people who do not read. My noble friend Lord Attlee referred us to Section 10 of the Juries Act. These are not disabilities in the same sense under the Equalities Act. What we want to do here is provide reasonable adjustments for people who have a physical disability in that context. For people who can rely on speech to text, again, there would not be a problem, as with a lip-reader, because there would not need to be a 13th or 14th person in the jury room. Again, a deaf person who has excellent speech to text will be able to serve, subject to them serving effectively in the instant case—it is only that the fact that we need to open the door of the jury deliberation room to the 13th or 14th person.

We have not done shadow juries or modelling because this is likely, in practice, to affect very few people. It might be said against me: why are you bothering then, if it will really just be a handful of people a year? The short answer is: because it is important. It is important that people with disabilities should be able to participate in our society and fulfil their civic duty if they possibly can. Whether that is 100 people, 20, five or one, the principle is the same.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for drawing specific attention to the Scottish research. We were aware of some of that, but we will look at it now in more detail. I am very grateful to him and I have already passed that on to officials. However, for the reasons I have set out, I invite the Committee to permit Clause 165 to be part of the Bill. I suggest that it is right in principle and we can make it work in practice.

My Lords, first I pay tribute to my noble friend for his response to our concerns. When I read the Bill, as all noble Lords do, I read it carefully and this clause immediately attracted my attention, because I thought it would be of interest to your Lordships. I think the best course of action is to incorporate this clause into the Bill and then recognise that this matter is far beyond my pay grade and we should perhaps leave it to other noble and learned Lords to pursue it at a later stage if they think it is necessary. I think we should put the question.

Clause 165 agreed.

Clause 166 agreed.

Clause 167: Remote observation and recording of court and tribunal proceedings

Amendment 243

Moved by

243: Clause 167, page 187, line 13, after “court” insert “and tribunal”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

My Lords, these amendments in my name make two straightforward revisions which will allow these provisions to operate more effectively and support the principle of open justice across our courts and tribunals. Let me divide them into two groups.

Amendments 243, 244, 245, 248 to 261 inclusive and 325 expand the scope of Clauses 167 and 168 so they apply to all of our courts, tribunals and all bodies that exercise the judicial power of the state, with the exception of the Supreme Court, for which there has already been separate provision, and devolved courts and tribunals, for obvious reasons. This is an important amendment. It ensures that all jurisdictions may use these powers to provide transmissions of proceedings to remote observers in order to uphold the principle of open justice, subject, of course, to further regulation, guidance and judicial discretion.

Digital technologies have become mainstream, even in our smaller and what might be called more obscure jurisdictions. It is now evident that these powers should not be limited to HMCTS courts and tribunals but would be best made effective in all courts and tribunals. Importantly, that also ensures that the offence of making unauthorised recordings or transmissions of proceedings is applied universally across our entire justice system and not just in specific jurisdictions. This will shorten the length of the Bill by around six pages by removing the need for a distinct schedule for tribunals. I was going to add, “making this legislation simpler”, but that might test the patience of the Committee.

Ensuring that our courts and tribunals are as open and transparent as they can be is an ongoing task. The president of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, recently published his review of transparency in the family courts. With respect to the president, it is right to say that that was a phenomenal piece of work, which has been well received. The remote observer clauses in this Bill are in harmony with his recommendations, as the Bill allows transparency by permitting journalists to observe family hearings remotely if they cannot attend in person.

The second part of this group of amendments, Amendments 246, 247, 262, 324, and 329, provide technical amendments so that the secondary legislation to enable these powers may be introduced on time. Let me explain what I mean by that. The remote observation provisions in the Bill are intended to replace the temporary and less extensive powers in the Coronavirus Act. They have been vital in allowing our courts to administer justice effectively and transparently during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We want to make sure that there is no gap in the legislative cover. It has therefore become necessary to ensure that these new powers can be enabled in secondary legislation before the date that the existing legislation expires. With this Bill now not expected to receive Royal Assent until only shortly before that date, these amendments take the necessary step of allowing the enabling secondary legislation for these powers to be introduced by the made affirmative procedure. These amendments therefore provide that legislation is continually in place to uphold open justice in remote hearings.

As this morning, I am aware that the group contains amendments from other noble Lords, so I will pause there to allow them to introduce their amendments. I beg to move.

I shall speak to Amendment 259B in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned lord, Lord Judge.

Clause 169(2) would allow a jury to be in a different physical location from the judge, so long as all 12 members of the jury are in the same place as between themselves. I am very concerned about this proposed power. In order to ensure the effective management of a criminal trial, a judge needs to be in the same room as a jury. The judge needs to be able to communicate effectively with the members of the jury. The judge needs carefully to watch the jury to see that they are focused and ensure that their needs are addressed. The judge needs carefully to watch the relationships between the 12 members of the jury. The jury needs to be able to communicate speedily and easily with the judge if it has any particular issue that it wants to raise. Members of the jury need to be able to study the witnesses giving evidence—what they say, what they do not say, and their body language and facial expressions while doing so. All this is so much more difficult through a computer screen, as we have all discovered, whether through court proceedings or parliamentary proceedings, during the pandemic.

I have had very helpful discussions with the Minister about this matter, and I am very grateful to him and thank him for those discussions and the time that he has devoted to them. I understand from him that the Government have no plan to encourage the use of remote juries. Instead, as I understand it, the Government believe that this would be a useful power essentially for three reasons: we may be afflicted by another pandemic; there may well be advances in technology; and, in any event, this power may be useful today if a judge and lawyers, for example, go on a site visit and one or more members of the jury is physically disabled, in which case the site visit can be watched by the whole jury online. That is the example that the Minister gave me.

I have to say that I find these justifications unpersuasive. I am always suspicious of broad powers being taken in legislation “just in case”. I certainly do not doubt the Minister’s good faith, but his assurances as to what is intended to be done under this proposed power do not bind—cannot bind—his successors in office to what he has done; they may have very different proposals or intentions as to the use of these powers. With great respect, the site visit example is, I think, very far-fetched. I am not aware of any such problem in any case in recent years, if ever.

In any event, if Ministers think that provision should be made for such a limited, specific use of remote hearings, with juries in a different place to the judge and the defendant, let it be made clear in the drafting of the clause that a remote hearing cannot take place with the jury in splendid isolation from the judge, the witnesses and the defendant in relation to the hearing of oral evidence, the submissions of counsel or the summing-up by the judge.

Although they have not yet been spoken to, I express my support for Amendments 259A and 259B, both of which concern aspects of the proposed power to be conferred on the court to require a person, including a defendant, to take part in proceedings by audio or video link. I can well understand that this may be a useful power for a preliminary hearing, but not for a substantive trial, unless the defendant consents to that. I am very unhappy about this in relation to young persons.

There are real issues as to whether a defendant would have effective access to a hearing, were his or her presence to be remote, and real concerns as to whether they could effectively communicate with their legal representatives. The Ministry of Justice may be hoping to save some money if it does not need to transport defendants from prison to court, but I am doubtful that it will save much money because it will need to invest in very high-quality computer systems. In any event, I fear the price will be a reduction in the quality of justice, and that price is too high.

My Lords, I do not wish to be taken as suggesting that what works well in Scotland should necessarily be applied in England and Wales, but I think I am right in saying that there has been some attempt in Scotland to allow juries to be remote. The problem one has is that a judge cannot be in two places at once. I think it was thought more appropriate that the judge should be close to the place where the evidence was being taken, with the juries remote in some other room because of the need for social distancing and so on. My point is simply this: I suggest once again, with great respect, that the Minister should find out what has been happening in Scotland and what the experience has been. They may have decided, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that it should not be continued. I simply do not know, but it is worth exploring to find out exactly what the position is.

My Lords, despite Covid—I know it is not over yet, but despite the 18 months we have had—I have not heard it suggested that one solution to the problems that the courts face is that juries should act remotely. We have trial by judge and jury. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, but I want to be just a bit more down to the realities of it. What happens in court when the jury is unhappy with itself or with some of its members? The judge has a most delicate task to perform. On my old circuit—I am sorry to say that the Midlands circuit has this—one juror smelled; he stank, and the jury were extremely unhappy about it. Can all that be done remotely, when the judge is responsible for looking after the interests and needs of the jury as a whole? Do we send messages down the line? How is it accommodated? It requires huge tact, skill and, I think, the personal touch.

My other concern about this provision was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—it is the usual one, I am afraid; you have all heard me talk about it. Why should we give these huge powers when we do not need to give them?

My Lords, there are a number of amendments in this group to which I would like to speak. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made the overarching point that he is suspicious of broad powers being taken in legislation. It seems to me that those amendments which are not the Government’s address the broad powers which the Government are seeking to take in this group.

Amendments 245A and 245B, in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would remove children from the application of Clause 167, providing that remote observation and recording of court proceedings may not occur in cases where a party to the proceedings is a child under the age of 18.

Under Amendment 259A, also in the name of my noble and learned friend, a court may not give directions for live links in criminal proceedings where a party to them is a child under the age of 18. The amendment in my name, Amendment 259BA, would require that all defendants who might appear on a video or audio link from a location outside the court should be subject to a health needs screening. Screening information must be made available to the judge responsible for listing before the listing is finalised.

We have all had a variety of experiences of dealing with remote links. I have done it many times over the last 18 months and in a number of jurisdictions. I was pleased that the Minister referred to Sir Andrew McFarlane’s report about trying to increase the transparency of family courts. I have read that report and it is interesting. There is the idea there of permitting journalists to observe family courts remotely. However, there is another side to this coin. Yes, we pat ourselves on the back for getting through a difficult situation—I have done it myself—and we have all managed to make the various parts of our lives work, including this House, but I do not think that anyone would say that the manner of getting through things within the court system or within this House or this Committee is as good as doing it in person.

The amendments I have spoken to look at arguably the most vulnerable people who potentially proceed through the criminal system and at whether there should be a form of review around whether that is indeed suitable. The amendments I have referred to talk about people under the age of 18, but there is a wider point, because there has been criticism of the way in which we in the family court system have proceeded remotely. I have literally taken away a child from a mother remotely, by telephone. It was the best thing to do in the circumstances, but nobody would argue that that was the best way to proceed when the court system and other forms of support should be in place and available.

There are overarching and broad powers being sought through this group of amendments. The amendments in my name and those in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, are basically looking for exceptions to this, where the situation is so sensitive that these overarching powers should not be taken and there should be further research and assessment of their appropriateness. The amendments in my name deal with young people under the age of 18. I have had a number of hearings with such young people. Sometimes they go okay; sometimes they simply switch off and do not have a clue what is proceeding within the court system.

I hope that, when the noble Lord comes to sum up, he will be able to say something about ongoing reviews of particular appraisals of young people being able to participate in these types of hearings, and that there will not be a blanket approach, as is proposed in his group of amendments.

My Lords, I am sorry to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I wanted to hear what he had to say about his amendments and those in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

I speak first to the amendment to which I have put my name, Amendment 259B—on which I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said—about excluding jurors from the operation of the provision permitting participation in criminal proceedings by remote live links.

The proposal in the Bill is that the problem of jurors taking part in criminal proceedings by live link should be dealt with by a requirement that all members of a jury taking part through a live link should be present at the same place. So the suggestion is that, by being present at the same place, the jurors would be able to decide a case whether or not they were physically present at the trial. I do not believe that suggestion is accurate or that it responds adequately to the difficulties posed by the proposal that jurors should be able to attend remotely.

In the last group we considered how important it is for jurors to be able to see and hear witnesses giving their oral testimony live, with a view to assessing the truthfulness of those witnesses and the accuracy of the evidence they give. That involves a very personal judgment about credibility and reliability. Reliance upon that judgment—the independent judgment of 12 citizens, as distinct from the individual judgment of a professional judge—is what marks out the jury system. I believe it is what has given the public confidence in the system that we all have. I do not believe that that judgment is capable of being reliably made by live link.

Post Covid, we can all see the attractions of remote hearings. As a barrister, I have appeared in many such hearings over this period, as I dare say others have—certainly the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has. For hearings before judges alone, or before arbitral tribunals, they generally work well. Indeed, for many civil hearings, I suspect we will not go back to the system of all-oral hearings for a significant percentage of our work. That will be a matter for individual judges, arbitrators and lawyers, depending upon the particular circumstances of the cases before them.

However—this was the case that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, made—even during the pandemic and despite the pressures of increasing trial backlogs, we have not gone down the road of holding jury trials without jurors being physically present to hear the evidence and being in the same place as the judge. In my view, that is for good reason, so I invite the Government to think again and to accept Amendment 259B.

On the other amendments, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, explain his amendment about the need for health-needs screening, I agree with the noble Lord and invite the Government to accept that, too. As for the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thornton, I fully accept the argument that it would be unusual for the use of live links to be directed by a judge in a sensitive case involving children, but I can see an argument that some such cases might justify a direction. I see no reason not to leave it to the judge in any particular case to determine whether the use of live links would further or impede the interests of justice. In this regard, we need to remember that refusing a live-links direction may in many cases cause delay in the determination of those cases, and that such delay may lead to particular injustice in cases involving children, for whom an early determination of the issues surrounding their care is often of great importance. So, although I see the point of this amendment, I suggest that it is better to leave it to judicial discretion in cases involving children.

My Lords, the Committee will know that, as a non-lawyer, I very often attend these debates because I do not trust lawyers to make decisions about themselves. I therefore intervene here because, on this occasion, lawyers have brought to the surface a most important issue.

I am interested in whether people believe that justice has been done, and it seems to me that extending, in these circumstances, the use of technology to overcome the presence of people in court has a fundamental issue for the generality of the public believing that justice has been done. I am a great believer in Zoom and Teams. They have made my life a great deal better and I have spent more time in the beautiful countryside of Suffolk than I had been able to do before, but I am very conscious of the fact that there are many things that you can do perfectly well—indeed, better—through these techniques and there are some things that you cannot. One of the things you cannot do is replicate the public’s confidence in the concept of a jury. The point, which was made by the previous speaker so adequately, is that it is different, and our system is different because we have this element.

I cannot believe that there are circumstances when it would be sensible for the jury to be in one place and the judge in another. Therefore, I wish to say to my noble friend, whose explanations throughout today and previous days have been remarkable—he has been able to defend some very peculiar things more effectively than most people have managed to do, certainly in the other House—simply this: we have here a position in which it is hugely important that the public should feel that justice is done. I do not believe they will if we do it this way.

As somebody who was a Minister for 16 years, I warn him that I see the civil servant here, who said to some Minister somewhere, “Better do this in case”. Some of the cases proposed are frankly incomprehensible, unlikely and totally beyond any sense—but it is the duty of civil servants to say, “Better not leave this out, Minister, lest it should happen and then we’d be in trouble”. I suggest to my noble friend that he would be in less trouble by not doing some of these things than he would be in the extreme possibility that he might need this power.

The last thing I have to say is that I, too, do not like general powers taken without a very good reason. There are too many examples of this Government doing things they should not do, without the powers. Give them the powers and we have no idea what they might do. So, as far as I am concerned, the fewer powers they have, the better protected we are.

My Lords, there is a great deal to be said for the need for justice to be done, as the noble Lord has been saying, but there is another side to the coin, which is a trial within a reasonable time. That factor has been exercising the minds of those who have been trying to progress trials through the desperately difficult situation created by the Covid epidemic. I hope those times have passed but, in the defence of those who have been setting out remote proceedings, they have been doing so under great pressure. People have been languishing in custody for far longer than they should have been, awaiting trial, and that factor has to be taken into account in deciding what is the right thing to do. The noble Lord is absolutely right, of course, that the worst option is the one they were driven to—but they were driven to it for very good reasons.

My Lords, I am grateful again to the Committee for a very interesting and wide-ranging debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Deben for the most back-handed compliment I have ever received and assure him that, when it comes to justice, I absolutely subscribe to the proposition that justice must be not only done but seen to be done. That reminds me to underline what Clauses 167 and 168 are about: they are about justice being seen to be done. These clauses do not mandate remote hearings; that is for a judge to decide. What they do is permit remote observation of those hearings, which underpins open justice.

When we look at issues such as this, we need to bear in mind that the days when the local newspaper would send people to sit at the back of the Crown Court or magistrates’ court are long gone. In the real world, you will have greater transparency if you have a live feed to journalists from the courtroom than if you say, “You’ve got to come along and take a note”. They simply do not any more, and I am concerned with making sure that we actually have open justice and that it is not just something we talk about.

Amendments 245A and 245B seek to prohibit those transmissions being made to remote observers in all cases where a child is among the parties. Amendment 259A similarly seeks to remove children from the application of Clause 169, which is about video and audio links in criminal proceedings. It would prevent the court, as a blanket ban, from making a direction to enable any participant in a hearing to attend by live link where a child is party to proceedings.

I absolutely agree with the intention of safeguarding children in our courts. We have debated that point in a number of areas of this and other Bills, but I suggest that these amendments are both ineffective and unnecessary. They are unnecessary because we already have in place sufficient tried and tested legislation and guidance to safeguard the privacy of children in these proceedings. Section 47(2) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 prevents anyone being present at a youth court hearing except members of the court, parties and participants, accredited media representatives or specifically authorised persons.

In other courts, procedure rules provide that it is legitimate to hold a hearing in private

“to protect the interests of any child or protected party”.

Courts have a statutory duty to have regard to the welfare of children. Judges, magistrates and tribunal members retain judicial discretion over whether a case is to be heard in private, with full consideration of their duty to protect minors or other vulnerable parties, where necessary. The ineffective or counterproductive point is that there may be cases where it is beneficial for a child, whether as a witness or a defendant, to participate by live link. If one is focusing on cases where children can be affected, one also has to bear in mind that there are lots of cases which affect children where a child is neither a party, nor a witness, nor physically involved at all.

Clause 169, as drafted, gives courts the flexibility to make decisions to direct remote participation where it is considered in the best interests of child participants to do so. I draw the Committee’s attention to the word “may” in the first line of subsection (1) in new Section 51. It is vitally important that we continue to protect children. That is why we have built these safeguards into our provisions.

Amendment 259B, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, spoke to first, seeks to exclude juries from the provisions in Clause 169 that enable a jury assembled together to participate in a trial through a live video link, where appropriate and deemed to be in the interests of justice. The Committee is entitled to a clear statement from the Dispatch Box and I will make one: there is absolutely no intention for this to become a regular feature of trials, with the jury sitting in one room and the judge and the witnesses in another room. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, reminded us, Scotland did put that provision in during the pandemic—I think cinemas were used, so that everything was on a big screen and the audio was very good. That was done in response to the pandemic, and this measure is a future-proofing measure.

I hear what my noble friend Lord Deben says about that and about civil servants tapping Ministers on the shoulder, but, since the pandemic, we have witnessed big changes in how we run our jury system. We have seen —and here I pay my respects again to judges and all others involved in the justice system, who have worked extremely hard to do this—suitable procedures put in place. But we have also seen how legislation tied our hands during an emergency and impeded our ability to progress quickly and make full use of the technological options open to us. We do not want that to happen again. Clause 169 is designed to provide courts with the flexibility to keep pace with new technology as it develops.

As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, that is the second reason for this clause. Technology is developing in ways that we could not have imagined a few years ago, and we have no idea where it will take us in the future. We want to be sure that we have a statutory basis to take advantage of technology as it develops, so that we can provide a justice system that is fit for the century that we live in and for the way that people live their lives. Those are the two main justifications for Clause 169.

I gave the noble Lord the example of a site visit. Again, I make clear that this is not the main justification for it, but it is important if one has a jury with a disabled person on it. The idea is shocking that, in 2021 a disabled person could be told that they cannot sit on a jury because, at some point during the three-week trial, it will look at the locus in quo, which is a room at the top of a winding staircase, and they cannot climb the stairs. The whole thing could be done very effectively via video, and so that is not a reason to stop them serving on a jury.

I am grateful to the Minister. Can he say whether there has ever been such a case?

While I am on my feet, I have another question. The Minister mentioned that technology may develop. I think the concern from those of us who have doubts about this proposal is not advancing technology but human communication. However good the technology becomes, there is still a vital distinction between watching proceedings on a screen and being in the same room as other people. I suggest to the Minister—this is certainly my experience and, I think, the experience of most lawyers and judges—that, although the courts have worked wonders during the pandemic, they have recognised the inferiority of any system that is within our contemplation by means of technology compared with being the same room. The ability to communicate and have an interchange with other people is manifestly weakened by having to do it over a screen.

Absolutely. I do not disagree that face to face is better; no doubt that is what we all feel in this Committee—that it operates much better when we are in the same room than it did when it was all on screens. I absolutely accept that. Let me give an example. Before I became a Minister, I did a three-week trial entirely on screen, with witnesses around the world. After about a day, you forget, and you get used to the new system.

I am not saying that we want this clause here because screens are better; we want this clause in the Bill because screens may be necessary if we have another pandemic and because we do not know where technology is going to go. I do not want to get too techy about it, but there is a very real difference between watching a screen in the sense of a computer monitor and some of the things that I have seen in banks, where there is a big screen down the middle of a table and six or seven of you sit in a row and look at it, while the people you are talking to have the same thing in their office. After about half an hour, you really feel that they are on the opposite side of the table to you. Again, I am not suggesting that that is suitable for courts, but it is an example of how technology can, and will, develop. We want to future-proof it, as I have said.

Amendment 259BA would require anyone taking part in any sort of criminal hearing via live link to submit to a prior assessment of their physical and mental health before the court could consider whether it is appropriate for them to take part in criminal proceedings over a live link. I share the concern of the noble Lord that we must ensure that audio and video links are used appropriately. Again, we have built safeguards into Clause 169, setting out procedures and guidance that courts must follow. The court must decide whether it is in the interests of justice; that includes taking the views of the person who would attend by live link on whether they can participate effectively in the proceedings. The clause also requires that the parties have an opportunity to make representations to the judge.

I also point out that, although the intention behind the amendment is understandable, perhaps even laudable, in practice, it could prevent or deter some people from using a facility that could help them to participate in hearings with as little distress, inconvenience and delay as possible. I therefore urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Amendment 243 agreed.

Amendment 244

Moved by

244: Clause 167, page 187, line 15, leave out “the court” and insert “a court or tribunal”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

Amendment 244 agreed.

In calling Amendment 245, I must point out that, if it is accepted, I cannot call Amendment 245A by reason of pre-emption.

Amendment 245

Moved by

245: Clause 167, page 187, line 17, leave out from “applies” to end of line 25 and insert “(subject to subsections (10) and (11)) to proceedings in any court; and in this section “court” has the same meaning as in the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (see section 19 of that Act).”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment expands new section 85A of the Courts Act 2003 so as to cover all “courts” within the meaning of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (which include tribunals and other judicial bodies).

Amendment 245 agreed.

Amendments 245A and 245B not moved.

Amendments 246 to 255

Moved by

246: Clause 167, page 188, line 15, leave out from “regulations” to end of line 16

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 188, line 25.

247: Clause 167, page 188, line 25, at end insert—

“(8A) Before making regulations under subsection (8), the Lord Chancellor must determine whether the function of giving or withholding concurrence to the regulations would most appropriately be exercised by—(a) the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales,(b) the Senior President of Tribunals, or(c) both of them.(8B) Regulations under subsection (8) may be made only with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Senior President of Tribunals, or both of them, as determined under subsection (8A).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment responds to the inclusion of tribunals within new section 85A of the Courts Act 2003 (see the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17) by providing for the Senior President of Tribunals to consent to regulations under that section in appropriate cases.

248: Clause 167, page 188, line 27, at end insert—

“(10) This section does not apply to proceedings in the Supreme Court.(11) This section does not apply to proceedings if provision regulating the procedure to be followed in those proceedings could be made by—(a) an Act of the Scottish Parliament,(b) an Act of Senedd Cymru (including one passed with the consent of a Minister of the Crown within the meaning of section 158(1) of the Government of Wales Act 2006), or(c) an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly passed without the consent of the Secretary of State.” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that Supreme Court proceedings and court or tribunal proceedings within devolved competence do not fall within the expanded scope of new section 85A of the Courts Act 2003 (as brought about by the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17).

249: Clause 167, page 188, line 28, leave out subsection (2)

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment (together with the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 281, line 12) removes provision that is unnecessary as a result of the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

250: Clause 167, page 188, line 36, after “court” insert “and tribunal”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

251: Clause 167, page 188, leave out lines 37 to 46

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 281, line 12.

252: Clause 167, page 189, line 3, leave out from “under” to end of line 9 and insert “section 85A of the Courts Act 2003 (remote observation and recording of court and tribunal proceedings).”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendments in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17 and page 281, line 12.

253: Clause 167, page 189, line 15, after “court” insert “and tribunal”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

254: Clause 167, page 189, leave out lines 16 to 24

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 281, line 12.

255: Clause 167, page 189, line 28, after “court” insert “and tribunal”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

Amendments 246 to 255 agreed.

Clause 167, as amended, agreed.

Clause 168: Offence of recording or transmission in relation to remote proceedings

Amendments 256 to 259

Moved by

256: Clause 168, page 190, line 26, at end insert—

“(10A) This section does not apply to proceedings in the Supreme Court.(10B) This section does not apply to court proceedings if provision regulating the procedure to be followed in those proceedings could be made by—(a) an Act of the Scottish Parliament,(b) an Act of Senedd Cymru (including one passed with the consent of a Minister of the Crown within the meaning of section 158(1) of the Government of Wales Act 2006), or(c) an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly passed without the consent of the Secretary of State.” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that Supreme Court proceedings and court or tribunal proceedings within devolved competence do not fall within the expanded scope of new section 85B of the Courts Act 2003 (as brought about by the amendments in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 190, lines 27 and 28).

257: Clause 168, page 190, line 27, at end insert—

““court” has the same meaning as in the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (see section 19 of that Act);”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, and the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 190, line 28, expand new section 85B of the Courts Act 2003 so as to cover all “courts” within the meaning of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (which include tribunals and other judicial bodies).

258: Clause 168, page 190, line 28, leave out from “any” to end of line 37 and insert “court;”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at line 27 of the same page.

259: Clause 168, page 190, line 45, leave out subsection (2)

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment (together with the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 286, line 4) removes provision that is unnecessary as a result of the amendments in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 190, lines 27 and 28.

Amendments 256 to 259 agreed.

Clause 168, as amended, agreed.

Clause 169: Expansion of use of video and audio links in criminal proceedings

Amendments 259A to 259BA not moved.

Clause 169 agreed.

Amendment 259C not moved.

Schedule 19: Further provision about the transmission and recording of court and tribunal proceedings

Amendments 260 and 261

Moved by

260: Schedule 19, page 281, line 12, leave out paragraphs 1 to 3

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment (together with the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 188, line 28) removes provision that is unnecessary as a result of the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17.

261: Schedule 19, page 286, line 4, leave out paragraphs 4 to 6

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment (together with the amendment in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 190, line 45) removes provision that is unnecessary as a result of the amendments in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 190, lines 27 and 28.

Amendments 260 and 261 agreed.

Schedule 19, as amended, agreed.

Clause 170 agreed.

Amendment 262

Moved by

262: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—

“Expedited procedure for initial regulations about remote observation of proceedings

(1) This section applies in relation to the first regulations made under section 85A(8) of the Courts Act 2003 (as inserted by section 167(1)).(2) The regulations may be made without a draft of the instrument containing them having been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament (notwithstanding section 108(3) of the Courts Act 2003).(3) If regulations are made in reliance on subsection (2), the statutory instrument containing them must be laid before Parliament after being made.(4) Regulations contained in a statutory instrument laid before Parliament under subsection (3) cease to have effect at the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which the instrument is made unless, during that period, the instrument is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(5) In calculating the period of 28 days, no account is to be taken of any whole days that fall within a period during which—(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or(b) either House of Parliament is adjourned for more than four days.(6) If regulations cease to have effect as a result of subsection (4), that does not—(a) affect the validity of anything previously done under or by virtue of the regulations, or(b) prevent the making of new regulations.”Member’s explanatory statement

This enables the first regulations made for the purposes of new section 85A of the Courts Act 2003 as inserted by Clause 167 (which, in particular, will specify types of court or tribunal proceedings in which remote observation directions will be available) to be made subject to the ‘made affirmative’ procedure rather than the normal affirmative procedure.

Amendment 262 agreed.

Amendment 263

Moved by

263: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—

“Offence of assaulting a retail worker

(1) It is an offence for a person to assault, threaten or abuse another person—(a) who is a retail worker, and(b) who is engaged, at the time, in retail work.(2) No offence is committed under subsection (1) unless the person who assaults, threatens or abuses knows or ought to know that the other person—(a) is a retail worker, and(b) is engaged, at the time, in retail work.(3) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, a fine, or both.(4) Evidence from a single source is sufficient to establish, for the purposes of this section—(a) whether a person is a retail worker, and(b) whether the person is engaged, at the time, in retail work.(5) The offence under subsection (1) of threatening or abusing a retail worker is committed by a person only if the person—(a) behaves in a threatening or abusive manner towards the worker, and(b) intends by the behaviour to cause the worker or any other person fear or alarm or is reckless as to whether the behaviour would cause such fear or alarm.(6) Subsection (5) applies to— (a) behaviour of any kind including, in particular, things said or otherwise communicated as well as things done,(b) behaviour consisting of—(i) a single act, or(ii) a course of conduct.(7) Subsections (8) to (10) apply where, in proceedings for an offence under subsection (1), it is—(a) specified in the complaint that the offence is aggravated by reason of the retail worker’s enforcing a statutory age restriction, and,(b) proved that the offence is so aggravated.(8) The offence is so aggravated if the behaviour constituting the offence occurred because of the enforcement of a statutory age restriction.(9) Evidence from a single source is sufficient to prove that the offence is so aggravated.(10) Where this section applies, the court must—(a) state on conviction that the offence is so aggravated,(b) record the conviction in a way that shows that the offence is so aggravated,(c) take the aggravation into account in determining the appropriate sentence, and(d) state—(i) where the sentence imposed in respect of the offence is different from that which the court would have imposed if the offence were not so aggravated, the extent of and the reasons for that difference, or(ii) otherwise, the reasons for there being no such difference.(11) In this section—“enforcement”, in relation to a statutory age restriction, includes—(a) seeking information as to a person’s age,(b) considering information as to a person’s age,(c) refusing to sell or supply goods or services,for the purposes of complying with the restriction (and “enforcing” is to be construed accordingly),“statutory age restriction” means a provision in an enactment making it an offence to sell or supply goods or services to a person under an age specified in that or another enactment.(12) In this section, “retail worker”—(a) means a person—(i) whose usual place of work is retail premises, or(ii) whose usual place of work is not retail premises but who does retail work,(b) includes, in relation to a business that owns or occupies any premises in which the person works, a person who—(i) is an employee of the business,(ii) is an owner of the business, or(iii) works in the premises under arrangements made between the business and another person for the provision of staff,(c) also includes a person who delivers goods from retail premises.(13) For the purposes of subsection (12), it is irrelevant whether or not the person receives payment for the work.(14) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1), it is not necessary for the prosecutor to prove that the person charged with the offence knew or ought to have known any matter falling within subsection (12)(b) in relation to the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed. (15) In this section, “retail premises” means premises that are used wholly or mainly for the sale or supply of goods, on a retail basis, to members of the public.(16) In this section, “retail work” means—(a) in the case of a person whose usual place of work is retail premises, any work in those retail premises,(b) in the case of a person whose usual place of work is not retail premises, work in connection with—(i) the sale or supply of goods, on a retail basis, to members of the public, or(ii) the sale or supply of services (including facilities for gambling) in respect of which a statutory age restriction applies,(c) subject to subsection (17), in the case of a person who delivers goods from retail premises, work in connection with the sale or supply of goods, on a retail basis, to members of the public.(17) A person who delivers goods from retail premises is doing retail work only during the period beginning when the person arrives at a place where delivery of goods is to be effected and ending when the person leaves that place (whether or not goods have been delivered).(18) In this section, references to working in premises includes working on any land forming part of the premises.”

My Lords, it is good to stand to move this important amendment here this evening. I declare my proud interest as a member of USDAW and of the Co-Operative Party. Amendment 263, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, provides for a specific offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker, punishable by up to a 12-month sentence, a fine or both. I also rise in support of Amendment 264, from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which I am pleased to add my name to. It provides for increased sentencing where an offence of common assault, battery, threatening or abusive behaviour, or intentional harassment is committed against a retail worker. It provides for, on summary conviction, 12 months or a fine, or both, and, on indictment, a sentence of up to two years.

I am very proud to present these amendments; this is a crucial issue for all of us across this Chamber and, indeed, in the other place, and one which has huge cross-party support, as we all want to do more for our retail workers. I am sure that the Minister is only too aware of this. An amendment in the House of Commons recently received significant attention and support from the Government Benches as well as the Opposition Benches. The issue has been campaigned on for years by workers, unions, parliamentarians, people who are interested in it and by the retail industry itself. It is time for the Government to act, and this Bill provides them with the vehicle to do that.

I hope noble Lords will bear with me while I talk a little about the scale of the problem. The Co-operative Group estimates that today, across its stores, 12 shop workers will be attacked and more than 110 will be abused and threatened. The British Retail Consortium estimates that, across the sector, every day 450 shop workers are abused or attacked. None of us condones that or thinks that it is acceptable; none of us is anything other than appalled by that fact.

The truth is that it seems to be increasing at a considerable rate. The Co-op Group, again, estimates that, in stores across the UK, there was a 650% rise in violence and a 1,700% rise in abuse towards their colleagues between 2016 and 2020. So, clearly, there is a major issue which individual retail and shop workers are facing every single day. Yet was it not just a few months ago that we were all talking about how essential these retail and shop workers, and others working in this sector, were to all of us? The pandemic gave us the chance to recognise the importance of people who perhaps in the past we had taken for granted, but whose real service to us we now recognised.

I do not know about anybody else, but during lockdown, going to the shops sometimes to get an essential supply became a day out. I am sure we are all aware of that. It was a fact that in every shop, store, service station or garage you went to, you actually met somebody else, and, frankly, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, we had no real idea about the consequences of the level of human interaction that retail workers were having to do every single day as part of their job to keep us supplied with food and the services we needed. We talk, quite rightly, about what police officers and other emergency workers did, but the bravery of those workers as well is something that I know we all salute.

Now is the time for us to say that we recognise what they did during the pandemic and the service they provided, and perhaps for the first time properly recognise the importance of what they gave to the community as a whole. Is it not now time for us, as legislators, to respect that and act to create an offence or do something that actually delivers for them and prevents some of the unbelievable abuse that they receive? Let us remember as well that sometimes, of course, shop workers are targeted simply for enforcing the laws that we pass, whether it be laws on age-restricted products, or indeed, during the pandemic, laws with respect to wearing masks, and so on.

We also have to challenge the police and others on those instances when crimes were reported but the response was not what we would expect it to be. It is true that the police need to recognise that it is regarded as a serious matter when somebody is abused or threatened in a shop. Indeed, according to a freedom of information request made in 2020 by the Co-op Group, and bearing in mind that only serious incidents are reported, the police failed to attend in 65% of the incidents reported in Co-op stores. We need to do something about that.

We have had a Private Member’s Bill from the Labour MP, Alex Norris. In the past three years, there have been two separate Private Members’ Bills, both of which received strong cross-party support. My noble friend Lord Kennedy would wish me also to point to his work in this area—I would be in trouble if I did not. The Scottish Government have introduced a new offence following a Private Member’s Bill brought forward by the Labour MSP, Daniel Johnson, again supported by USDAW. So it can be done, and we are looking to the Government to act.

While the Bill was in the Commons, the leaders of 100 brands, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, IKEA and Aldi signed an open letter calling for greater legal protection for retail workers, again showing their support. Abuse is not part of the job, and it should never become normalised, common or accepted. Nobody should go to work expecting to face abuse, threats or violence, but if these do happen, people need to be confident that the system is on their side. The current situation clearly needs to change, and the only way to do that is through strong and decisive action in Parliament.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the problem and a clear call for action from workers, employees and representative groups from across the sector, we are still waiting for the Government to respond, in stark contrast to the Scottish Parliament. I look forward to the response from the Minister, who I know cares about this issue, and hearing how she will respond to the pleas being made. There is a perfect opportunity to address this in this Bill. It is time for the Government to act; the time for waiting has stopped. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I offer strong support for adding a new power to this Bill to try to stop the disgraceful assaults on retail workers. I am glad that speaking today links me to my old friends at the trade union USDAW and the British Retail Consortium. I own some retail shares, notably in my previous employer, Tesco, and I should also refer to my register of interests.

It has been a very difficult 18 months for store workers. They have been the heroes of Covid, responding magnificently by keeping food on the shelves and delivered to our homes throughout. They have had to keep going relentlessly and cope with the bewildering array of changing Covid rules and regulations, often at a time when they are short-staffed because of the impact of the pandemic.

Nearly 3 million shop workers face a rising threat of violence as a result of customer anger at mask wearing, shortages and irritating or changing store guidance on Covid. This has added to assaults from those challenged for trying to buy alcohol, knives and so on illegally, and also attacks from shoplifters. I remember well dealing with what is probably now a relatively minor case when I was working in Tesco at Brixton. The woman concerned had several jars of coffee up her trousers and struggled and bit as we tackled her.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned in his compelling speech running through the long history of this problem, the British Retail Consortium says there were 455 incidents a day at stores in 2020, despite a huge investment in security measures such as body cameras, guards and panic alarms. A lot of this is related to wider criminal activity such as knife crime and drug-taking. It is a real worry for small shops: attacks can affect their viability and contribute to the disturbing rate of high street shop closures. It is also a huge issue for the larger retailers, which is why so many of their CEOs, including those of various Co-op groups, have come together to call for action in a recent letter to the Prime Minister. I will give an example: when I approached Tesco for an update, it said it faced over 1 million criminal incidents in 2020-21 and estimated that, on current trends, this would increase by another 20% this year unless something was done.

I was struck by an especially frightening case. A male wearing a black mask and armed with a BB gun— these replicas are horrifically lifelike and available very cheaply on the internet—approached two members of staff who were setting a store alarm. He forced them inside and shots were fired as he made them open the tills. He took cash and two bottles of spirits. The male worker was cut on his face and head and the female on her chest. I fear that this is an increasingly common story of life in Britain and a real threat to retail.

The truth is that little attention is paid to the troubles of our millions of retail employees, who are some of the less fortunate and less fashionable members of society. If a 10th of the number of steel-workers were at risk, I know that something would be done immediately. We have had startling evidence from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report and an assurance from Victoria Atkins MP, during the passage of this Bill through the other place in July, that the validity of our concerns was recognised and the Government would consider an amendment in the House of Lords.

We need to act this very day. What I am proposing, therefore, in Amendment 264, is to increase the maximum sentence available to the courts in cases of assault, battery, threatening or abusive behaviour, or intentional harassment, from six months to two years. This would apply to any person providing a retail service to the public.

I have built on an existing formula and offence because I thought that I detected, from what was said in the Commons, that this was more likely to appeal to Her Majesty’s Government than a new provision, and I am grateful to our Bill clerk for helping me to design the amendment. I emphasise, however, that I would be entirely happy with Amendment 263 instead, if that were to find favour with the Minister.

The key point is that something must be done—and done now. I am glad that the need for action has been widely recognised, and in particular I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his support and for what he has already said about Amendment 263. I am also pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has signed my amendment.

A three-pronged approach to the problem of assault in retail is needed. The first prong is investment by retailers in safety and prevention. This has already happened—£1.2 billion according to the BRC—and will continue. The second is stronger legislative backing, which both amendments would provide. The third is close working with the police. If we can create a more serious offence that is appropriate to the harm done, more detail specific to retail would be collected and the police would do more: respond more often and collaborate better with this vital, if unfashionable, sector. We would be levelling up.

My Lords, I support the general thrust of what has been said. We have heard from a remarkable coalition that includes trade unionists and a former chief executive—I think that is the correct appellation—of Tesco. In one sense, it does not matter exactly how the amendment is worded; the important thing at the moment, speaking as a former trade union official, as noble Lords may know, is that something should be committed in principle by the Government. It should be left to Ministers, ultimately, to choose the exact wording, but we should make sure that this hugely important principle, backed up by a lot of day-to-day evidence—most notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—is brought forward in some way. It should be acknowledged by the Minister, who has a good idea of the mood of the House on this.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 263, to which I was pleased to attach my name. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for tabling it and providing a very clear introduction. I welcome the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for the amendment as well. I should declare, since we are doing lots of declarations, that I am a supporter of the Institute of Customer Service “Service with Respect” campaign, to add to our collection of organisations involved in this process.

We have already covered this in some detail, so I want to add just a couple of points. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to the fact that legislation is being introduced in Scotland already, and it is important to stress that part of that is an aggravating offence—if people have been trying to enforce the law, for example on the purchase of alcohol, et cetera. That makes the very important point that we are asking retail workers, who are often very low-paid and may not have much in the way of protection, to enforce the law for us, and that needs to be acknowledged in the law.

A lot of this discussion has focused on how difficult things have been during the Covid pandemic, and that is obviously true, but there is a really important figure from the British Retail Consortium in 2019, so it is pre-pandemic. There were 455 incidents a day, up 7% on the previous year, so this is not just some Covid situation that might disappear should the pandemic disappear; this is a long-term trend. A recent survey, also by the British Retail Consortium, of 2,000 workers over 12 months showed that 92% had experienced verbal abuse, 70% had been threatened and 14% had been assaulted. This really has to be described as an epidemic—it is a word we hear a lot, but this is definitely very much the case.

I also stress—here I may depart from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—that changing the law, which has been called for on all sides of the Committee, does not excuse employers from doing more, particularly large employers who have the resources to provide security. By the nature of my job, I very often travel late at night, having been speaking at a public meeting and catching the train home. I go into chain stores on those occasions and I often see very young workers, sometimes on their own, looking and clearly feeling very exposed and very much in danger. I think that often they do not have adequate security.

There is also a question to be asked, particularly of employers, about ensuring that these workers are paid properly, treated with respect and have decent conditions. That will affect the way the whole of society look at these workers, and, I hope, the way they get treated.

Amendment 263 is important. As has been widely said, there is a huge amount of support for it, but it does not excuse employers from doing much more. I also say that while I understand the impulse behind Amendment 264, I do not think that is the way forward. We know that we have a record prison population—it is something we have debated in other parts of the Bill—and that prison is not working, so just to have the knee-jerk reaction of, “Let’s make the sentences longer”, is not the answer. There has to be a recognition of the fact that these crucial workers need protection through some form of Amendment 263.

My Lords, I very much agree with noble Lords who have said so much about the retail workers on whom we have depended so greatly and will continue to depend in the future and who face so many instances of assault and attack. The campaigns that this has generated show just how seriously we take this, but I have to ask, particularly in the light of Victoria Atkins’s commitment in the Commons, whether the Government have identified a serious gap in the law, filling which would alter the situation materially for the better, or whether the worst of the problem arises from inadequate police response to incidents. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, quoted figures for that. Perhaps there is an inadequate police presence in areas where this kind of attack is prevalent, or perhaps the inadequacy comes, in some cases, from the Crown Prosecution Service about cases that should be brought to court.

This kind of attack is affecting retail workers in a number of different situations. Some of it is drug related, with people desperately trying to get money to pay for their drugs and attacking shopworkers when they are found stealing goods from a shop. Some of it is alcohol related and alcohol enforcement related, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, have pointed out, whereby shop workers have simply been trying to enforce the law. Where I live at the border with Scotland the issue is more complicated because the law is different on either side of the border.

Some of it is even hate crime of which ethnic-minority shop owners have been the victims. That is so awful when one thinks of the incredible contribution that, for example, Ugandan and Kenyan Asians have made in providing retail services at all hours of the day and night in all sorts of communities, including in some of the most difficult areas. Those shop owners deserve our support and protection, but we need to know how best to provide that.

One my concerns about the amendments and the approach taken so far, which is perhaps a tribute to the effective campaigning of retail workers and their organisations and representatives, is that a number of other groups of people who deal with and serve the public are also exposed. My mind turns to the staff of estate agents, for example—the Suzy Lamplugh case is a vivid reminder. It is not clear whether such staff are covered by the retail workers’ provision. They may be, but I am far from certain. I also think of transport staff, housing officers, local authority planning officers and even parking wardens. It is sometimes seen as some kind of joke to laugh at parking wardens and at how angry people get at them. Any kind of harassment or attack on people who are serving the public is no joke at all and requires the attention of government.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out, however, that attention is not necessarily best served by simply putting in longer maximum prison sentences, thereby creating sentence inflation and generating far more expenditure on prison, which could perhaps be better spent on policing and community support of various kinds, including activities directed at young people in local communities who are drawn into violence. We need to look at what else we can do in terms of police response, CPS commitment and community support to support the staff who serve us.

If the Government have identified a significant gap in the law, a change to which would help those responsible for enforcement and protection, we would be interested to hear it. However, one way or another, we need to help those who are helping us.

My Lords, in some respects similarly to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, I come to this debate with an open mind in terms of the specifics of the amendments put forward by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I very much align myself with him and others who have spoken in that I am appalled at the assaults, attacks and abuse of people on the receiving end who work in stores of all kinds.

However, I will be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister says as regards whether the law currently provides for these kinds of attacks. One of the things that I found extremely concerning in the briefing provided by USDAW and others was the lack of police response when shop workers were on the receiving end of an attack. When they contacted the police, there was little or no reaction. That is really troubling.

The only thing I want to add to what has been said relates to something that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, touched on. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, also referred to the fact that we are asking shop workers in many respects to uphold the law for us. However, there is another aspect to the role of shop workers and shopkeepers that we do not mention often enough and is important. They are community leaders and people in whom we should encourage a sense of authority for themselves. I want people who are doing these jobs to feel that they are holding a position of power. They are responsible for a public place and when they are at work they are in charge. They deserve our respect for that. I see them much more than just as service providers; they are standard setters. In local communities, in particular in local convenience stores, they can make an enormous contribution to the health of a community and the way in which local people feel about themselves.

If the Government are inclined to go down this route of legislating in the way that has been proposed—and even if they are not—I encourage the Minister that there should be some effort in conjunction with legislation to promote the importance of retail workers, not just in the way they provide a service to us but in the way they are leaders of their communities and important to our maintaining the social norms and standards that are crucial to the health of our society as a whole.

I was not going to speak in this debate but, very briefly, as the police have been mentioned, I should mention a meeting I had fairly recently with a police superintendent in London, who worryingly told me that the police were being made aware that there were a large number of solvable crimes, where people could be prosecuted, and the police no longer had the resources to pursue those offences. From what has been said in the debate, and from the briefing from USDAW, it is extremely worrying if offences are being committed against retail staff, where there is often closed circuit television of the perpetrator, yet the police still do not have the resources to prosecute those offences. As we all know, if somebody feels they can get away with a crime, or word gets around that you can go to a particular store and get away with it because the police will not do anything, it encourages more people to engage in the offence.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his clear outline of the problem at the beginning of the debate. That was really helpful. I support the amendments creating the offences for assaulting a retail worker.

I look at this problem from a completely different perspective. Apart from the four years I was at university, I have spent all my life in really rural settings, so I identify with the weekly trip to the supermarket. We have a village shop which doubles up as the post office, but I cannot walk there because the roads are too narrow so I have to drive. It is a different sort of world. I identify with this from when I was at university in Leeds too; the corner shops at the end of terraces were exactly the same sort of set-up as a rural shop. But they had their problems. CCTV has now appeared in these shops, which was never there before. There was a level of trust, which is slightly eroded when people move into the village and behave in a different way. This sounds like the 1950s, and sometimes it is.

Whether we are talking about cities or villages, there are many small shops still, and a lot of them have post offices which keep them open. We should not forget that, because they serve a lot of people: where I live, a lot of people do not have cars, and older people really prefer going to the small village shop and still collect their pension there. But a single-handed shop with limited security and often no cameras is a danger, and these shop workers are vulnerable to assault, even in areas where you think everybody knows everybody else’s business. Will the Minister tell us, when she sums up, what sort of recommendations or advice are given to such small shops by the local police? Is there any government guidance to ensure that their safety and that of their workers are protected?

I thank the ACS for its really helpful background briefing. The two amendments are really interesting: one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is about the offence of assaulting a retail worker, and the other, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is much the same. Something should come back: whether it comes back from the Government or from amendments tabled by Members, we really need to put a marker down before the Bill finishes on the issue of assaulting shopworkers. It might be quite sensible if those who have added their names to Amendments 263 and 264 could sit down together to craft an amendment that would fit with all the points that were made in this short but really quite informative and well-informed debate, and then bring something back for Report.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for tabling their amendments, and for the opportunity that I have had to discuss their amendments with them before today. Both have spoken forcefully on behalf of retail workers, and noble Lords will have witnessed the strength of their convictions and the deep basis of knowledge from which they speak. I cannot let this opportunity go by without paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who has—I could say harangued me for four years—shown such tenacity on this matter that he deserves a mention.

I start by echoing the comments made in the House of Commons by the then Minister for Safeguarding, in showing my support and respect for all those working in the retail sector. As my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston said, they have shown such tireless dedication as public servants, really, providing essential services to the public throughout the pandemic. I totally identify with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about going to the shops being the highlight of the day during the pandemic. It became a daily ritual for our household, certainly.

It is essential that we all feel safe at work, which is why assaults on any worker providing a service to the public is clearly unacceptable. It is really important that where such assaults or abuse occur, the perpetrators are brought to justice. In the Commons, Minister Atkins committed to actively consider this issue and that remains the Government’s position, but as part of that process of consideration I very much wanted to hear and then reflect on the debate today. I welcome the fact that those noble Lords who have contributed today spoke with such clarity and strength of feeling and gave us very good direction.

I want to say a bit more about the current position and the factors that the Government are weighing up as we determine how best to proceed in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, asked about the gap in the law. Obviously, a wide range of offences already exist covering assaults on any worker, including retail workers, and they include offences such as common assaults. The example that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe gave could encompass grievous bodily harm or, indeed, actual bodily harm, harassment and other public order offences, all of which criminalise threatening or abusive behaviour intended to harass, alarm or distress a person.

Furthermore, the courts have a statutory duty to follow sentencing guidelines, which state that it is an aggravating factor for an offence to be committed against a person who works in the public sector or who is providing a service to the public. This means that any offence that occurs against a victim providing a service to the public, including those working in the retail sector, will be considered by the court as meriting an increased sentence. I have also heard the comments and concerns about the provisions in the Bill that seek to increase custodial sentences—including the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, about sentence inflation—and it is crucial that we take into account the impact on our courts and prisons, as he said, when considering whether to increase sentences.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what meetings Ministers had held over the summer with businesses, trade unions and groups representing retailers to discuss this issue. The Home Office has undertaken extensive consultation on the subject of violence and abuse towards retail workers, and discussions on this subject go back several years, as I have previously stated. Similar amendments were tabled to previous Bills such as the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is why the Government committed to a call for evidence on the levels of violence and abuse faced by retail workers.

That response was published in July last year and it increased our understanding of the problems faced by retail workers. A programme of work has been under way through the National Retail Crime Steering Group, which the Minister for Crime and Policing co-chairs with the British Retail Consortium. The steering group brings together the Government, retailers, unions and trade associations, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the police-led National Business Crime Centre to make sure that the response to retail crime is as robust as it can be, as well as ensuring that key crime drivers, including substance misuse, are comprehensively considered. I hope that goes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. It has been and continues to be an important forum for discussions on the causes of violence and abuse in the retail sector and for working together to find solutions and provide support to retailers.

The matter of violence and abuse against retail workers has been the focus of the National Retail Crime Steering Group for the past 18 months. The Home Office is leading a programme of work designed as a direct response to the call for evidence and agreed by the steering group and wider retail sector. To date, six task and finish groups have been established to develop practical resources to support retailers and their employees.

Earlier this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee conducted an inquiry into violence and abuse towards retail workers. In response, retailers, unions and trade associations put forward evidence about their experiences of violence within the sector. The Select Committee recommended that the Government consult on the scope of a new offence, recognising the particular pressure on those in occupations where they are asked to enforce the law, and taking into account the provisions of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force in August.

As I have set out, the Government have engaged extensively with the retail sector and the police. In response to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Paddick, the police have recruited 11,000 of the targeted 20,000 increase to their number. The government response to the HASC inquiry makes clear the Government’s commitment to address this issue and to take into account the legislation in Scotland.

I assure noble Lords that the Government are continuing to consider whether changes, including legislative changes, are needed and will reflect carefully on the debate today. On the basis of that very firm undertaking that the Government are considering as a matter of urgency how best to balance those many issues, I hope the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the Minister for her response. I am an optimistic person by nature and I thought that there were grounds for optimism in the way in which the Minister talked about weighing up the options and looking at the various ways forward, including—and this was as a really important remark that noble Lords may have heard—“legislative change”. That is the key thing. A number of comments were made by various noble Lords. The Minister will have heard them. In the interests of time, I shall leave it there, but we will look forward to the Government coming forward with something on Report, or us tabling our own amendments. In thanking noble Lords for their support, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 263 withdrawn.

Amendment 264 not moved.

Amendment 265

Moved by

265: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—

“Restorative justice

The Secretary of State must, every three years—(a) prepare an action plan on restorative justice for the purposes of improving access, awareness and capacity of restorative justice within the criminal justice system, and collecting evidence of the use of restorative justice,(b) lay a copy of the action plan before Parliament, and(c) report on progress in implementing any previous action plan to Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement

The amendment aims to ensure that access to restorative justice services improves over time for the benefit of victims and to reduce crime.

My Lords, a couple of hours ago I received apologies from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who is unable to be with us for personal reasons and has been unavoidably detained. I hope noble Lords will allow me to read the comments that she would have made. As I say, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, apologises to the Committee, noble Lords and the Minister for not being here this evening to move this amendment. She has been, as I said, unavoidably detained and I know the Committee will forgive her absence.

Amendment 265 aims to ensure that access to restorative justice services improves over time, for the benefit of victims and to reduce crime. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to prepare an action plan on restorative justice and for that plan to be laid before Parliament, alongside a report on the progress made in implementing earlier government action plans. In doing so, it is the hope of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that the Government will consider restoring ring-fenced funding for restorative justice.

Between 2013 and 2016, restorative justice received support from the Ministry of Justice via ring-fenced funding to PCCs. Since the change in 2016, in which the ring-fence was dropped, access to RJ has reduced in some areas to below 5% of previous levels. The APPG on Restorative Justice reported in its inquiry published in September this year that this

“has led to a ‘postcode lottery’ for victims of crime”,

with access varying hugely depending on which PCC or local authority area the victim happens to be in.

In 2014, the coalition Government made a commitment in their restorative justice action plan that every victim of crime should be made aware of RJ services. The plan committed to developing

“a more strategic and coherent approach to the use of restorative justice in England and Wales.”

In the Conservative Government’s 2018 update of the plan, the top priorities remained ensuring equal access to restorative justice for victims at every stage of the criminal justice system and improving awareness of RJ, how it works and how to access it. The APPG inquiry found that there was a lack of understanding of restorative justice and what a victim was entitled to, not only among the public but among professionals in the criminal justice sector.

I ask the Minister whether the Government hold statistics on how many victims have been offered restorative justice as part of their experience of the criminal justice system. What actions have been taken towards the priorities outlined in 2018 and when do the Government plan to publish an updated action plan? So often in this Bill, our debate has turned to the importance of prevention, and stopping offending and reoffending to break that cycle. The current Secretary of State for Justice listed preventing reoffending as one of his top priorities for keeping the country safe. Evidence has shown that access to quality restorative justice programmes is effective in reducing reoffending. In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee found that

“there is clear evidence that restorative justice can provide value for money by both reducing reoffending rates and providing tangible benefits to victims.”

I will not keep the Committee but, in coming to a close, will say that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, particularly wished to highlight that this amendment does not propose anything new or radical. It merely seeks to return to the funding arrangements and strategic direction in place prior to 2016. I look forward to the Minister’s reply, which I hope will be encouraging on the Government’s commitment to restorative justice. I beg to move.

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 265. I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is not able to be in the Chamber.

Many years ago, when I was a magistrate and at the same time chair of my police authority, I wondered how we could bring in the concept of restorative justice. It was not an option for us then as it did not appear in our guidelines—that might have changed, I do not know. It was apparent, though, that repetitive cautions given to young offenders simply were not working. Something needed to change.

I became interested in restorative justice because of a remarkable chief constable, Sir Charles Pollard, who was then chief constable of Thames Valley Police. He had been advocating restorative justice for some time. He was extremely well supported by the chair of the police authority, Mrs Daphne Priestley. I thought it was a very interesting and potentially life-changing intervention for some young offenders, and so it has proved to be.

Restorative justice aims to foster individual responsibility by requiring offenders to acknowledge the consequences of their actions, be accountable for them and make reparation to the victims and the community. Initially for use with young offenders committing minor crimes, it quickly caught the imagination of communities, which liked the idea of a victim being able to confront their offender, who was made to realise the impact of their criminal behaviour. It is done with seasoned practitioners who have a wealth of experience in this discipline, as it needs to be a formal procedure. They have to ask the right questions in the right way for there to be a successful outcome, which would be when the offender realises the harm she or he has done and makes some sort of reparation to the victim. Meeting face to face, where both sides agree to that, can be a formative solution to an otherwise potentially serious punishment, even jail.

In London trials, 65% of victims of serious crime said that they would be happy to meet their offenders and talk about how that had affected them. The impact of this intervention has far-reaching benefits for everyone involved. Over the years, the success of the restorative justice model has worked alongside police forces, local authorities, the Prison Service, courts and schools. It has helped reduce permanent exclusions in schools, and in a sample case in Lincolnshire, in the first year of using this system the restorative service, as it is called there, worked on 53 cases. This was extended subsequently to 135 cases and became an integral part of the Behaviour Outreach Support Service there—BOSS—in which restorative justice sits with its partners.

Restorative Solutions, established by Sir Charles Pollard and Nigel Whiskin in 2004, is a not-for-profit community interest company that I think the Government need to contact for help with understanding just how important restorative justice can be to the benefit of victims of crime, and its potential to reduce criminal behaviour. It needs properly financing, of course, and to date that has not happened, so if the Government are really intent on reducing crime and helping victims, as they say they are, I suggest that this is absolutely the right solution for them to promote.

My Lords, I support this amendment. I apologise for not speaking on the subject earlier. The Bill is far too complicated for me as a whole. I saw this in the paperwork today and, surprisingly, I am here so I thought that I ought to say something.

I was on the first Northern Ireland Policing Board. One of the subjects that came up to us was restorative justice as it was being practised in Northern Ireland. The origins of it are very important. In our case, it came under the two communities and terrorism. Post the peace process and ceasefire, these local communities were trying to police themselves—partly because they rejected the police completely. Yes, they dealt out punishment beatings, kneecappings and far worse, but what was interesting was that, although the communities might not have liked the punishments, they began to see a reduction in bad behaviour on the streets.

When it came in front of the policing board, we looked at other countries. The fact that it came out of terrorism in Northern Ireland is not an indication that it would be no good or would not fulfil its true potential in England, because we looked at Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America, where it had been really very successful.

There was then the idea of how to get this to be more in line with justice, because, naturally, the Department of Justice and—I am not accusing them of this—judges, and to a certain extent senior policemen, were reluctant to see anything that was outside their immediate world taking over something of it. We went down the line of bringing it into being an official practice, and that took quite a lot of nerve.

But it is extraordinary, if you actually go and visit, to see what is going on. The most important thing is that restorative justice is victim based, not perpetrator based—that it is not a soft touch for the perpetrator. I will not speak for long on this, because I have not even prepared. But it is not just a way of solving things; it does a lot more. The victims are incredibly satisfied with restorative justice. A survey produced when they were doing a seminar on the EU day of the victim in February 2019 said that 85% of victims were satisfied with the outcome, and 69% of perpetrators did not continue. The bonus for society is multifaceted: fewer people get convictions for what may, at times, be on-the-spot bad behaviour or, as we have seen, 69% of them do not misbehave again, so they have a clearer record for future employment. It keeps them out of short periods of detention. It was used originally for youths, and we do not have enough well-supervised room for youths in detention. So restorative justice helps the victims, helps the perpetrators remarkably, and is very good for society.

In the 2016-17 Session, the House of Commons Justice Committee came out with its report on restorative justice and supported it. The committee particularly supported looking at Northern Ireland. It is really nice when we can say that you should look at something positive from us in Northern Ireland—however, do look somewhere else.

While we have been in this Committee, because I was panic-struck about having anything to say, I googled “restorative justice”. We hardly need this debate. There is not a bad word about it, and there are so many pages I gave up after two or three and wrote down a couple of notes on it. But this is something that successive Governments—including Labour when they were in power—have not given true support to.

What about our prison population? What about sending people into detention, the “college of crime”, when restorative justice has the potential to be such a success? As I said, I think this debate is unnecessary. Every single person in your Lordships’ House and everybody outside can google it and have a look. If the justice side, judges and some senior policemen are still slightly careful about it because it seems to be out of their hands, they may need a bit of persuading.

But funding is an issue, and I have just heard—because I have not looked at it—that the funding was reduced. This is madness. We know that budgets are a problem, especially after everything we have been through. They are a problem for the police, for social events such as this and for justice. But this is madness. This is cutting off a not very great budget which would be saving us. The figure is that every £1 spent has saved £8. I do not think that is very well substantiated, but there is a big payback, and the young people of this country—and we are moving on to adults in Northern Ireland—earn the support for a system that is socially good and good for our population.

My Lords, again, I was not going to speak in this debate, but it is important for me to share my professional experience of this. I once worked with Professor Larry Sherman, who was a leading academic on restorative justice at the time, on a pilot scheme in the Metropolitan Police. In support of what the noble Viscount has just said, two major things came out of that pilot.

One was about victim satisfaction. Obviously, the process was voluntary—victims were not made to confront their attacker if they did not want to—but many felt so much safer, for example if they had been mugged in the street, having met their attacker face to face than victims who were attacked by some anonymous person. They understood more about their attacker from that face-to-face meeting, so it is good in terms of victim satisfaction. This may be counterintuitive to members of the Government who feel that the public might see it as a soft option, but victims really benefit from this.

The other thing was the impact on perpetrators. Larry Sherman rightly pointed out that many offenders, particularly young ones, appear in front of a court but they never say anything. They plead guilty. They have a solicitor or a barrister representing them. They sit at the back, disengaged from the whole process, which happens without them participating in it at all. It has no real impact on them—apart from the custodial sentence at the end of it, perhaps. They do not quite understand why they end up in custody because they have not participated in the process at all. On the contrary, with restorative justice, they sit opposite the victim and the victim tells the perpetrator how that offender made them feel. This has a salutary effect on the perpetrator and their future offending behaviour.

I just wanted to tell the Committee about that experience because other noble Lords have not mentioned those two aspects of restorative justice.

My Lords, we have already had an extensive debate so I will be brief. I must note that I have heard my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb talk about this issue often; it is something that she is extremely passionate about. I have no doubt that she would have attached her name to this amendment had space been available under our systems.

We have heard some terribly powerful contributions, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I really hope that the Government were listening. I am not sure that the point has been made that restorative justice should be the foundation of our justice system. It should be fundamental to what it is all about. At the moment, by contrast, it seems to be an afterthought added on at the end. This means that we have seen a loss of funding for some really practical things, such as restorative justice training for all prosecutors, including the independent Bar, so that they can better identify opportunities for restorative justice when handling cases. We also need to see restorative justice training for magistrates and judges so that they can be fully involved in facilitating it. Just as judges have a central role in enabling alternative dispute resolution in the civil courts, in the criminal courts, they should promote and encourage a restorative approach all the way from the initial arraignment right through to sentencing.

What we are talking about here is coming out after the awful event of a crime and repairing, restoring and making things better. We know well from our criminal justice system—a system at the end of which everyone comes out feeling worse about it—that what we have at the moment is not working for the people involved. It is not working for victims. It is not working to provide change for perpetrators. It is not working for the entire community.

My Lords, I realise that I am breaching protocol because I was not here at the beginning of the debate on Amendment 265. I apologise profusely to the House and to the Minister. On a lighter note, one day we will have a Braille annunciator and an audible signal that I can pick up. I would not be here at this time of night if I did not care about this proposition and had not pledged to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that I would support it, so please forgive me; I shall be incredibly brief. I hope that the noble Baroness is recovering well.

Some years ago, I took part in what could be described as a slightly bizarre and almost unreal television programme, “Banged Up”. It was a five-part series in which real ex-prisoners, real ex-offenders, real victims and an ex-governor, who is now a criminologist at the University of Birmingham, took part in an experiment to see how people would react to understanding what they have done and being able to relate to their victims. It was remarkable: it brought home to me, and I hope to all those viewing, that restorative justice could make a difference to the victim and how they felt and to their future, and, crucially, to the perpetrator, in understanding the impact of their crime and how to then redeem themselves and put things right. It was crucial to both their futures.

I commend the initiative in demonstrating in this short debate how vital it is to remember that putting things right, and getting restorative justice to ensure that perpetrators do not repeat their crime, is far more important than punishment.

My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said. One of the most obvious applications for restorative justice would be in the aftermath of a road traffic accident. I touched on this during our debates on road traffic offences. The difficulty is that, in motor vehicle insurance, the contract prohibits the parties from discussing the accident at all, making it impossible to use restorative justice for road traffic offences related to accidents. Can my noble friend the Minister consider this and write to me on the point? I do not expect a reply right now.

Restorative justice is a very wide issue, and one should not think that because it does not work for road traffic accidents it does not work. Furthermore, it is done only with the agreement of the parties involved.

My Lords, we welcome this amendment and the opportunity to discuss restorative justice. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for relaying the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has a long-held commitment to restorative justice that is well known.

We fully support the amendment and are concerned that the Government should take in how important restorative justice is felt to be in this House. This debate has given us the opportunity to make that clear. We were privileged to have the explanation of the reasons for restorative justice and the comprehensive account of its birth and development from my noble friend Lady Harris, who set out, from her experience of police work and as a magistrate, how restorative justice has developed and its value.

The amendment is important because we—some of us, anyway—have concerns that, although there is this commitment around the House, there may be a danger of progress stalling. That is why it is so important that there should be a call for the preparation of an action plan, that it should be laid before Parliament and that there should be a report on the progress on restorative justice.

Members of the House will have been interested to hear the account of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, on how restorative justice developed in Northern Ireland from a state of great hostility, where real potential enemies were confronting each other, and how restorative justice became reflective of community justice as perpetrators and victims came into contact. He made the point that this was very much not a soft option but was victim based, and that analysis from the circumstances in Northern Ireland was, I felt, reflected by the analysis of my noble friend Lord Paddick, who gave the history of restorative justice in London and dealt with the achievement of victim satisfaction and, interestingly, a greater feeling of safety on the part of victims. He also talked of the benefit for perpetrators in the contact between the victim and the perpetrator; that was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who was one of the signatories to the amendment.

I will be very interested—we will be very interested—to hear the Government’s response, which we hope will give us an indication that the Government take restorative justice as seriously as the speakers this evening do and that their commitment to it will be increasing and continuing.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for proposing the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who is unable to be with us this evening. She spoke eloquently at Second Reading about the benefits of restorative justice, and I am very sorry that she is not in her place this evening. I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee in wishing her well. She did, however, have a meeting with me on this topic, and I record my thanks to her for her time and for the discussion. She expressed concern that the Bill did not include provision for restorative justice. The amendment is trying to fill that perceived gap by requiring the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary to publish an action plan for restorative justice every three years.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, for her support for restorative justice. I agree that, in the right circumstances, it can have far-reaching benefits. I have heard and felt the mood of the Committee on this point, but the truth is that I did not really need any persuading as to the importance of restorative justice. It can bring those harmed by a crime and those responsible for that harm into communication, and it can help everyone affected by the crime to play a part in repairing the harm; that is commendable. The Government support restorative justice where it can be suitably used.

However, with respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I would draw a distinction between civil cases and criminal cases. We have to remember that in a civil dispute—this is part of the answer to the road traffic point, but I will write to my noble friend as well—there are two parties before the court. I can settle my case on whatever terms I want if the other person agrees. When it comes to crime, there is a public interest; we prosecute in the name of the public. We do not allow victims to determine always whether the offender serves a punishment or not. I am not saying that restorative justice is not applicable, but we have to remember that there is a different set of criteria and principled underpinnings to our civil justice system and our criminal justice system.

The way we fund restorative justice is that my department provides funding to police and crime commissioners and the grant agreement in place requires the PCCs to provide or commission a wide range of local support services for victims, including restorative justice services. It requires PCCs to report to my department every six months on the delivery of the funding, which we monitor closely. As elected officials, the PCCs are accountable to voters. In the 2020-21 year, they spent £3.7 million from the funding we provided on restorative justice services.

I found the speech by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough extremely interesting, because it showed how restorative justice could be used in very unusual circumstances and shows its potential wide application. It certainly is not a soft option; the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made that clear as well with his experience from London. Whether it should be the foundation of our justice system or not may be an interesting point, but it is certainly not an afterthought or something we just add on at the end; it is an important part of it.

There is, however, no agreed definition of restorative justice. It is not just communication between victim and perpetrator. We consider that it extends to other parts of the Bill in the way that we have a new system for out-of-court disposals, because the conditions attached to those disposals again provide an opportunity for intervention and support to offenders, and appropriate input from the victim of crime. The new code of practice for victims of crime, which came into force on 1 April this year, provides victims with the opportunity to receive information about how restorative justice works and what options are available to them.

With that all said, the Government do not consider that making us publish action plans is going to take this any further. The evidence base exists, services are available, and victims need to be made more aware of their availability. A statutory framework for an action plan will simply create an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. There is work already under way to improve the current position of restorative justice.

Finally, given the nature of what we are talking about, there are not hard statistics because it is so flexible. Indeed, that is a positive benefit of restorative justice. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for the way in which he tried to answer the various questions that noble Lords raised. We have heard from many people about the importance of restorative justice. This is an important argument and debate that will not go away. It remains a priority for all of us and I am sure others will take this forward, including the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 265 withdrawn.

Amendment 266

Moved by

266: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—

“Disregards and pardons for convictions etc. of certain offences

(1) The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 is amended as follows.(2) In section 92 (power of Secretary of State to disregard convictions or cautions)—(a) in subsection (1)(b), omit “or”,(b) in subsection (1)(c), at the end insert “or”,(c) after subsection (1)(c), insert—“(d) any other offence which falls within subsection (1A),”,(d) after subsection (1), insert—“(1A) An offence falls within this subsection if the offence— (a) regulated, or was used in practice to regulate, sexual activity between persons of the same sex, and (b) either—(i) has been repealed or, in the case of an offence at common law, abolished, or(ii) has not been repealed or abolished but once covered sexual activity between persons of the same sex of a type which, or in circumstances which, would not amount to the offence on the day on which this subsection comes into force.(1B) Where an offence of the type described in subsection (1A) covers or once covered activity other than sexual activity between persons of the same sex, the offence falls within subsection (1A) only to the extent that it once covered sexual activity between persons of the same sex.(1C) In this section, “sexual activity between persons of the same sex” includes—(a) any physical or affectionate activity between persons of the same sex which is of a type which is characteristic of persons involved in an intimate personal relationship,(b) conduct intended to introduce or procure such activity.”,(e) in subsection (3)(a), before the words “the other person” insert “in respect of an offence mentioned in subsection (1)(a)-(c)”,(f) in subsection (3)(b), substitute the full stop with “, or”,(g) after subsection (3)(b), insert—“(c) in respect of an offence that falls within subsection (1A) the conduct constituting the offence, if occurring in the same circumstances, would not be an offence on the day on which this subsection comes into force.”” Member’s explanatory statement

The purpose of this new Clause is to extend the current disregard and pardon schemes in England and Wales to enable individuals who were convicted of or cautioned for offences because of engaging in same-sex sexual acts, of a kind that would be lawful today, to apply to have a conviction or caution disregarded and, if successful, be pardoned.

My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendments 266 and 267 and pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Lexden and Professor Paul Johnson of York in doing so. Due to the lateness of the time I want to focus exactly on what our amendments do: they are focused on the pardons and disregards scheme. In 2012 the scheme was introduced to enable those living with a caution or conviction for a now-repealed homosexual offence to have that caution or conviction disregarded. In 2017 a further scheme was introduced to provide those so cautioned or convicted, both living and dead, with a pardon. A pardon, aside from its legal status, is a strong, symbolic apology to each and every person who has been wronged.

However, the disregard and pardon schemes in England and Wales are significantly flawed because they encompass only a small fraction of the laws that, over the decades and centuries, have immiserated the lives of gay and bisexual people. For five years I have worked closely with my noble friend Lord Lexden and, as I said, with Professor Paul Johnson at the University of York.

Significant problems, as I said, remain in this disregard and pardon scheme. The amendments before your Lordships would cover, for instance, now-repealed criminal offences such as the offence of solicitation by men, which was used to entrap gay and bisexual men, sometimes for doing nothing more than chatting up another adult man. The amendments would also cover the offences in the repealed service discipline Acts, which were once used to prosecute and punish consensual same-sex relationships. Those living with cautions or convictions for these and other relevant offences would be able to apply for a disregard and, if successful, be pardoned. Those who have died will be posthumously pardoned.

It is important that I am absolutely clear on one point: no one who was cautioned or convicted in respect of conduct that would be an offence today would be able to attain a disregard or receive a pardon. Our amendments to the Bill contain the strongest safeguards to ensure that those who committed crimes that today remain crimes cannot take advantage of, or benefit from, the disregard and pardon scheme. Equally, the extension of the disregard scheme that we propose means that it should be decided on a case-by-case basis by the Secretary of State, who would grant a disregard only if satisfied that the conduct in question would not be an offence today.

I could speak longer and in greater detail on crimes that have been perpetrated against homosexual men and bisexual men over 500 years, but I will say nothing more. I beg to move the amendment.

My Lords, I endorse all that my noble friend Lord Cashman has just said. We have been close allies, as he mentioned, for five years, in a sustained campaign to bring far more gay people within the scope of a hugely important scheme, through which they can attain disregards and pardons for offences that have been rightly overturned by Parliament. The House will understand how earnestly we hope that the end of our campaign is at last in sight.

Our amendments include provisions originally incorporated in amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, now completing its passage through the House. The provisions in question have now been embodied in these amendments. This has been done on the advice of the two Ministers concerned—my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lady Williams—with whom most helpful conversations have been held.

I refer to the provisions that relate to the Armed Forces. More gay members of our Armed Forces need the belated release from past injustice that our proposal will provide. Many were routinely punished, sometimes with imprisonment, under the service discipline offences, for actions such as disgraceful conduct for engaging in consensual same-sex activity, even when, after 1967, this was perfectly legal for civilians. They must now have the redress that our amendments would provide. Medals have been restored to former gay service personnel. Their reputations must be fully restored, too, by the removal of the stains that they should never have borne in the first place.

It was through initiatives in this House that the disregard and pardon scheme was significantly extended, five years ago. It is immensely gratifying to know that wide support exists across the House today for the scheme’s further enlargement to bring redress to many more gay people who have suffered grave injustice, particularly former gallant members of our Armed Forces, who served our country in peace and in war.

My Lords, I rise to briefly and extremely humbly speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who signed Amendment 266. I am greatly honoured to follow two such champions of this matter of undoing great injustices of the past.

I want to record our support for this and also to ask the Minister a question—to which I do not expect an answer now. These clauses provide for people to apply. Why can we not have a situation where we go through, find and identify these case and wipe them clean? That is the question I was asked to ask, and I am asking it. I do not necessarily expect an answer now, but I am putting it on the record.

My Lords, we support these amendments, so ably proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. I also pay tribute to the Minister for her sympathetic approach to these issues over the years. These offences should never have been offences in the first place. It therefore makes complete sense that, if people were convicted of such an offence and they apply to have a conviction or caution disregarded, and if that application is successful, they should be pardoned. Of course, deceased persons falling into this category cannot apply to have a conviction or caution disregarded, but they should be able to receive a posthumous pardon if the offence qualifies. It has taken 500 years to get to this stage and the Government have been making progress on these issues. These are the final pieces of the jigsaw and we support them.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer also added his name to this amendment. We clearly support the amendments. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, who I understand campaigned for decades on this issue. I thought it was quite moving, if I may use that word, to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, saying he earnestly hoped that he was coming towards the end of his campaign. I hope he is right and that the Minister may be able to give him some comfort in that respect. Everybody who has contributed to the debate thinks this is a thoroughly appropriate amendment and, even though it has been a very truncated debate, the passion and the sense of finality have come through, and I very much hope that the Minister will give a suitable response.

My Lords, it is about three minutes to the witching hour and I am absolutely delighted to be able to respond on behalf of the Government to these amendments. I and the Government are committed to enabling those with historical convictions for decriminalised homosexual conduct to apply to have their convictions disregarded. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, in discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, Professor Paul Johnson and my noble friend Lord Lexden, we felt that this was the neatest way to do it, as opposed to any other way. We have been actively exploring whether further offences can be brought within the scope of the scheme, to enable more people, both civilians and ex-service personnel, to benefit from it.

I really want at this point to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lexden and to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who is my noble friend, and to Professor Paul Johnson at the University of York for his expertise on this issue. I am very grateful for the conversations we have had on these amendments and similar amendments to the Armed Forces Bill. I am also grateful to the noble Lords for reiterating their commitment during Committee to work with the Home Office and the MoD on the best way forward for achieving our joint desire to redress this historic injustice.

We accept that the current scheme may be too narrow, as it is essentially confined to convictions for the now-repealed offences of buggery and gross indecency between men, but, as noble Lords have indicated, other now-repealed offences were also used to unfairly target gay men and women simply because of their sexuality. In further righting these historic wrongs, we need to ensure that any disregards in respect of additional offences meet the established legal criteria to ensure that necessary safeguards are upheld—this is something we have agreed and that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. has outlined tonight. The disregard scheme was deliberately and carefully designed in a way that ensures that the Home Office does not inadvertently disregard convictions or cautions for behaviours which are still illegal today or which involved other illegal behaviours, such as underage or non-consensual sex or sexual activity in a public toilet, which is still an offence under Section 71 of the Sexual Offences Act.

Currently, the disregards scheme includes only offences that have been repealed or abolished in common law. This ensures that only offences for behaviours which have been decriminalised by Parliament will be disregarded. This is important because the removal of convictions and cautions from official records is a serious matter and therefore appropriate safeguards must be in place. I welcome the fact that the noble Lords supporting these amendments accept this very important qualification. The Home Office is ready to consider extending the scope of the scheme to include a wider set of offences and work is under way across government to this end, thanks to Professor Johnson and others.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and my noble friend Lord Lexden are impatient for this work to be completed. I am very impatient—we started this five years ago—and, in a nutshell, I do not want to let this legislative opportunity pass. If the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, would be content to withdraw his amendment today, I can assure him that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to the case that he and others have made ahead of the next stage.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and pay tribute to the Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams. Brevity is the soul of wit, but tonight we have proven that it can also deliver that which is right and just. We will await the outcome of discussions and, as one would expect, reserve the right to bring forward proposals on Report if necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 266 withdrawn.

Amendment 267 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.02 pm.