House of Lords
Wednesday 8 December 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Death of a Former Member: Lord Denham
UK Community Renewal Fund
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what were the criteria for allocating money from the UK Community Renewal Fund; and what assessment they have made of the analysis by the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up at the University of West London, published on 4 November, which found that 21 per cent of the funding went to areas in the bottom 20 per cent of the Index of Multiple Deprivation, and that two-thirds of the funding went to areas in the top half of that Index.
The Government have confirmed that applications to the UK community renewal fund were assessed against the criteria set out in the prospectus and the assessment criteria published on GOV.UK. The analysis conducted by the University of West London used indices of multiple deprivation as an indicator for priority. Indices of multiple deprivation were not used for prioritising places under the UK community renewal fund. Instead, an index of economic resilience was used across Great Britain in identifying the 100 priority places. The prioritisation of place methodology and model has been published on GOV.UK. The analysis for Great Britain showed that 77%, or £146,198,866, of funding was allocated to a priority place.
I apologise for the length of the Question, but I am not entirely sure that I am happy with the Minister’s Answer. Surely this fund is flawed and something of a sham. The money should be going to areas with high levels of deprivation, but places such as Knowsley in Merseyside, Sandwell, Middlesbrough and Hyndburn have received no moneys at all from this fund. How can the Minister ensure that they are not further disadvantaged when they bid for the UK shared prosperity fund in 2022? Will that have different indices as well?
The sham is the analysis conducted by the University of West London. I have lived in west London all my life and I have never heard of the University of West London. Its error-strewn report has made this into something, but it contains error after error and there is no basis on which its analysis has any merit whatsoever.
My Lords, the Government have stated that they will ensure that the UK community renewal fund reaches those most in need. In applying checks and balances to that funding, when must that money be spent and how will it contribute towards the Government’s ambition to preserve and enhance the union?
With regard to union, it was very clear that we wanted to fund all four nations. That criterion was set from the outset. In addition, we wanted to raise all boats and strengthen the economic resilience of particular areas, which were banded A, B and C. I have been through this methodology and found it to be robust. What is more, the previous Secretary of State published the methodology and the current Secretary of State published the model. What more transparency could you ask for?
The Minister may well think little of the analysis of the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up, but surely he thinks it important that the most deserving communities get the support that they need for levelling up. The Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up also asks for close monitoring of who is benefiting from the current tranche of bids. What monitoring arrangements have the Government put in place to ensure that the right communities get the funding that they deserve?
As a local authority leader for some of the most deprived parts of the country, I used to look at the index of multiple deprivation very carefully. The borough that I led for six years had some of the most deprived communities, so I understand that, but the purpose of this fund was not to identify those most deprived communities. It focused on what was going to lift economies and therefore provide job opportunities and enable us to thrive us a nation. That was its purpose.
My Lords, while we are talking about levelling up, is it possible to include the 500,000 people who are behind in their rent and may well be levelling down? We have spoken about this together and the Government have not yet come up with a solution for people who are behind in their rent or mortgage.
The noble Lord is a champion and a crusader on this, and quite rightly. This is something that we take seriously and have taken particularly seriously during this pandemic, so that we can provide support for people and do not create the rough sleeping and homeless crises of the future. We will continue to work with the noble Lord to come up with practical measures to ensure that we deliver our ambition to end rough sleeping.
Of course I am not saying that. I am saying that there is a methodology and approach and that they are transparent. We have funded those bids according to that methodology. There is nothing controversial about that; there is nothing to see here.
My Lords, in Wales, additional funding has long been allocated to support communities that are struggling with high levels of poverty and deprivation. Could the noble Lord explain what criteria are being used, as over 60% of so-called levelling-up funding in Wales is being allocated to the 35% of constituencies that are Conservative held? Is this not another case of the UK Government funnelling money into their own back yards?
I know that is why the question has been asked, but it is simply not the case. Levelling up is around infrastructure—digital infra- structure, heavy infrastructure, transportation systems and the things that will bind this country together. I have a briefing today about the community renewal fund, which is the precursor to the UK shared prosperity fund. This is not about the politics you saw in Tammany Hall in New York; this is sensible stuff that aims to level up this country.
The UK community renewal fund will ultimately be financed by the taxpayer, although it is the successor to the EU structural funds. It is important to test things out with the community renewal fund, so that we get it right when we introduce the shared prosperity fund, which will be worth over £2.6 billion over the next three years.
My Lords, I worry that the Government are not addressing what community renewal means in its wider, profounder sense. This funding, welcome as it is to those who receive it, is taking place against the reality of councils, particularly in deprived areas, that are so starved of money that they are contemplating selling off important community assets such as theatres and children’s centres. Will the Government look more carefully at the meaning of community, rather than seeing it solely as new build and private enterprise?
Well, given the state of the national finances, increasing the core spending power to the degree that we have shows a real commitment to local government. I point out that this particular fund is all around the skills and what it takes to increase the economic output of an area. The levelling-up fund is another fund that is focused on the more capital-intensive digital and road and rail infrastructure.
Does my noble friend agree that the best way to achieve levelling up is by economic growth and higher productivity, helped by good local authorities? I agree with my noble friend that the rising tide raises all boats. We should be seeking to make that a reality in these difficult times.
The reality is that we need local leadership. We need the vision in local places. We need to understand why a place should be competitive and then, with that local leadership, backed up by taxpayer pump-priming, turn places around. We have too few local leaders who have clear vision at the moment. There are some examples: we are seeing the success of our mayors, and we have to back them to ensure that the whole country rises. But the rhetoric about lifting all boats is precisely right.
My Lords, the noble Lord has made a good case for the community renewal fund, but is it not the case that the allocations were delayed from July to October? Will that mean that the application and monitoring of those funds will take a longer period? If not, the funds will be wasted. Levelling up is far too important to be bungled by this Government.
There is always delay. I have been a Minister for 18 months now: I am not used Whitehall, but I have seen many things delayed and that is not always as a result of direct ministerial influence. Things just take time. We have been through a global pandemic and, yes, this will probably delay things, but the commitment is there—there is clarity—and this is not a case of double-dealing or dodginess—
My Lords, can the Minister tell me how many different pots there are for levelling up for councils to bid for? I was told that there are now over 100. If so, do councils have to spend money trying to fulfil different sets of criteria for each one?
I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s first question: there are probably too many funding pots. We are doing our best to narrow those down as we move towards the levelling-up fund for capital and the UK shared prosperity fund. We do not want local authorities to become grant farmers. We want them to focus on the vision for their place and then to apply for a limited number of pots. It is appropriate to have deals as well, on the other side, but, in terms of central pots, we are broadly going down to two main ones.
Covid-19: National Memorial
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards the creation of a permanent national memorial to those who lost their lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and to those who risked their lives to save a great many others.
My Lords, while the Government’s focus is on protecting lives, there is none the less the need to come together as a nation to mourn those who have sadly died during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister announced the establishment of a UK commission on Covid commemoration to consider how to remember those whom we have lost and to commemorate what we have all been through. We will set out the membership of the commission and the terms of reference in due course.
I thank the Minister very much for his reply. Does he agree that, when it comes to creating a national memorial in due course, it will be possible to commemorate the courageous actions during the pandemic of doctors, nurses, medical staff, specialists and members of the emergency services and the Armed Forces, all of whom risked their lives in order to save the lives of a great many others?
I strongly agree with my noble friend. Already, of course, in a striking gesture, Her Majesty the Queen awarded the George Cross to the National Health Service across all parts of the United Kingdom. However, as my noble friend asked, the commission will also consider how we can remember the courage of countless working people and volunteers, not just in the NHS but the Armed Forces, delivery drivers, transport staff, pharmacists and teachers—it is invidious to name just some of them; they are legion —who have put themselves out to serve this nation.
My Lords, on these Benches we fully support preserving the Covid-19 national memorial wall across the river. It is a people’s memorial and every heart there represents a beloved person lost to their family and friends. So I ask the Government to work with the stakeholders involved to preserve that wall because, whatever and however the formal memorial is planned—quite rightly, it must be a national memorial that covers everybody affected by the pandemic —does the Minister agree that this is not a choice between one or the other?
My Lords, we all need to find ways to remember. My aunt died in the Spanish flu pandemic, which was a lifelong sadness to my mother, 70 years after her death. Memories of this pandemic will last equally long and bite equally deep, as the noble Baroness said, in many personal ways. We are aware of the call for the memorial wall to become a permanent national memorial and we welcome the discussions being led by Lambeth Council on this.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is perhaps a bit premature to decide on one national memorial at the moment, as we are far from near the end of this pandemic? Does he know about the memorial forests initiative, whereby people can plant a tree in memory of somebody they know? That campaign has the additional benefit that people can access it online—they do not have to go to London to pay remembrance. Does he think that is worth promoting more generally to the public?
The noble Baroness of course makes a very good point; I would always commend the planting of trees. We have received a very large number of views and suggestions from parliamentarians, as we have heard today, and the public on how this period should be remembered and commemorated, which we will pass on to the commission as it is established. I assure noble Lords that it will give full consideration to all initiatives and ideas and provide recommendations to the Prime Minister.
My Lords, I do agree, although that is obviously not entirely under the control of Her Majesty’s Government. However, there are billions of people across the world who will need to be satisfied and have their minds put at rest in the way my noble friend asks.
Yes, we should always seek to be better prepared for everything in life. When we have the inquiry, I have no doubt there will be lessons to be learned by this Government, and I agree with the noble Baroness that the Houses of Parliament and the whole community will want to learn every lesson.
My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord fully answered the question from my noble friend Lady McIntosh. If we are to be prepared for this eventuality, are we preparing ourselves for those eventualities that we might not yet be able to foresee? Will the Government look at their contingency arrangements—I declare my interests in the register on this—to make sure that they report regularly and in full to Parliament on the mitigations in place for each of the risks on the national risk register?
My Lords, the noble Lord is an indefatigable—I am not sure that I can say that word with the current state of my voice—advocate of the national risk register, and I accept where he is coming from. Obviously, there are certain unknown unknowns that are difficult to know, but I absolutely accept the spirit behind his question.
My Lords, the question has been raised about trying to prevent mortality from a future epidemic. The present epidemic is largely due to—or at least made much worse by—the fact that 71% of British people over the age of 70 are obese, and obesity and Covid are a fatal combination. If we want to prevent future mortalities, we have to get the nation to slim down. The Prime Minister has raised the whole question of reducing obesity by himself taking three stone off and advocating that that is what we should all be doing.
My Lords, my noble friend lays a gentle stiletto between my ribs. Apart from the humorous side of it, there is a very serious side to what my noble friend says. There is an unequivocal connection in the terms that he describes, which each of us should bear in mind and which we should all be well aware of.
My Lords, I am very taken with the idea of planting trees; it has been done in other parts of the world. In the years to come, there will be many more victims of Covid-19, and it would mean that anybody in future could have a tree planted, and that would help with the greening project ahead of us as well.
Children and Families Act 2014: Education, Health and Care Plans
My Lords, the special educational needs and disabilities system, established in the Children and Families Act 2014, does not consistently deliver for children, young people or their families. This is why the Government established the SEND review, which will consider all elements of the SEND system, including the effectiveness of education, health and care plans. We intend to publish proposals for full public consultation in the first three months of 2022.
My Lords, attention has rightly been paid over recent days to the disappeared children, who have not attended school or anywhere else in the last 18 to 20 months. One of the worst aspects of this is that tens of thousands of children with special educational needs have disappeared because they do not have the support necessary. We have had an NAO report, and a Commons Select Committee report two years ago; we have had an internal review going on for two years. Is it not time that the Government accepted that the simple truth is that, while capital spending is very welcome, what is needed is cash to fund the EHCPs, to make certain that young people can get to school, stay at school and have a decent education at school?
The noble Lord is right to remind the House of the tragic events of the last few days. I think there are different aspects to addressing this. He is right that the Government have announced £2.6 billion of additional capital funding to provide more places, and those are much needed. The Government are also providing considerably more revenue funding to local authorities—an increase in 2022-23 of £780 million. The review will also focus—I am sure the noble Lord will agree with this—on earlier intervention wherever possible.
My Lords, I declare my interests in this field. The process of getting an EHCP is one in which you are advised to have lawyers with you, and often you have to go to appeal, where you are opposed by lawyers. How does that suggest that the system is anything other than a failure, or is it designed to be something that supplements the legal system?
My Lords, my noble friend’s predecessor said on 4 March last year that the special educational needs and disabilities review was
“an absolute priority for the Government.”—[Official Report, 4/3/20; col. 694.]
We heard yesterday that the Government have some difficulty in defining the word “priority” with any precision. Why, apart from Covid, has this review, which began in 2019, taken so long?
I understand my noble friend’s diplomatically put question. He is right to raise the issue of Covid, but he will also know that this is an incredibly complex area. We have set up a steering group that includes families, schools, local authorities and other independent organisations. We are committed to the deadline, which has now been announced, of publishing the Green Paper in the first quarter of next year.
My Lords, the Minister referred to early intervention. Does she agree that one of the difficulties with this area is that families with children who appear to be needing assessment —for example, for autism or learning difficulties—find it very difficult even to get the assessment, never mind the care plan that would come from it? Can she say how that problem is being addressed? How should families who cannot afford to spend money on private assessments conduct themselves?
Ukraine and Russia: Military Developments
My Lords, we are deeply concerned by Russia’s pattern of military build-up in and around Ukraine and are closely monitoring the situation. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has held discussions with her Russian and Ukrainian counterparts, restating the UK’s strong support for Ukraine and urging the Russian Government to de-escalate the situation. We are looking at a package of sanctions to raise the cost of any further aggressive Russian actions against Ukraine. We already support Ukrainian military development and regularly conduct joint exercises.
My Lords, we are edging ever closer to a real crisis in Ukraine, with the US Defense Intelligence Agency speaking of a potential 175,000 Russian troops on the border; with emergency talks between President Biden and President Putin; and with the President of Ukraine asking for British soldiers. The Minister will note that this is a very real crisis and one morning we are going to wake up, as the Defense Intelligence Agency says, to a Soviet invasion of Ukraine. What is our response going to be if anything like that happens? What are we doing to talk to the Russians to secure assurances from them about this situation? Are we talking to our European neighbours? Let us get it sorted before we have a very real crisis on our hands.
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks from deep insight as a former shadow Secretary of State for Defence. I assure the noble Lord that we are working very closely with our European allies and indeed the United States. As the noble Lord accurately said, recently President Biden and President Putin have had discussions, but over the last couple of days there were also meetings between our Prime Minister and other leaders, including our European allies, where our Prime Minister updated others on his conversation with President Putin. Equally, at the OSCE recently, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, among others, met the Foreign Ministers of both Russia and Ukraine and reiterated the points that I have made. Today, as the noble Lord may know, we are engaging in a strategic dialogue with Ukraine in London.
My Lords, the United Kingdom has been a key contributor to the enhanced forward presence in Estonia and Poland, underlining NATO’s Article 5 principle that an attack on one is an attack on all. Of course, Ukraine is only an aspirant member of NATO, so Article 5 does not apply, but has there been any discussion within NATO about potentially delivering a parallel programme to send a very clear message to the Russians that we support our Ukrainian allies?
Again, I can assure my noble friend. He is right to raise the issue of NATO. We remain very strong supporters, based on the 2008 Bucharest summit declaration, of Ukraine’s membership of NATO. I assure my noble friend that we are talking to NATO allies on this very point; indeed, it was a subject of conversation in my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s recent meeting with NATO.
My Lords, when Russia annexed Crimea, there were reports that we would have been better able to anticipate and track events if there had been more Russian speakers in the Foreign Office. Are we better equipped now to monitor what might be happening between Russia and Ukraine?
My Lords, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the European response was delayed because it happened at Christmas. When the Americans left Afghanistan, the British response was marred by the fact that the Foreign Secretary and the Permanent Secretary were both on holiday. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is now looking again at leave policy to make sure that at crucial times somebody is always in the office?
My Lords, in any crisis lessons are learned, and the noble Baroness is right. The challenges of the situation we saw in Afghanistan are all too apparent. What we did achieve we look at with a great degree of humility, and we must show humanity in our response to Afghanistan. On the issue of Christmas, and the situation not just in Ukraine but in other parts of the world, we are very much prepared and focused on that, as is my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.
My Lords, I feel a little reassured by the Minister’s answer. The response from the Government Front Bench the previous time we debated this in the House—that a thermonuclear war would be “unwelcome”—did not really reassure me.
On Ukraine itself, there is very real concern that there are some in Ukraine who would like to stoke this for something to happen, and part of that is because we have pushed for it to become a member of NATO. I think that is a mistake because it has caused a problem within Russia. I ask the Minister: are we in a very firm dialogue with Ukraine to make sure that it keeps a clamp on what is happening there and that we are not promising it things such as NATO, which do nothing but encourage the situation to get worse?
My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord’s second question is: yes, we are very closely engaged with Ukraine, as we are today, on the issue of its NATO membership and, indeed, our support. The support we have given militarily is very much defensive and based on technical support as well.
My Lords, there have been a lot of difficulties in Ukraine, partly with the non-implementation of the agreement made in Minsk, the need for talks about the future of eastern Ukraine, and a follow-up of the initiative of the Finnish President to de-escalate the situation and have a peace conference in Europe to look at the outstanding issues that have arisen following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Should not we put our efforts behind those of the Finnish President to get a discussion going?
My Lords, one thing that the Minister mentioned is working with our allies. Sanctions, as he knows, are ineffective without support from allies. President Biden’s talks with President Putin resulted in certain conditions being laid down. The United States National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, reported on some of the counter-measures. What everyone in this House wants to know is whether this Government will be prepared to work with our allies in implementing such measures in time, unlike their failure fully to implement the Russia report.
My Lords, this is not an isolated crisis but part of a long-term campaign by a gangster regime, which includes international assassinations, the subversion of legitimate Governments and interference in democratic processes. It has been going on for years and will go on for years. Does the Minister not agree that what is required is not just a set of responses to this particular incident but a long-term diplomatic effort to gain co-operation and determination across Russia’s opposition? Should we not be reducing a little bit the heat of the arguments that we have with some of our neighbours in favour of greater co-operation—stop squabbling over fish when the sharks are circling?
My Lords, there is little I can disagree with from the noble and gallant Lord, who speaks with great insight. I assure him that I agree with him totally—we need to take the temperature down. We have seen the situation with the likes of Mr Navalny, and where we have been most effective is when we have acted and acted together.
Is my noble friend aware that, when the Soviet Union collapsed, great attention was not necessarily paid to some of the territories—but in Russia the loss of Ukraine was much the most sensitive? I entirely agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord West. In this difficult situation, in which Russia has now seen the steady advance of NATO right up to its very borders, the sensitivity of this situation—not to allow any action against Ukraine but to recognise the genuine Russian concern—needs to be properly addressed.
I agree with my noble friend, which is exactly why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary have engaged directly with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Again, we continue to engage with Russia through other channels, including at the OSCE and the UN Security Council.
Parliamentary Partnership Assembly
Motion to Resolve
To resolve that this House:
(1) takes note of the provision in Article 11 of the UK–EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement for the establishment of a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) consisting of Members of the European Parliament and of Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which:
(a) may request relevant information regarding the implementation of that agreement and any supplementing agreement from the EU–UK Partnership Council established by Article 7 of that agreement, which shall then supply the EU–UK PPA with the requested information;
(b) shall be informed of the decisions and recommendations of the EU–UK Partnership Council; and
(c) may make recommendations to the EU–UK Partnership Council;
(2) agrees that a delegation from the UK Parliament consisting of 35 members drawn from both Houses should participate in such an Assembly; and
(3) takes note of the first report from the House of Lords Commission, EU–UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (1st Report, HL Paper 114) and confirms that the procedures currently applying to the nomination, support and funding of delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly should apply to the delegation to the EU–UK PPA.
My Lords, before I speak to the Motion, I extend my condolences to the family and friends of my late noble friend Lord Denham who, as the Lord Speaker announced earlier, died at the weekend. Lord Denham served this House with great distinction for more than 70 years, including as Government Chief Whip for 12 years.
The Motion standing in the Leader’s name invites the House to agree in principle to its participation in the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, or PPA. The House of Commons agreed a Motion in the same terms on Monday this week, and the European Parliament decided its intention to participate on 5 October. The House of Lords Commission discussed the participation of this House at its meeting on 16 November and in its first report of this Session set out some background to help inform the House’s decision today. That report was published on 25 November.
The Motion is the culmination of many months of careful and patient dialogue between the two Houses and with the European Parliament, much of which has been carried out on behalf of this House by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I would like to put on record my thanks for the work that he and his team have done to help get the PPA off the ground. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is not a Committee of the House. This is the way that all parliamentary delegations are appointed, and we see no reason why this should be different from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly or the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Customs Safety and Security Procedures (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2021
Solvency 2 (Group Supervision) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021
Motions to Approve
Education (Assemblies) Bill [HL]
My Lords, in moving that this Bill do now pass, can I just say how delighted I am that this landmark Bill has reached Third Reading and will shortly conclude its journey through this place? I am grateful for the wide support it has received from noble Lords and from Humanists UK, which has assisted me throughout.
Colleagues have rightly recognised the importance of enabling children to take part in inclusive assemblies as part of their school day, and the pressing need to address the current injustice whereby those children who do not wish to take part in collective worship can at best be left twiddling their thumbs and at worst be ostracised from their peers, while the structured school day carries on without them.
The UK is the only sovereign state in the world to impose worship in all state schools, including those without a religious character. This Bill would free up schools to hold assemblies on topics parents want to see covered and uphold children’s rights to an inclusive education. It would also reflect the recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has urged the UK to repeal these collective worship laws.
Finally, I just place on the record my heartfelt thanks to all noble Lords who have engaged with this Bill throughout its progress. It has led to robust and stimulating debate about the moral framework within which we educate our children. I wish the Bill well on its next stages in the other place, where the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Crispin Blunt, intends to pick it up. Meanwhile, I beg to move
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill
My Lords, it is a pleasure to see this Bill through to its conclusion.
The pandemic has had far-reaching and unexpected impacts and the business rates part of this Bill seeks to address its potentially distortive effects on the rating system and local government income. By clarifying that coronavirus and the Government’s response to it will not be considered a “material change of circumstances” for the purpose of property valuation, the Bill ensures that the rating system will continue to operate as it was intended to. It also removes a significant source of uncertainty for local councils.
I thank noble Lords for the engagement we have had during the passage of the Bill. We have sought to strike the right balance between getting this important measure passed quickly and leaving space for legitimate discussion on the wider issues at play, for instance the future of business rates. Considerable expertise has been in evidence, which will be of great value when we come to debate the more substantial changes that the Government have announced. In particular, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Pinnock, for their careful scrutiny and, ultimately, the very welcome support they have offered.
The new power to investigate the conduct of former directors of dissolved companies and seek to disqualify them where appropriate will have far-reaching benefits to the economy, in terms of improved confidence in lending, and to business and the wider public, in protecting them from the actions of rogue directors.
Of course, there is the very pressing matter of ensuring that the Government have the tools they need to tackle those reprehensible individuals who have taken advantage of a public health crisis to line their own pockets, and this new measure will play its part in bringing them to task. I am sure noble Lords will agree with me that it is only right that the retrospective provision in this measure will mean that the investigation of those individuals may start immediately upon Royal Assent.
As well as the noble Baronesses, I extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Leigh, who have provided thoughtful and constructive contributions to the debate on the director disqualification part of this Bill. Finally, I thank the Bill teams in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Insolvency Service for bringing me up to speed on some of the more detailed provisions and helping me get a proper understanding of the Bill. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
My Lords, it is fair to say that there has been some significant consternation from noble Lords at the way this Bill was initially put together. However, in the main, we support its passage to get help to those in serious need.
We expressed our ongoing concerns at different stages of this Bill. It is obvious that the whole area of business rates needs urgent review and root-and-branch reform. Likewise, enormous concerns remain as to whether the Insolvency Service is sufficiently resourced to meet its obligations under the Bill with regard to the significant increase in business, as outlined.
I put on record my appreciation of the informed contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Leigh, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I thank my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Sikka for their invaluable insights and knowledge on these matters.
From these Benches, we express our gratitude to the Bill team, the clerks and the staff of the House, and the Insolvency Service for the in-depth briefings it provided. I also thank both Ministers involved in this Bill: first, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh—I particularly acknowledge the further detailed investigation he went into when the cause of our concerns over the business rates issue came to light—and the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for his continued courtesy in offering regular briefings from his team and the insolvency support service on the various matters under consideration.
Finally, I thank both Ben Wood and Dan Harris, our excellent advisers, for their unfailingly high standard of support throughout the proceedings.
Clearly, both matters leave further work to be undertaken in both Houses, as has been outlined. I will watch the implementation of provisions with great interest.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Fox, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for the constructive meetings that helpfully resolved the issues in the part of the Bill dealing with directors’ disqualifications and insolvency. I thank the Minister for the time he devoted to discussions on the Bill and the private meetings we held to try to resolve various issues, some of which remain; nevertheless, we are happy that the Bill has to pass to deal with the issues in front of us. I am still concerned about its retrospective nature, an issue that we did not fully resolve, inevitably. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, has said, the reforming of business rates is still a major concern. But with that in mind I wish to thank everybody who was involved, particularly Sarah Pughe, from the Lib Dems’ legislative team, for her help and advice. I am grateful for the way the Bill was discussed and debated so that we were, in the end, able to support it. With that, I thank the Minister for his help.
My Lords, I will make a contribution from, as it were, the technical Benches on the matter of non-domestic rating. I thank the Minister—this will probably be the only time I can thank him publicly—for writing to me about matters he raised when we were at a previous stage of the Bill, in connection with the package of measures the Government have put in place to try to alleviate the problems facing businesses. I do not know whether the right term is “sidestep”, but I suspect he did not quite get the point I was making. Where a major manufacturer carries out works to meet an environmental target—for decarbonisation, for example—and in doing so wrecks something tantamount to a building or structure, or an item covered by the plant and machinery order, a proportion of its value automatically gets built in as an addition to the rateable value. That has been described to me as the double whammy of having to pay for the improvement to meet a government-imposed target, and additional rates. I was trying to focus on specific instances involving a building or structure, or the plant and machinery order, but I leave that to one side because that was to some extent an overture to what the Bill is about. I mention it only because the Minister was making the point about the assistance the Government have provided.
As for the Bill itself, I obviously regret a business rating measure of such a binary nature preventing the effects of coronavirus being properly reflected in rental values as a material change of circumstances for the purposes of making appeals against the assessments. Although the government package of reliefs and other support for the business sector is extremely welcome, it none the less pales into insignificance compared with what businesses could have expected, had a material change of circumstances applied. I will leave that there.
The Government say that the material change of circumstances was never intended to apply to things like pandemics. Well, probably not, but there has never been a time like this when HM Treasury and HMRC have been quite so keen to protect their income streams come what may, regardless of the precise effects on businesses. I hope this Bill does not have the consequences I fear it might, but I remain concerned that the whole process of business rates is beginning to drive responses, which should always be a warning sign with any taxation measure going forward. That said, I thank the Minister and the Bill team, and other noble Lords who have spoken up for the business rate payer. I wish this Bill a safe passage, and I hope it will not fulfil my worst prognostications.
Armed Forces Bill
1A: Because a presumption in favour of the offences in question being heard in the civilian courts is not necessary or justified.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion A I will address Motion A1, and then Motions B and B1. Obviously there will be a certain element of déjà vu in my remarks but I shall do my best to explain once again why the Government hold to the view they do on these issues.
Over the last 20 years, the service justice system has gone through many changes and been transformed for the better as a result of them. There have been numerous reviews and inquiries, some as a consequence of operations, but all of which have enabled the service justice system to develop and improve. It is no longer recognisable as the system existing 10 to 15 years ago with which many of your Lordships were familiar.
The service police, prosecutors and judiciary are fully independent and trained. They are skilled and have the experience to deal with all offending to the same standard as their counterparts in the civilian criminal justice system. In particular, prosecutors are trained for rape and serious sexual offences, and judges/judge advocates are “ticketed” to deal with particular offences. Our code of practice for victims reflects the same principles as that for civilians and we use many of the same arrangements as in the civilian justice system, such as special measures for vulnerable witnesses. Any visitor to a court martial centre will find it remarkably similar to any Crown Court in England and Wales. In fact, in some areas the court martial is ahead of the civilian system, such as in the use of video links. It is for these reasons that the service justice system is legitimately positioned as an alternative jurisdiction to the civilian criminal justice system in respect of any criminal offence in the UK.
The recently published review by the retired High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques QC and the earlier Service Justice System Review by His Honour Shaun Lyons both strongly supported the continued existence of the service justice system. Sir Richard fully agreed with the Government’s decision to retain unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape. He recommended a number of proposals to further strengthen the service justice system so that it has the best expertise and capacity to deal with all crimes. We have prioritised his recommendation of creating a defence serious crime unit, headed by a new provost marshal for serious crime in the Bill. This is a major development for the service justice system and it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to achieving the highest investigative capabilities within it. The new unit will play a key role in our strategy to drive up conviction rates.
I know we all have a common aim, which is to ensure that every case is heard in the most appropriate jurisdiction. We also agree that in the event of disagreement about jurisdiction, a civilian prosecutor should have the final say. However, we maintain that rather than involving the Attorney-General as set out in this amendment and creating an in-built bias towards the civilian jurisdiction, a better approach is to strengthen the prosecutors’ protocols and clarify the role of the prosecutors—civilian and service—in decision-making on concurrent jurisdiction.
The service justice system cannot be half a justice system or a partial justice system. It has to handle all crimes committed by service personnel outside the UK. It makes sense for it to continue to be able to handle all crimes in the UK. In the UK, this will be subject to the operation of the prosecution protocols in respect of which the view of the civilian prosecutor, as I said, will prevail.
Just for the avoidance of doubt, I take this opportunity to reassure the House that the proposal in this Bill is not about increasing the number of serious cases to be dealt with by the service justice system; it will continue to be the case that a victim can choose whether to report a criminal offence to the service or the civilian police. Our proposal simply maintains the principle that both jurisdictions are capable of dealing with all offending, and asserts that qualified and experienced prosecutors are best placed to make decisions where there is concurrent jurisdiction. Removing crimes from the competence of the service justice system or introducing a presumption in favour of the civilian system for serious crimes, as in this amendment, inevitably calls into question the integrity of the service justice system, raising a perception by victims, witnesses, service personnel and the public that the service justice system is deficient. That is unacceptable to the Government. That weakening and fracture of the service justice system is impossible for them to defend.
Let me now address conviction rates in the service justice system for sexual offences, in particular for the offence of rape, because this is clearly important. In his report, Sir Richard Henriques makes the point at page 201 that the comparison of conviction rates between the service and civilian justice systems overlooks the fact that the service police refer, and the Service Prosecuting Authority prosecutes, cases that would have been discontinued in the civilian system.
The number of rape cases prosecuted in the civilian system stands at between 1.6% and 3% of those reported to Home Office police forces. The Crown Prosecution Service has announced an action plan to address this disparity. Noble Lords will recall that the Government are also working on a new strategy for the service justice system when dealing with cases of rape and other serious sexual assaults. In the service justice system, 55% of rape investigations carried out by the service police in the period from 2017 to 2019 led to a referral to the Service Prosecuting Authority, and 27% of rape investigations led to a suspect being charged. In 2020, 50% of rape investigations by the service police led to charges and prosecution. Viewed as a proportion of allegations reported, rather than of cases prosecuted, the conviction rate in the service justice system is around 8% compared to around 2% in the civilian system. Let me be clear that this rate is still too low but should not be used as a reason for departing from the current principle of concurrent jurisdiction. Your Lordships may be interested to know that more recent data about cases of rape prosecuted at the court martial in the last six months show a conviction rate of just under 50%. Clearly, the service justice system is capable of investigating and prosecuting these cases.
I now wish to turn to specific details of the amendment, parts of the text of which cause concern. It seeks to introduce a consultation role for the Attorney-General in England and Wales only. The service justice system applies across the whole UK. That is why there is provision in the Bill for three separate protocols to ensure that the same approach is taken across the three legal jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As it stands, the application of the amendment to only England and Wales rather than the whole UK means that cases involving service personnel in those parts of the country would be handled differently from cases handled in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The amendment is unsuitable to be extended to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Consultation with the Attorney-General for England and Wales on prosecutorial decisions is entirely inappropriate for the devolved Administrations. For example, the independence of the Lord Advocate as head of the system of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland means that decisions are taken independently of any other person, and this includes not being subject to guidance or direction of another officeholder. It is my understanding that the Lord Advocate would be concerned about any extension of the proposed approach to Scotland.
Finally, I say with the greatest respect that it is not entirely clear to the Government what is meant by the condition of “naval or military complexity”, and how that will be defined, by whom and how it should be interpreted. This approach will lead to confusion and a lack of clarity about how and when the Attorney-General for England and Wales should be consulted.
On the other hand, Clause 7 of the Bill ensures that decisions on jurisdiction are left to the independent service justice prosecutors across the UK, and their respective civilian prosecutors, using guidance that they have agreed between them that will, no doubt, address the military dimension to be considered. Once in place, this new statutory guidance will be used to revise existing protocols between the service and the civilian police to bring much-needed clarity at all levels on how decisions on jurisdiction are made.
The Bill also makes it clear that where there is a disagreement on jurisdiction, the civilian prosecutor—be it the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, the Lord Advocate or the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland—always has the final say. So the service justice system prosecutor cannot ignore the civilian prosecutor and railroad cases through the service justice system. In this way, the Government’s approach not only provides a solution which works UK-wide but provides ample safeguards to ensure that civilian prosecutors are involved and cases are dealt with in the most appropriate jurisdiction.
In these circumstances, I beg to move Motion A in my name, and I urge the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, not to press his Motion A1.
I will now move on to Motions B and B1, in relation to the Armed Forces covenant. The covenant is described as:
“An Enduring Covenant Between the People of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government and All those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown and their Families.”
The covenant was rebuilt a decade ago during a time, like today, of great pressure on the Armed Forces community, and has since been delivered in a highly successful manner, because it captures the appreciation and support for the sacrifices of that community of people from every walk of life across the United Kingdom.
This embodies the spirit of the covenant, which of itself is not a legal obligation, and nor should it be. But that is not to say that legislation has not been important in helping its delivery. That began with the obligation on the Secretary of State for Defence to report to Parliament annually on how service life impacts on the lives of servicepeople and former servicepeople. By working with our service providers and key stakeholder groups, from this one measure the covenant has evolved into one of the key drivers of welfare support to our Armed Forces community today. We are now taking the next step to promote and further strengthen the legal basis of the covenant, as we committed, which is why we are taking forward the provisions in this Bill.
Ensuring that key policymakers have the right information about the Armed Forces community and are therefore better able to make the right decisions for their local populations has been fundamental to our current success. Building on this foundation, the new duty will therefore oblige specified public bodies exercising a relevant healthcare, education or housing function to pay due regard to the three principles of the covenant. We see this as a sure and effective way of raising awareness among providers of public services of how service life can disadvantage the Armed Forces community, thereby encouraging a more consistent approach around the country.
However, these provisions are breaking new ground, and it is important that we see how they work in practice so that we both establish an evidence base and allow time for review and assessment to inform future enlargement of this obligation to any new bodies or functions. The provisions in the Bill will allow that enlargement more easily by granting the Secretary of State the power to add to the scope of the duty through regulations, without the need to wait for another Armed Forces Bill.
I have already outlined in this place the work we are undertaking with covenant reference group stakeholders to establish a process to help the Secretary of State to identify and assess functions that it would be beneficial to add to the scope of the duty, including those that are the responsibility of central government. This process will feed into our existing commitment to review the overall performance of the covenant duty as part of our post-legislative scrutiny.
I remind your Lordships of the current legal obligation on the Government to annually prepare and lay an Armed Forces covenant report. In the preparation of the annual report, the Secretary of State must have regard to the three principles of the covenant. He must obtain the views of relevant government departments and devolved Administrations in relation to the effects on servicepeople covered by the report. He must state in the report his assessment of whether servicepeople are facing disadvantage and, importantly, where he is of the opinion that there is disadvantage, what his response is to that, including consideration of whether the making of special provision would be justified. This means in essence that covenant delivery at a national level remains under continual review and, far from avoiding responsibility, demonstrates how this Government are committed to ensuring that the needs of the Armed Forces community are identified so that action can be taken.
On Report, I listed many of the initiatives that the Government have taken forward as a result of the clearer picture provided by the annual report, such as the inclusion of veteran-specific care pathways in England for mental health and prosthetic care in the NHS constitution, or the creation of a new schools admissions code. This level of oversight by Parliament, together with other regular procedures such as reviews by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, and Parliamentary Questions and debates, will ensure that the Government are held to account in respect of the covenant and the Armed Forces generally. That was something that the Labour defence spokesperson confirmed in the other place on Monday, when he said that he would hold the Minister
“robustly to account when the Government fail to stand up for our armed forces or to act in the national interest.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 100.]
That is absolutely right, and what the Labour defence spokesman in the other place is there to do. We welcome this level of scrutiny. We have nothing to hide. In taking forward this Bill, the Government have no malign or covert agenda. We are simply seeking to provide a firm legal foundation to build on and progress the successful evolution of the covenant that we have seen to date. This new duty provides us with the opportunity to do that and I urge your Lordships to support the Government in this aim.
So I will be moving Motion B in my name, and I respectfully ask the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, not to press his Motion B1.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
1B: Page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(4A) Guidance under subsection (3)(a) must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court unless, by reason of the circumstances, including but not limited to specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, after consultation with the Attorney General, directs trial by court martial.””
My Lords, I will start with a quotation. In the Ministry of Defence
“there is one individual who is refusing to back down from the alleyway he has found himself in.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 105.]
Those are the words of the former Defence Minister Johnny Mercer, speaking in the debate in the other place on Monday night, on the amendment that we sent. He had earlier said:
“Unfortunately, I was in the room when this decision was made. The evidence did not support the Secretary of State at the time and the evidence does not support the Secretary of State today. I cannot vote against the Lords amendment; it is not the right thing to do. Let me be clear: when the Secretary of State made that decision”—
the issue that we are discussing today—
“it was against the advice of the officials in the Department and against the advice of his Ministers.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 104.]
Unusually, the veil is lifted. Mr Mercer clearly identifies Mr Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, as the man in the alleyway who, against the advice of his officials and his Ministers, persists in resisting this amendment. The Minister knows that I have always assumed that she would not, in her personal capacity, back the Government’s position—but now we have direct evidence from Mr Mercer, her former colleague.
I could leave it at that. I could await the storm of protest from victims whose cases are dismissed at court martial, who will come forward brandishing the Judge Lyons review and the recommendations, after considerable investigation, contained in Sarah Atherton’s report, published last July, to which I have referred at every stage—Sarah Atherton being the only Conservative Member of Parliament ever for Wrexham.
I doubt that the controversy when those protests are made will improve Mr Wallace’s or the Government’s standing with the public on the highly sensitive issue of sexual offences, but I have a deep concern that the reputation of the service justice system in the UK should not be sullied.
On Monday afternoon, I took part in an international forum organised by my friend Professor Eugene Fidell of Yale University, founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice in the United States. The forum meets regularly. On this occasion, we considered the way that sexual offences are dealt with in the Canadian military. This is a live issue in many jurisdictions. I had hoped that the United Kingdom would show the way, but I will remind the House of some of the UK statistics that were before the other place.
The Atherton committee interviewed many in search of evidence. Some 64% of the more than 4,000 service- women who submitted evidence to the committee stated that they had experienced sexual harassment, rape, bullying or discrimination while serving in the Armed Forces. Over the past five years, the average conviction rate for rape in civilian courts, from Ministry of Justice data, is 34%. Over the same five years, from using the data of the MoD, it is just 16%. The Minister told us that it was 15% for courts martial over the last six months. If you use Crown Prosecution Service data, the figures are even worse.
Obviously, I misheard the noble Baroness. I will continue. As I said on Report, I am not aware of any murders committed in the UK by service personnel that have been tried by court martial. Of course, that could have happened only since 2006, when the novel change to concurrent jurisdiction was introduced. I have noted two cases of manslaughter arising from deaths at the Castlemartin range in west Wales, in live firing exercises, which involved the organisation of training activities, but I am not aware of any trials of sexual offences at court martial in the UK where the victim was a civilian. If there were any, I shudder to think of the effect on a civilian complainant of giving her evidence in intimate detail, against a serviceman, to a panel of uniformed officers, at a court martial.
Until now, the verdict of a court martial in such a case would have been by a simple majority, but I welcome the changes in this Bill that lead to a different situation. Imagine the difficulty of a junior service woman or man making a complaint of rape to her or his commanding officer, particularly if the alleged offender is senior to them in the chain of command, as is often the case. In addition to all the stresses and strains that already dissuade many women in civilian life from complaining, she, a servicewoman, has to face the effect on her career, an appearance before a board of senior officers, very low chances of conviction and the possibility that, in the event of an acquittal, the terms of her service will keep her in contact with her attacker. At least in a civilian court, the jury, to whom she would give her sensitive and difficult evidence, is 12 anonymous people drawn from the public. They will have no effect on her career and she is most unlikely ever to see them again—contrast that with giving evidence of sexual offences before a court martial.
Sir Robert Neill, with all his experience and wisdom, pointed out in the other place on Monday that the normal safeguards that apply in these cases in civilian courts are not yet available in the courts martial, in both the investigatory and procedural stages. Again, I draw the Minister’s attention to the effect upon the recruitment and retention of women in the Armed Forces. Would you expose your daughter to the probability that she will be subject to sexual harassment and worse, without the protection of a satisfactory service justice system?
I listened to the debate in the other place, and my amendment in lieu has changes. Objection was made to the role ascribed to the Attorney-General. The Minister has made a similar objection in this House, and I have to admit that I had assumed that the Ministry of Defence and the Members in another place appreciated the constitutional position of the Attorney-General. It is one of his functions to supervise the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Service Prosecutions and to be answerable in Parliament for them and their decisions. Hence it was Judge Lyons’ recommendation that the AG’s consent should be sought for the trial by a court martial of murder, manslaughter, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK. I agreed with his position: it represents the correct status of the Attorney-General in this country.
However, if the consent of the Attorney-General is the problem, this amendment in lieu leaves decisions about trial venue in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions—but only after consultation with the Attorney-General. The DPP would naturally consult the DSP, but, as the Minister, Mr Leo Docherty, made clear on Monday evening, it is the DPP’s decision in the end.
I say to the Conservative Benches that, if they vote against my amendment, they would be voting merely for the stubborn man in the alleyway, in Johnny Mercer’s words. They would be voting against the views of the officials in the Ministry of Defence and the departmental Ministers at the time that this was first considered, against the leading recommendation—number 1—of Judge Lyons and, above all, against the passionate findings of the Conservative Member of Parliament and her cross-party committee. Sarah Atherton—the only women in history to have risen from the ranks of the Armed Forces to become a Member of the House of Commons—knows what she is talking about. I ask those opposite not to vote against this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am disappointed that the Government are maintaining their opposition to civilianising the courts martial for serious cases, such as murder, manslaughter and rape. The conviction rate for rape alone is 16% in the military courts, as reflected in the remarks from Mr Johnny Mercer in the other place. The Minister has given certain other figures for the last six months. I am very interested in this. Perhaps she could give me the size of the sample when she is winding up? Perhaps we could have a bigger sample, perhaps of a year. I would have thought that these figures alone would cause concern that something was wrong.
Service personnel do not have the statutory protection that other people have when they are tried in ordinary criminal courts or the statutory protections that are embedded in law to ensure that, where there is a majority direction, it is made known, the numbers are made known, and everyone knows where they stand. Nothing of that kind happens in courts martial. According to the Minister on a previous occasion, in some cases—they may be small in number—a verdict of 2:1 is certainly not in conformity with modern criminal jurisprudence.
It is more than five years since I expressed my concern following Sergeant Blackman’s case in a number of debates which I initiated and which led to the Lyons review. I commend the Government for setting up that inquiry. Perhaps they should have listened to its conclusions as expressed by Mr Lyons.
I shall be very brief but I foresee that, before the next renewal of the Army Act, someone concerned with good governance in the Ministry of Defence will see the inevitable case for radical reform. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. He is absolutely right that the Attorney-General supervises the Director of Public Prosecutions. I see no constitutional difficulty in that. If the amendment may be technically wrong, then perhaps we should have had some kind of provision to enable the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland to be reflected accurately. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entries in the register of interests and declare that I had the honour to serve in the Royal Marines. I will make a short contribution to this debate. I have only recently discovered that Sir Richard Henriques has made mention of and quoted from speeches I and others made during the progress earlier this year of the now Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act. I put on record my thanks to him for his thorough and compelling report.
I also support this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, who has a wealth of knowledge and experience in these matters. If the Government remain unconvinced of the merits of Motion A1, they should commission further research into whether the hierarchical nature of service life is imported into the court martial system or if there is a perception that it is. In other words, are panel members influenced by the hierarchy’s view or what they perceive is the hierarchy’s view?
This concerned me in the Sergeant Blackman case; I played a minor role in the campaign to exonerate him. He served in 42 Commando Royal Marines, had an exemplary record and had been deployed on active service six times in Iraq and Afghanistan. This amounted to six six-month tours of intensive combat operations in seven years. This is not a complaint but an explanation. I always believed that the philosophy of a court martial was that the individual service man or woman should be tried by their peers. In other words, the panel should be comprised of individuals who had experienced the same horrors and dangers of the battlefield with which Sergeant Blackman was only too familiar. In his case, it was an allegation of murdering a mortally wounded enemy operator on the battlefield. The court martial conviction for murder was rightly quashed at the behest of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. A terrible miscarriage of justice was partly righted.
There were seven members of Sergeant Blackman’s court martial panel, five of whom had very little or no experience of combat soldiering in the most dangerous, arduous and exhausting conditions. These conditions were exacerbated by being in mortal danger most of the time, in the full knowledge that at any time Sergeant Blackman or any of the Marines under his command could have set off an improvised explosive device which could have killed or maimed any one or more of them. Two members of that panel had shared that experience, and Sergeant Blackman was convicted by a vote of 5:2 This was an insufficient ratio for a civilian criminal court to convict.
There are other disparities between court martials and civilian criminal court trials that I and others have mentioned in previous debates; they have already been aired here, in part. These disparities do not flatter the court martial system. The further research that I have suggested should also encompass service rivalry, battle fatigue—which can affect the strongest and bravest of men or women—the effects of provocation, and being in continuous mortal danger for months without a break, often in extreme weather conditions. It should also consider the impact of misogyny, sexism and racism in the court martial system, and whether civilian criminal courts would provide a more balanced and equitable system of justice.
Finally, in chapter 8 of Sir Richard’s admirable review, headed, “Legal support and the Defence Representation Unit”, he makes six recommendations, numbered 47 to 52 inclusive. I ask the Minister the following questions. First, have the Government accepted these recommendations? Secondly, will the Government consult on them? Thirdly, will there be a debate in this House on the results of that consultation? Finally, what is the Government’s timetable for their implementation?
My Lords, I will speak to Motion B1 in my name. It was a great disappointment that the other place was not prepared to accept this House’s well-supported amendment, originally proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and to which I readily added my name. With his vast and rightly respected experience, he considered that the Secretary of State should have a statutory duty of due regard for veteran affairs. The telling example of Gulf War syndrome was mentioned. Noble Lords will recall that the Government of the day were reluctant to see or treat this issue with the seriousness it seemed to deserve. It affected a considerable number of service and ex-service personnel who had served in Operation Granby in the first Gulf War of 1991.
A number of noble Lords, dismayed by the Government’s decisions just to set up further studies, arranged an independent inquiry chaired pro bono by a distinguished Law Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. He conducted a fair and exhaustive inquiry to which I, as Chief of the Defence Staff during the conflict, gave evidence. But no Government Minister was prepared to be interviewed, or even to attend any of the hearings. That was an example of impact on veterans that was not solvable at local level.
At Report, I quoted another example, that of the veterans of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps, whose long-outstanding case also could not be resolved at devolved or local-authority level. I understand that the MoD has passed this case back to the Home Office, but I hope that the MoD still sees it as a veteran case that deserves its continued interest and a responsibility to see it finally settled. It would be most unsatisfactory, when dealing with the concerns of veterans, for the MoD and the Secretary of State not to continue to be seen to be actively supportive of their veterans. A statutory requirement for the Secretary of State to pay due regard and be seen to discharge a duty of care for veterans seems more important than ever. Serving personnel, soon to be veterans, may well have been involved in live operations that, more than ever, are subject to active ministerial oversight and even direction. Looking to the future, assuming the media reports of hearing damage to soldiers testing the Ajax AFV to be true, this could become a veteran issue—an issue that needs a duty of care for all the veterans as a group, not just individually, where there might inevitably be differing outcomes causing lasting resentment.
This amendment therefore gives the Secretary of State time to consider his responsibility further and report to Parliament. As the amendment spells out, it requires the Secretary of State to detail
“the implications of not applying the same legal responsibility to have ‘due regard’ under the Armed Forces Covenant to central government as the Act requires of local authorities and other public bodies.”
It has been argued that the Secretary of State believes that he and central government already bear this responsibility. Why, then, is there this reluctance to spell it out closely in statute?
The Minister in the other place made the particular point that, because the Secretary of State makes a report to Parliament annually, he is fully discharging his duty of care for veterans. But it is not just a moral duty; the Armed Forces Act 2011 made reporting annually a statutory requirement, so it seems to follow that “due regard to” should be enacted; otherwise, the statutory responsibility is confined just to reporting.
The Minister in the other place said that,
“responsibility for the actual delivery of nuts-and-bolts frontline services and their impact … rests at local level”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 99.]
He made no mention of the heart of your Lordships’ case, that there were some issues that could not be dealt with at local level. Why was this not considered? All he said was that the inclusion of central government was simply unnecessary; he did not explain why. As I have just mentioned, the MoD has passed the case that I cited on Report of the Hong Kong veteran to the Home Office; one central department having due regard has passed it directly to another. I rest my case.
My Lords, I entirely support what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, has just said, but I want to add a word on Motion A1. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of people with real experience of the criminal and military justice systems support that Motion A1. The Minister is quite right: the service justice system has improved enormously over the past few years, but there is a fundamental respect in which it is different—that is, that there is no trial by jury. Trial by jury is the essence of our system. It gives confidence to the victims, which is critical in the very serious crimes that we are considering, and it is a fundamental right of the defendant. We should not do anything to take those rights away or to undermine confidence; that is the fallacy in the Minister’s argument.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, so ably supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, and my noble and learned friend. I have nothing usefully to add to what has been said by them in the context of Motion A1. They are huge authorities on this matter, and the House is right therefore to support them again and ask another place to think once more on that question.
I rise to support my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley on Motion B1, especially having spoken on this matter when we last considered it. He is right that some things cannot be settled at local level—and I say that as someone who has served in local government. Some things need to be settled centrally, and that should be spelled out in the Bill; that is so. He has made a compelling case as to why there should be some further consideration given to the duties that we have towards our armed servicemen and who has to implement those duties, specifically in the case of the Hong Kong ex-servicemen that was given as a very good example during Report and again by my noble and gallant friend.
The Minister has taken a great interest in this matter and knows that it concerns a very small number of people and that it is on a par with how we rightly dealt with the issue of the Gurkhas. We should do the same for these servants of the Crown, not least because of the developments in Hong Kong, where we have seen the destruction of democracy. Who would be more at risk than people who have served in our Armed Forces in Hong Kong?
If the noble Baroness cannot accept the amendment today and if it does not go back to another place, we will quite soon have before us the Nationality and Borders Bill. If she can do nothing else, she has heard what my noble and gallant friend has said about how this has now been referred back to the Home Office, which will have responsibility for that Bill. When the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, replies for the Government tonight, she will have the opportunity to say to us whether included within the provisions of that Bill will be, as was reported in the media earlier this week, the possibility that this glaring oversight and injustice will be rectified in the course of that legislation. I hope that she will take the opportunity when she comes to reply to say whether that is being seriously considered by the Government and whether she is able to allay some of our concerns, at least on that count.
My Lords, I rise to support both Motion A1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and Motion B1 in the name of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, just pointed out, several noble and learned Lords and noble and gallant Lords have already articulated the case for Motion A1 very cogently. I do not propose to speak to that in any detail, because they have already made the case, as did the Member for Wrexham, Sarah Atherton, in the other place.
If there was only one Minister who was keen to keep service justice the way it is and for issues of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, and so on, to be kept in the courts martial system, that suggests, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford pointed out, that the Minister perhaps does not share the same views as the Secretary of State. Clearly, it is not the job of your Lordships’ House to persuade the Minister to come clean on her personal view; she is clearly speaking for the Government. However, if there is perhaps some difference of opinion within the MoD, might it be possible for the Minister to think again and for her to persuade Members of the other place to think again? The cases that have been put forward—the words of Johnny Mercer MP and the report brought forward by the Defence Committee of the House of Commons—are compelling.
I suggest that Motion B1 is in some way superior to what the Government are asking us not to agree with—that we do not go with the amendment that we voted on and approved on Report. At that stage, the amendment just talked about the Secretary of State, but that is slightly ambiguous. Which Secretary of State? The assumption implicit in that amendment was that it was the Secretary of State for Defence. However, on Report, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, pointed out that the situation was vital in Northern Ireland, and there it would not be necessarily be the Secretary of State for Defence that mattered so much as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The new amendment makes clear the import of what we had intended in the first place, all the way back at Second Reading and in Committee, that central government should be brought within the purview of the Bill.
The Minister says that this is about ensuring that key policymakers have the right information. She seemed to imply that this related only to local government, housing associations, local health providers—that is, people providing health, education and welfare support that come under the Bill. But surely that relates also to central government. In particular, it relates to all parts of central government. It does not just relate to the Secretary of State for Defence, particularly if he is caught up some blind alley. It also relates to the Home Secretary. We have already heard about some aspects of what might appear to be issues related to the military being passed over to the Home Office. Surely it is not adequate for the Secretary of State for Defence to report annually to the other place if what we need is the Home Secretary to bear in mind the needs of veterans and service personnel, particularly those who served in Hong Kong, or maybe the Gurkhas.
There is a need for the Bill to apply to central government as well as to local government and other authorities. I urge the House to support Motion B1 as well as Motion A1.
My Lords, I support Amendments A1 and B1. I will not go into the legal arguments around Amendment A1: the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and others have spoken about many of the legal reasons why this would be an improvement, and we wish the Government to think again on it. I say to the Chamber that review after review has said to the Government that the civilianisation of murder, manslaughter, rape and these charges would be of immense benefit. It is review after review after review; not just one review and then another review says something different, but review after review after review.
In what I thought were devasting comments in the other place—as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pointed out—the Minister responsible for the delivery of these policies agreed with the amendment that was put. You sometimes wonder what parallel universe you live in when all the evidence and all the points put forward support the amendment, only for it to be resisted by the Government. I ask the Minister—who frankly even in her remarks today went further than she has in some of our other debates—to reflect on that. The reviews and now Johnny Mercer MP in the other place say that as well.
Can the Minister clarify the statistics for us? The statistics quoted by Johnny Mercer were 16% but, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, pointed out, the Minister quoted a much different figure. I think it was around 50%—to be fair, I cannot remember the exact figure. I think we would all be interested in this House in how that figure was arrived at, what the sample size was, and what length of time it was done over. This is an important amendment. I am very pleased to support Amendment A1, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
I ask the Minister: is there is any update on where we have got to with the defence-wide strategy for dealing with rape and serious sexual offences within the service justice system? Is there any further news about when we can expect that?
I also want to briefly say something about this. I say this as my last comment on these issues around the service justice system. Significant numbers of cases continue to be raised by Sarah Atherton and by many of the other members who continue to serve. We read about it in our newspapers. We need to reflect on the fact that case after case is brought forward. This would be a way for the Government to restore confidence in the system and in the way that these issues are dealt with.
In supporting the amendment from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, I point out to the Chamber that again this is something that the Royal British Legion sees as of immense importance and that needs to be done. It is something that would improve the situation.
Just recently, on 6 December, the Government published the draft statutory guidance for the covenant. It lists the responsibilities on healthcare authorities, the responsibilities on local authorities, the responsibilities on every single public body you could virtually think of except the Government themselves. I say to the Minister that I have never been convinced in any shape or form that the people of this country would believe that a covenant between the state and the people would exclude the national Government. I just do not believe that people, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, would understand that. The perception of it, apart from anything else, is something that undermines that.
I appreciate what the Government have done in the Bill in terms of placing a legal duty on everyone, but I wonder why it places a legal duty on everyone but the national Government themselves and I ask the Government to think again on that.
My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships for, as ever, interesting and thoughtful contributions on both issues being debated this afternoon, particularly Motions A1 and B1. I will first address the comments made in relation to Motion A1. By way of preface, it is worth noting that this matter was debated and decided in the other place by an authoritative and substantial majority. Notwithstanding that, I will endeavour in my remarks to engage your Lordships and repeat why the Government hold to the position they do. I am grateful for the further comments made.
Perhaps I should clarify to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who seemed to doubt my commitment to the matters of the service justice system, that I and the Government are convinced of the wisdom of retaining unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape—I want to make that crystal clear. I remind your Lordships that, contrary to what some contributions indicated, that view is supported by a distinguished former High Court judge, Sir Richard Henriques.
I was also interested to note that remarks from a number of your Lordships with very senior and impressive legal backgrounds seemed to be addressed exclusively to England and Wales. With all respect, the service justice system that we all admire and revere has to extend across the whole of the UK and must reflect the different systems within it. Military justice must be universal across the UK and the proposal in the Bill achieves that end in a way in which the noble Lord’s amendment does not.
Perhaps I might challenge the Minister on that. If the civil jurisdiction is to be used for an offence committed in Scotland or Northern Ireland, court martials then become immaterial—so there is no problem, as the Minister seems to think. This point has not been raised at any stage of the Bill until today. There is no problem if the ordinary courts of Scotland and Northern Ireland are to deal with offences which occur within that jurisdiction. The question of whether a person is in the military or not is then irrelevant; the offences will be dealt with as usual.
Yes, but with all respect, I say to the noble Lord that that is not the essence of the issue. The essence is instead how you create a service justice system which can operate across the United Kingdom and ensure that, when discussions take place with the appropriate civilian prosecutors, appropriate decisions are reached on the correct jurisdiction for the case. That might be, within the service justice system, convening in Scotland, but under the noble Lord’s amendment there is clearly a desire to bias the whole service justice system in respect of England and Wales to the civilian system, and I am saying that that introduces a disparity or fracture of the United Kingdom service justice system. That is what the Government find unacceptable.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, raised an important point—
If there is any technical difficulty regarding the extension of the jurisdiction to include Northern Ireland and Scotland, surely it would not be beyond the wit of the Government, if they accepted the principle of civilianisation, to deal with that matter in an appropriate way.
I say to the noble and learned Lord that, as I understand it, the difficulty is that constitutionally we cannot extend this amendment to cover Scotland and Northern Ireland. That gets right to the heart of whether we have a service justice system for the United Kingdom, operating across it, or we do not. That is the difficulty with this amendment.
Turning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, on the Richard Henriques recommendations, I know he was particularly interested in a defence representation unit. In recognition of the remarks I made in Grand Committee when I undertook to keep the House informed of progress on these Henriques matters, I explained then and when the amendment was tabled on Report that we have to analyse and assess these recommendations. We are not yet sure how they could be implemented and what measures would be necessary to implement them, but I am very happy to repeat my assurance to the noble Lord that I will keep the Chamber informed of progress.
I can add very little more on this issue in Motion A1. The Government’s position is clear; I have explained why we hold it. I accept that a number of your Lordships disagree but, in support of what we are doing, I think the view of a former High Court judge such as Sir Richard Henriques ought to carry some weight and deserves some attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised the defence-wide strategy in respect of serious sexual crimes and offences. My colleague the Minister for Defence People and Veterans is taking that forward with purpose and resolve. I will find out the timetable and undertake to write to the noble Lord.
Returning to Motion B1 in the name of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I remind the House that this issue was debated and decided authoritatively in the other place by a substantial majority, but I have endeavoured in my initial speech and my remarks just now to explain why we want the new covenant obligations. After all, what is currently happening in the Bill—improving the covenant and giving parts of it legal effect—is all down to the Government’s commitment to the covenant and desire to support our service personnel and veterans with reference, as I explained at an earlier stage of proceedings, to what our service personnel want. They are the people we have listened to and they identified the three specific functions in the Bill of housing, health and education. As I said, the covenant is not a legal obligation per se but a concept. That is why we have had to use a statutory measure to start applying it in a legal context to particular areas of public service delivery.
The reason why the Government do not wish to expand that at the moment is not due to some sinister, covert or malign purpose. We want to see how this works in practice—let the measures bed down, assess them and see how they work. Very importantly, if some feature is not working, we want to identify it and what we do about it. That is a sensible, practical way forward before proceeding with any further enlargement of the legal duty.
That is the Government’s position. I accept that a number of your Lordships do not agree with it, but that is why we are proceeding as we are. I think noble Lords would accept that, overall, the Armed Forces Bill is a very important measure, not just for the legal constitution of our Armed Forces before the end of this year but—
Before the Minister sits down, the big issue that came from this House is where local authorities cannot deal with the veteran issue. We produced some examples of that; it was not discussed at all in the other place. Could she explain why? This is not acceptable at this stage, bearing in mind that, in effect, it is already being carried out. I do not see why there should be any difficulty in incorporating the Secretary of State “having due regard” as the form of words, to show that it is a matter for central government. The veteran issue cannot be dealt with at local level.
Central government, as I have indicated previously, is bound by a wide spectrum of obligations. Some of these obligations exist because of parliamentary and government obligations, some exist because the MoD is an employer of the Armed Forces, and some exist because, under the covenant—which is a concept, as I have said—we want to do the best we can.
What I did explain was that to make this work—I hope it is clear from the text of the Bill in relation to the three functions we have identified—you need to have an identified body and detailed functions. That is why the Government feel that it is premature to take this step at this time. I appreciate that the noble and gallant Lord disagrees with that interpretation. He feels that the Government should absolutely accept that they are bound under the covenant. I would say that they are bound under the covenant as a concept in terms of a moral responsibility, and they are certainly accountable not just to Parliament, as they rightly should be, but to their own Armed Forces and to their veterans, and to public opinion.
I have tried to explain why we feel that to take this step at this stage is both precipitate and premature. I appreciate that there is not agreement on that view, and that is what democracy exists to serve. But I have endeavoured to explain to your Lordships the position of the Government and why they hold to their views in these circumstances. Again, I respectfully ask the noble Lords to withdraw their Motions A1 and B1.
Before the Minister sits down—I hope she will forgive me—I asked specifically about the size of the sample for rape cases, an issue which my noble friend Lord Coaker also raised. The figures are quite different and much more encouraging than those given by Mr Johnny Mercer in the other place. Can the Minister tell me—I did give notice of this in the course of my short remarks—what is the size of the sample?
My Lords, I will pursue that for a moment. The number of cases heard in courts martial is probably fewer than 10 for sexual offences, or at least fewer than 20. I cannot imagine that in six months, we deal with more than four or five cases, but no doubt we will be told in due course. Over a five-year period, the figure is 16% for convictions, as opposed to the civil conviction rate of 34%—shocking as that conviction rate is in any event.
On the point about Scotland and Northern Ireland—never raised before Monday night in the course of this Bill, either here or in the other place—the principle that this amendment sets down is quite simple:
“Guidance … must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court”—
it does not say “in the Crown Court” in this country—
“unless by reason of the circumstances … the Director of Public Prosecutions, after consultation with the Attorney General, directs trial by court martial.”
If it is necessary to cover that by putting “after consultation with the Lord Advocate in Scotland” or whoever is the chief authority in Northern Ireland, that can be done in 30 seconds—if you let me loose for that period of time.
No answer has been given, and we are faced with what Johnny Mercer said:
“there is one individual who is refusing to back down from the alleyway”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 105.]
This is not proper policy for the Conservative Party. It will face, as a party, the complaints of people who have been subjected to sexual violence but whose cases have not been upheld. It will arise, and it will be to the advantage of other parties. So, I plead that the amendment be supported in this case. I beg to move.
2A: Because the Commons do not consider the addition of the Secretary of State as a specified person to be necessary to address any disparity in the delivery of core services across the United Kingdom, or otherwise to achieve the aims of the Bill.
2B: Page 18, line 28, at end insert—
“343AG Section 343AF: report
The Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament no later than six months after the day on which the Armed Forces Act 2021 is passed detailing the implications of not applying the same legal responsibility to have “due regard” under the Armed Forces Covenant to central government as the Act requires of local authorities and other public bodies.””
The Question is that Motion B1 be agreed to. I am content to have an electronic Division to settle this. I instruct the clerks to plug in the machine.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Report (1st Day)
1: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker
(1) The Sentencing Code is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (15). (2) In section 177 (youth rehabilitation orders), in subsection (3)(b)(i), after “258” insert “or 258A”.(3) In section 221 (overview of Part 10), in subsection (2)(b), for “section 258” substitute “sections 258 and 258A”.(4) In section 249 (sentence of detention under section 250), in subsection (2)(a), for “section 258” substitute “sections 258 and 258A”.(5) In section 255 (extended sentence of detention), in subsection (1)(d), after “258(2)” insert “or 258A(2)”.(6) After section 258 insert—“258A Required sentence of detention for life for manslaughter of emergency worker(1) This section applies where—(a) a person aged under 18 is convicted of a relevant offence,(b) the offence was committed—(i) when the person was aged 16 or over, and(ii) on or after the relevant commencement date, and(c) the offence was committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of functions as such a worker.(2) The court must impose a sentence of detention for life under section 250 unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances which—(a) relate to the offence or the offender, and(b) justify not doing so.(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c) the circumstances in which an offence is to be taken as committed against a person acting in the exercise of functions as an emergency worker include circumstances where the offence takes place at a time when the person is not at work but is carrying out functions which, if done in work time, would have been in the exercise of functions as an emergency worker.(4) In this section “relevant offence” means the offence of manslaughter, but does not include—(a) manslaughter by gross negligence, or(b) manslaughter mentioned in section 2(3) or 4(1) of the Homicide Act 1957 or section 54(7) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (partial defences to murder).(5) In this section—“emergency worker” has the meaning given by section 68;“relevant commencement date” means the date on which section (Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021 (required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker) comes into force.(6) An offence the sentence for which is imposed under this section is not to be regarded as an offence the sentence for which is fixed by law.(7) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of 2 or more days, or at some time during a period of 2 or more days, it must be taken for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) to have been committed on the last of those days.”(7) In section 267 (extended sentence of detention in a young offender institution), in subsection (1)(d), for “or 274” substitute “, 274 or 274A”.(8) In section 272 (offences other than murder), in subsection (2)(b), for “or 274” substitute “, 274 or 274A”.(9) After section 274 insert—“274A Required sentence of custody for life for manslaughter of emergency worker(1) This section applies where— (a) a person aged 18 or over but under 21 is convicted of a relevant offence,(b) the offence was committed—(i) when the person was aged 16 or over, and(ii) on or after the relevant commencement date, and(c) the offence was committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of functions as such a worker.(2) The court must impose a sentence of custody for life under section 272 unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances which—(a) relate to the offence or the offender, and(b) justify not doing so.(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c) the circumstances in which an offence is to be taken as committed against a person acting in the exercise of functions as an emergency worker include circumstances where the offence takes place at a time when the person is not at work but is carrying out functions which, if done in work time, would have been in the exercise of functions as an emergency worker.(4) In this section “relevant offence” means the offence of manslaughter, but does not include—(a) manslaughter by gross negligence, or(b) manslaughter mentioned in section 2(3) or 4(1) of the Homicide Act 1957 or section 54(7) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (partial defences to murder).(5) In this section—“emergency worker” has the meaning given by section 68;“relevant commencement date” means the date on which section (Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021 (required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker) comes into force.(6) An offence the sentence for which is imposed under this section is not to be regarded as an offence the sentence for which is fixed by law.(7) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of 2 or more days, or at some time during a period of 2 or more days, it must be taken for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) to have been committed on the last of those days.”(10) In section 280 (extended sentence of imprisonment), in subsection (1)(d), for “or 285” substitute “, 285 or 285A”.(11) After section 285 insert—“285A Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker(1) This section applies where—(a) a person aged 21 or over is convicted of a relevant offence,(b) the offence was committed—(i) when the person was aged 16 or over, and(ii) on or after the relevant commencement date, and(c) the offence was committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of functions as such a worker.(2) The court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for life unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances which—(a) relate to the offence or the offender, and(b) justify not doing so.(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c) the circumstances in which an offence is to be taken as committed against a person acting in the exercise of functions as an emergency worker include circumstances where the offence takes place at a time when the person is not at work but is carrying out functions which, if done in work time, would have been in the exercise of functions as an emergency worker.(4) In this section “relevant offence” means the offence of manslaughter, but does not include—(a) manslaughter by gross negligence, or(b) manslaughter mentioned in section 2(3) or 4(1) of the Homicide Act 1957 or section 54(7) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (partial defences to murder).(5) In this section—“emergency worker” has the meaning given by section 68;“relevant commencement date” means the date on which section (Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021 (required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker) comes into force.(6) An offence the sentence for which is imposed under this section is not to be regarded as an offence the sentence for which is fixed by law.(7) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of 2 or more days, or at some time during a period of 2 or more days, it must be taken for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) to have been committed on the last of those days.”(12) In section 329 (conversion of sentence of detention to sentence of imprisonment), in subsection (7)(a), after “258” insert “or 258A”.(13) In section 399 (mandatory sentences), in paragraph (b)(i)—(a) for “258, 274 or 285” substitute “258, 258A, 274, 274A, 285 or 285A”;(b) omit “dangerous”.(14) In section 417 (commencement of Schedule 22), in subsection (3)(d), for “and 274” substitute “, 274 and 274A”.(15) In Schedule 22 (amendments of the Sentencing Code etc)—(a) after paragraph 59 insert—“59A_ In section 285A (required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker), in subsection (1)(a), for “21” substitute “18”.”;(b) in paragraph 73(a)(ii), after “274” insert “, 274A”;(c) in paragraph 101(2), after “274,” insert “274A,”.(16) In section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (powers of courts to order hospital admission or guardianship)—(a) in subsection (1A)—(i) after “258,” insert “258A,”;(ii) after “274,” insert “274A,”;(iii) for “or 285” substitute “, 285 or 285A”;(b) in subsection (1B)—(i) in paragraph (a), after “258” insert “or 258A”;(ii) in paragraph (b), for “or 274” substitute “, 274 or 274A”;(iii) in paragraph (c), for “or 285” substitute “, 285 or 285A”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts into the Sentencing Code provisions that require a court to impose a life sentence on an offender who is convicted of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of their functions as an emergency worker.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to open the debate on the Report stage of this Bill. I stand to add the proposed new clause, after Clause 2, as printed on the Marshalled List.
This amendment, known as Harper’s law, will impose mandatory life terms on those who are convicted of unlawful act manslaughter, where the victim is an emergency worker who is acting in the exercise of their functions as such a worker. The amendment will apply to adult offenders, and to 16 and 17 year-olds. As the House will see, it contains a judicial discretion for the court to impose an alternative sentence in exceptional circumstances.
It may assist noble Lords if I provide a brief overview of manslaughter—I do not propose to turn this into a lecture—and the manner in which this amendment will work. The amendment applies to those convicted of manslaughter, but the proposed new Sections 258A(4), 274A(4) and 285A(4) of the Sentencing Code are provisions to explicitly exclude those convicted of gross negligence manslaughter, as well as those convicted of manslaughter following a successful partial defence to a charge of murder—for example, manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, loss of control or in pursuance of a suicide pact. As a result and by process of statutory elimination, the provisions will apply only to those who have been convicted of manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous act, more commonly referred to as “unlawful act manslaughter”.
The Government are making this amendment following the death of PC Andrew Harper in August 2019. I am sure the House is familiar with the horrific facts of that case. PC Harper was responding to reports of the attempted theft of a quad bike. He suffered fatal injuries when he became caught in a strap trailing behind a getaway car and was dragged behind it. At their trial in July 2020, PC Harper’s three killers were acquitted of murder but were all convicted of unlawful act manslaughter.
The jury was therefore satisfied that the unlawful and dangerous actions of the defendants, namely the plan to steal the quad bike and then escape apprehension by whatever means possible, including driving dangerously along winding country roads, amounted to manslaughter. The court did not impose life sentences on any of the defendants. Each received sentences of between 13 and 19 years for the manslaughter of PC Harper, sentences that were subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal. They will therefore all be incarcerated for a significant period. But the Government believe that, where a person is convicted of unlawful act manslaughter, and the person who has been killed is an emergency worker acting as such, that should be punished with life imprisonment.
The court will be able to impose a different sentence where there are exceptional circumstances. As covered in Committee, that term is already used in law and is deliberately undefined in legislation to allow for interpretation and application by the court. This will ensure that the court can apply a different sentence where justified, such as where there are exceptional circumstances relating either to the offence or the offender.
The successful campaign of PC Harper’s widow Lissie Harper and the Police Federation drew this issue to the Government’s attention, but this was not an isolated incident. While, thankfully, emergency workers are not often killed on duty, they are required to put themselves at particular risk when carrying out their duties and protecting the public. As is often said, they run towards the danger when others run away from it. I therefore beg to move Amendment 1.
I rise to express my grave concerns about this new clause, which I hope will not be enacted, although I am bound to say that I am rather pessimistic about that.
I will begin by saying something about procedure. I regret that this new clause is being brought forward on Report. The formal announcement of it was by way of a press release on 24 November this year. As the Minister has said, the new clause was triggered by the very distressing case of the killing of PC Harper. We need to keep in mind that the relevant trial took place in July 2020, and it came before the Court of Appeal for consideration in December that year. I suggest that it is hard to see why the new clause could not have been introduced in the House of Commons or, if that were not possible, in Committee in this House. In either event, there would have been a greater opportunity for discussion, both inside and outside Parliament.
All of us will have the greatest sympathy for PC Harper’s wife and family. However, we should be very cautious about legislating as a consequence of a single case or even a number of cases, however distressing they may be. I have referred to the trial in 2020 and the decision of the Court of Appeal in December that year. My noble friend referred specifically to them. In both those cases, very serious and detailed consideration was given to the appropriate sentence, and, as my noble friend has said, the Court of Appeal rejected the submission of the Attorney-General that, in the case of the defendant Long—the most culpable of them—the sentence should be increased to a life sentence.
I suggest that anyone who studies the judgments of the courts, together with the guidelines of the Sentencing Council—the relevant ones were published as recently as November 2018—will be satisfied that the existing law makes proper provision for the punishment of offenders convicted of serious offences of manslaughter and gives proper protection to emergency workers.
As your Lordships will know, manslaughter covers a very broad spectrum of culpability, extending from the very serious—the killing of PC Harper is an example of this—to many things that are very much less serious, such as a single blow that fells an individual, who strikes his head on the pavement and dies. In all conscience, that is an act of common assault, although the consequences are dreadful.
In the case of PC Harper, the trial judge stated that, had the defendant Long been a few years older— he was 19 at the time of the trial and 18 at the time of his offence—he would probably have been given a life sentence. So we need to be clear about this. A life sentence is already available for serious cases of manslaughter, where the trial judge, who has heard all the relevant facts, thinks that such a sentence is appropriate. Your Lordships are being asked to approve a mandatory life sentence in circumstances in which the trial judge might otherwise determine that one is not appropriate. I am deeply uncomfortable with that, especially when I consider the broad spectrum of culpability that arises in manslaughter cases.
Consider a police officer who intervenes in a street brawl, in or out of uniform—it might be a plain-clothes officer. The officer is struck by a single blow or trips in the course of a scuffle. He or she falls, hits their head on the pavement and dies. If the deceased person had been a civilian killed in such circumstances, the court would impose a relatively modest determinate sentence, but, in the case of the police officer and subject to the subsection (2) provisos, which I will shortly mention, the court would have to impose a life sentence. I do not believe that that can be right.
I said that I would speak briefly, if your Lordships would allow me, to proposed new subsection (2), which was briefly referred to my noble friend the Minister. Subsection (2) refers to the exceptional circumstances that relate to the offence or the offender and make it just not to impose a life sentence. The question that arises and must be considered is: what does that mean? Does that mean that, if the judge thinks that the offence falls at the lower level of culpability, a modest determinate sentence can properly be imposed? If that is the case, what is the purpose of the new clause? If such a discretion is not available to the trial judge, it is surely inevitable that injustice will happen on occasions.
At that point, we come to a related matter. We are talking here about not “whole life” cases but life-sentence cases in which a trial judge must impose a custodial tariff. Is the trial judge entitled under these provisions to set a modest determinate tariff in order to address a low level of culpability? If that is the case, what is the point of the new clause? If it is not the case and the trial judge may not impose a modest tariff, it is extremely unjust.
I have one final point, and I acknowledge that it is about drafting. Consider the following circumstances, which fall within proposed new subsection (3)—I will not read it out because it is on the Marshalled List and I do not want to detain your Lordships’ House. An off-duty officer in plain clothes, whose identity as a police officer is not apparent, intervenes in a street brawl or seeks to apprehend a fleeing thief. In the scuffle, he or she falls over, hits their head and dies. Is it right that, in those circumstances, such a defendant should automatically face a life sentence, unless the subsection (2) provisos apply?
I am profoundly uncomfortable with this new clause, and I would like to think that it will not pass.
My Lords, I share the serious concerns of the noble Viscount. Given the degree of pressure that the Government have been under, understandably, after the shocking death of the police officer, they may have strayed too far into imposing upon the judiciary something that is not necessary, in my view. If they remain concerned about the extent to which the Sentencing Council may not have properly reflected the seriousness of an emergency officer being killed, it is perfectly simple to ask it to reconsider this. I suspect that, in the light of PC Harper, it might well do so.
Following what the noble Viscount has just said, I am particularly concerned about the off-duty, plain-clothes police officer, fireman or anybody else who intervenes—very properly, feeling it is his or her duty—and suffers a fatal injury. The situation is as the noble Viscount said: it really does go too far. I understand very well why the Government think it needs to be done, but I wish they would reflect on this, and think again before it goes back to the House of Commons.
My Lords, I cannot speak as eloquently as the speakers we have just heard, but I want to say that this feels so much like law made by press release, and law made to virtue-signal, that I feel incredibly uncomfortable about it.
We want to say to emergency workers that we will protect them if they are at risk, but we know that the emergency worker in this instance, PC Harper, was not the target of the crime; it was not intentional to kill an emergency worker. So I do not see even how this operates as a deterrent, because it is not aimed at people who have put those emergency workers at risk, even though those workers have accidentally been killed in the pursuit of a criminal act that is, I accept, dangerous.
There is an exception, which is that the trial judge can make an alternative sentence in “exceptional circumstances”. But, as has been pointed out, the trial judge can already make an alternative sentence—a full life sentence in some circumstances—so why emphasise it, unless it is a political policy statement? It is not a matter of law; it is a question of saying, “We will be hard”, and it will inevitably lead to great injustice. The fact that 16 and 17 year-olds have been included means that very young people could now have mandatory life sentences for manslaughter, with no discretion, and no discretion encouraged. It is so wrong and brought in for all the wrong reasons.
My Lords, I share many of the reservations expressed already and the analysis given on both the provision and the circumstances which have led to it. I ask the Minister, in his response to the debate, to deal with one of the points raised by the noble Viscount, which is the discretion that might be available to the judge in deciding what tariff accompanies the sentence, as opposed to the provisions of proposed new subsection (2), which give slightly more power—I refrain from defining it as a wider power—in exceptional circumstances to the judge to impose a different sentence altogether.
One thing the Minister did not cover in his helpful introduction was the extent to which the tariff provisions interact with this. I would be grateful if he could explain that, in case he can give us any reassurance about what seems to be the danger of making general law out of a particular case.
My Lords, if I may, I will add a point that follows on from what the noble Lord, Lord Beith, said. To require a life sentence is pure deception because we all know that life sentences are not life sentences, and there is a strong feeling that the life sentence for murder is a deception. Other than in the most exceptional circumstances, the person concerned will be released, and the judge pronounces, in open court, a tariff. I entirely understand why the Government wish to give comfort to the unfortunate relatives and friends of those heroic emergency workers who suffer this appalling treatment and die in service of the country, but it is a gesture—a misleading gesture. We really should not be perpetuating more and more life sentences when the reality is that people receive a term of years.
My Lords, I am puzzled by the mechanism that the Government are trying to use to increase sentences, which, in some cases, should rightly be higher, in relation to the deaths of emergency workers. After a long period of development, we created a completely new mechanism: the Sentencing Council. Judges must have regard to sentencing guidelines in every case, and those guidelines are complex. They give examples of levels at which sentences should start in certain circumstances.
I see a number of noble Lords around this Chamber who have either acted as police officers or have prosecuted and defended manslaughter cases. In my case, I have done, on one side or the other, a number of one-punch manslaughter cases, in which there was a conviction, and perhaps a sentence of three or four years’ imprisonment. One can imagine circumstances in which that could have arisen where the person who died was an off-duty emergency worker trying to help someone, and the perpetrator of the offence had no idea that that person was an emergency worker.
Surely the better mechanism is to use the flexible, living instrument of the Sentencing Council, and the sentencing guidelines, and not to inhibit the discretion of judges. The Sentencing Council and the judges will, of course, respond to the pressure that rightly arises from the awful case that has given rise to this discussion and this amendment. With great respect to the Minister, relying on “exceptional circumstances”, a description that is always determined in a restrictive way—rightly so—by the Court of Appeal, seems to be the wrong mechanism to achieve the right result.
My Lords, on these Benches we share the shock and revulsion at the death of PC Harper and the way that it came about. We support the principle that a life sentence should be available, and even possibly the norm in serious cases, for the manslaughter of an emergency worker. But where we part company with the Government is in sharing the concerns of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and everybody else who has spoken. We are unhappy with the proposal that such a sentence should be mandatory unless a judge can find “exceptional circumstances”.
The word “exceptional” has been seen in the past as requiring circumstances that are quite out of the ordinary. Frankly, I took issue with the Minister when he treated the word as allowing more latitude than the usual interpretation of “exceptional” would permit. The MoJ press release uses the phrase “truly exceptional” to describe what is required. In that connection, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, rightly made the point about legislation by press release—a point echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, when he talked about the knee-jerk nature of this type of legislation in particular cases.
We would have far preferred the amendment to permit judges the discretion to depart from the life sentence where the circumstances and the interests of justice required. The Government’s determination to prevent judges exercising discretion, as seen throughout this Bill, is frankly depressing. This is despite Victoria Atkins MP saying in the other place only yesterday, in answer to a question from my right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael MP, that:
“Fundamentally, the judiciary and magistrates should be trusted in their sentencing decisions.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/21; col. 206.]
Frankly, we agree. I made these arguments in Committee in connection with my amendments to the minimum fixed sentence provisions in Clause 101—now Clause 102 —and I will make them again when we come to debate my amendments later on Report.
The Explanatory Note to these provisions asserts that they require a court to impose a life sentence on an offender who is convicted of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter against an emergency worker. That is misleading. There is no requirement in the proposals that the manslaughter be dangerous, in the sense that there was danger to the life of the victim, as there so obviously was in the Harper case. The requirement for danger in the case of unlawful act manslaughter, on the cases and in the CPS guidelines to prosecutors who apply those cases, it is very limited indeed. It is necessary only that the unlawful act exposed someone—not even necessarily the victim who died—to the risk of “some harm”.
I take a hypothetical case, similar to that mentioned by the noble Viscount, of a bad-tempered 17 year-old suspected by a shopkeeper of shoplifting. The shopkeeper accosts him. A row ensues, which turns into a fight—not serious, but serious enough to draw a passing police officer to come into the shop to intervene. The officer tries to arrest the youth. The youth resists arrest. He throws a punch at the officer—not hard, but plainly an assault on a police officer in the execution of his duty and enough to be obvious to everyone that it could cause some harm. The officer falls backwards and sustains an injury that turns out to be fatal.
All the elements of unlawful manslaughter are there. The guideline sentence would probably be two to four years. The required sentence under these proposals would be life imprisonment. Are these circumstances “exceptional,” as that word is known to the law? No. is the sentence just for that 17 year-old, whose very bad behaviour had such tragic consequences? I would suggest clearly not, when one considers the overall criminality of the offence and the offender. Of course, the death of the victim would significantly aggravate the sentence. That is true for all manslaughter cases. And of course, the fact that the victim was a police officer acting in the course of his duty would be another seriously aggravating factor. But should those circumstances lead to detention for life for a 17 year-old?
The manslaughter excluded from the operation of these provisions is, as the Minister helpfully explained, manslaughter by gross negligence—a very sensible exclusion—or manslaughter mentioned in certain sections of the Homicide Act or the Coroners and Justice Act, which cover diminished responsibility by reason of a recognised mental condition, suicide pacts and loss of control, reducing murder to manslaughter if the specified conditions are met. But that leaves the whole area of unlawful act manslaughter within the provisions, and any such manslaughter of an emergency worker would attract the mandatory life sentence.
The current sentencing guidelines mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, which came into force as recently as 1 November 2018, suggest a range of sentences for manslaughter of between one and 24 years. They divide culpability into four ranges, from A at the top to D at the low end. The factors indicating lower culpability are as follows:
“Death was caused in the course of an unlawful act … which was in defence of self or other(s) (where not amounting to a defence) OR … where there was no intention by the offender to cause any harm and no obvious risk of anything more than minor harm OR … in which the offender played a minor role,”
or where the
“offender’s responsibility was substantially reduced by mental disorder, learning disability or lack of maturity.”
Those factors, or some of them, could quite easily be present in many cases of manslaughter of an emergency worker. So these sentences might—perhaps even often—cause serious injustice.
A further point was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. When a life sentence is passed, the release date is ultimately in the hands not of the courts but of the Home Secretary. Any Home Secretary, not just this one, is subject to political pressures. Were a victim, for example, the holder of a Queen’s Police Medal, and there was a campaign to keep the offender in custody on that account, how easy would it be for this or a future Home Secretary to succumb to pressure to keep the offender subject to a life sentence in custody, for far longer than would be just?
We have not sought to put down amendments to these very rushed and very late proposals, because we have no confidence that our doing so would change the course the Government have embarked upon. But I have indicated to the Minister our concerns and I would ask him for an assurance that the Government will keep these sentences under review and, if there comes a time when it is right—and appears right to the Government—to restore discretion to judges in these cases, they will be prepared to act accordingly.
My Lords, I had a problem with this amendment myself but, not being a lawyer, I thought I would leave it to those who are. And, having heard the lawyerly wisdom pouring from your Lordships’ Benches on this amendment, I am astonished that there has not been an attempt to block the amendment. It is the only power we have to stop this Government overreaching. I am utterly disappointed and I deeply regret that I did not get more involved. I just hope the Minister actually listens to these very eminent views in your Lordships’ House and understands that this is not a smart move. I understand the public optics are very attractive, but, really, it just sounds foolish.
My Lords, I stand on these Benches to support, or at least not to oppose, the Government. But I have to say that I am reluctant to go ahead and make this speech, based on the contributions we have just heard. The amendment inserts provisions into the Sentencing Code that require a court to impose a life sentence on an offender convicted of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter against an emergency worker. As we know, this is known as Harper’s law, and it has been campaigned for by PC Andrew Harper’s widow after he was killed in the line of duty in 2019.
I listened very carefully to the Minister, and he made much play of the word “exceptional”. My noble friend Lord Carlile made the point about the interpretation of the word being fairly narrow in the Court of Appeal. I have to say, in the more “wild west” approach of magistrates’ courts, we interpret “exceptional” quite liberally at times. Having said that, I acknowledge that the Minister did make the point that this excludes those convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and includes only those convicted of unlawful act manslaughter, which I thought was an important point.
As I say, we on this side will support the Government in their amendments. However, I do recognise that some very serious points have been raised in this debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed and I can start by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I always listen. We may not always agree, but I certainly always listen. I can also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that this is not law made by press release, nor is it law in the guise of a political policy statement. We have considered this issue very carefully. Indeed, it is because we have taken time to get the policy right as we see it that the amendment is here now and not earlier—to deal with one of the points made by my noble friend Lord Hailsham.
We believe this is the right approach to these circumstances. Of course, I carefully read the judgments in the Harper case, in particular the Court of Appeal judgment. I hope it goes without saying that, standing at this Dispatch Box, I have great respect for that court, as indeed I do for all courts. But that does not mean that Parliament is unable to or should be cautious to legislate in the area of sentencing, or should be prevented or inhibited from doing so. We are entitled to do so, and in this case, we ought to.
I will pick up on a couple of the points made by contributors. First, on exceptional circumstances, I seem to be being criticised both for refusing to define “exceptional circumstances” and for putting it too broadly. I deliberately did not gloss or parse the phrase. “Exceptional circumstances” is a phrase used in other legislation, for example the Sentencing Act 2020 and the Firearms Act 1968. We believe it is best to leave it to the courts to interpret and apply that phrase, and not to parse or gloss it from the Dispatch Box.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, picked up on the word “totally”, which appears, as he said, in a press release form the Ministry of Justice. That shows the importance of leaving it to the words in the statute and not looking at anything else when the courts interpret those words.
An example was given of an off-duty police officer intervening in a fight in a pub. It is right to say that there is no requirement for the offender to know that the victim is an emergency worker acting as such. We stand by that. That is already the approach in other legislation passed by Parliament—for example, the Assaults on Emergency Workers Act 2018. There is no requirement in that Act, either, for the defendant to know that the victim is an emergency worker, although in most cases that will be apparent to the defendant.
For the unlawful act of manslaughter offence to apply in this case, the defendant must have been committing a criminal offence. If the actions of someone are such that they not only commit a criminal offence, but their actions further result in the death of an emergency worker who may be attempting to relieve that very situation, the Government believe the behaviour warrants a life sentence.
I come now to what we mean by a life sentence. I have already dealt with the “exceptional circumstances” point, so I turn to the point on life sentences raised first by my noble friend Lord Hailsham—regarding tariffs—and then more directly by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. When a person is sentenced to a life term and not a whole life term, the judge will set out what the tariff is. Then it is a matter for the Parole Board to determine release, and the person will be under a life licence thereafter.
These provisions do nothing to circumscribe the ability of the trial judge to impose whatever tariff they think is appropriate in the circumstances. If the trial judge thinks a lower tariff is appropriate—the word “modest” was used by my noble friend—no doubt that is what they will impose. As in the case of murder, we believe the offence warrants a life sentence with a tariff and the consequences therewith.
I hear the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that a life sentence does not normally mean that the person stays in prison for their whole life. That is the case across a swathe of criminal law, and maybe on a future occasion the House can decide whether that is an appropriate way to continue. Given that that is our sentencing structure—which I think is correct—it is also appropriate in this case.
I think the debate comes down to whether one accepts that the example given by my noble friend Lord Hailsham of the off-duty officer in civilian clothes who intervenes in a fight—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. One point he has not dealt with, as I understand it, is why the Sentencing Council and sentencing guidelines are not seen as an adequate and flexible mechanism for dealing with cases of this kind. We need a reasoned explanation for the rejection of that proposition.
The Minister has just given the game away by his slip of the tongue. He said it is a case which should be marked by “a life sentence”, and then he said, “a mandatory life sentence”. He was right before he made the slip of the tongue. That is exactly what judges can do and exactly what the Sentencing Council can deal with. I am afraid that I do not accept that his explanation so far has been reasoned.
We are now having precisely the opposite debate to the one we had in Committee. In Committee, when someone said to me—I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—“this is a mandatory sentence” and I said, “but there are exceptions”, it was said to me, “no, it is mandatory”. Now, when I am trying to point out that it is not mandatory, in the sense that it is a mandatory life sentence but it does not mean you serve life in prison, that is said to be a slip of the tongue. I absolutely meant what I said: this provision sets out a mandatory life sentence, because the Government believe that is the right way to mark society’s horror at the killing of emergency workers, in the same way that we do for murder.
However, with murder, and in this case, the trial judge will have the ability to set an appropriate tariff. Also, unlike with murder, the trial judge can, in exceptional circumstances, depart from the sentence entirely, something which society and Parliament does not enable a trial judge to do in any murder case. With great respect to the noble Lord—
I am sorry to interrupt again, but the Minister has said something completely untenable. He said that under “exceptional circumstances”, the judge has the power to depart from the sentence entirely. That is absolutely not the case. If the sentencing guidelines in front of any judge sitting in a criminal court lead to the conclusion that the starting point for the sentencing process is a life sentence, but there are circumstances at which different levels can be set, they will operate on that basis. This provision is unnecessary if we trust the judges. The Government are telling us, on the basis of belief, as the Minister said—which I do not necessarily regard as reasoned—that they do not trust judges to pass appropriate sentences in these cases, on the basis of one or two instances, when there is a perfectly good living instrument for dealing with this.
My Lords, with genuine respect, the noble Lord is wrong if he thinks that that is what I have said. Let me be clear: if there are exceptional circumstances, the judge is entitled to depart from the sentence. In other words, the judge does not have to impose the life sentence. The judge will then decide what sentence to impose. With the greatest respect, I was right to say that if there are exceptional circumstances, the life sentence does not apply. If there are no exceptional circumstances, the life sentence does apply, and the judge will then set a relevant tariff.
But does not all of this imply that we are really not serving any purpose by the new clause, partly because of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and also the point conceded very fairly by the Minister to the effect that the trial judge can impose in reality a very low tariff? So the question is, what is the point?
My noble friend is absolutely right to say that that is the origin of the life sentence for murder. It was a deal done, if I can put it in those respectful terms, but we have life sentences elsewhere in our legislation as well. The point that I was seeking to answer—and, with great respect, I think I have answered it—was, as I understood it when it was put against me: what is the difference if the trial judge is going to give a tariff of x years, why not just have a sentence of x years? However, there is a difference, as we all recognise, between a life sentence with a tariff of x years and a sentence of x years. We can have a debate—
I would not use the word “risk” at all. On the one hand, I am being charged with not trusting the judges and, on the other, giving the judges too much discretion. I am entirely happy with a trial judge having the ability to set an appropriate tariff in these cases, as trial judges do in all cases of murder. Whether the tariff given is four, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years is entirely a matter for the judge. I am entirely happy to trust the judge. However, it is absolutely right for Parliament to say that, in these cases, where somebody has committed an unlawful act that has led to the death of an emergency worker who was acting as such, a life sentence ought to be the correct response from the court. Two points arise. First, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, if there are exceptional circumstances, that sentence does not apply at all. Secondly, if it applies, the judge can impose a tariff.
Forgive me—and I thank the Minister—but perhaps I might ask him whether it is reasonable that a 16 or 17 year-old should be on lifetime licence when alternatively he might get the time of detention plus another three or four years. A lifetime licence means that he is under the control of probation officers from the age of 16 for the rest of his natural life.
My Lords, we have considered this. We restricted the new sentence to 16 and 17 year-olds to ensure that only older children who are convicted of this serious offence are given a mandatory life sentence, unless there are exceptional circumstances that mean it is not justified. Of course, exceptional circumstances are not just those relating to the offence but those relating to the offender. There is a precedent for this age distinction. The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 also uses the age of 16 as a threshold to begin applying minimum sentences for knife-crime offences. So we have considered the point made by the noble and learned Baroness.
I am so sorry, but I do not understand why we are arguing about this. We are all dissatisfied with what the Government are doing, yet none of us can stop it. It is all angels dancing on the head of a pin, as far as I can see. I am really distressed at this and wish that I had spoken to more people and perhaps got some others onside. The Government are making a mistake and that is what the Minister should hear from this debate.
I am not a lawyer, I am very pleased to say—I am just a simple sailor. However, it seems from the complexity of the debate that this is quite a significant amendment that was brought in quite late. I find that rather worrying, because the feeling around the House is that if there were a vote on this, it might well not pass; I think it would fail. That is a worrying position to be in and I do not know how we can resolve that. It is not really very satisfactory.
I was not going to say anything, but I am, I think, the only former police officer in the Chamber. Is the Minister saying that he would be satisfied if somebody were sent to prison for four years for killing a police officer on duty in these circumstances? That seems to be what the noble and learned Lord is saying. In which case, what is the point?
I know it is bad form, but perhaps I can answer in reverse order. I certainly was not saying that. Indeed, the point that I was trying to make was that I was not going to get into what an appropriate tariff would be in any case; I regard that as absolutely a matter for the trial judge. It is not helpful for trial judges or indeed anybody else for Ministers on their feet to hypothesise as to what they might think an appropriate tariff would be in a particular case. The tariff is entirely a matter for the trial judge, who will decide it in the way in which they decide tariffs in other cases of life sentences as well.
To the noble and gallant Lord—forgive me, I am not sure whether I have that right; he is proud not to be a lawyer, a point with which I sympathise—I say that we brought in this amendment as soon as we had thought about the policy and, we think, got it right. When we were thinking about this issue, there were there were a number of points in the policy that required very careful consideration. That took time and that is why it is happening now. I cannot say any more than that.
I was going to acknowledge another point made, but I think I have already responded.
I apologise for not being here at the outset, but I have listened very carefully to what has been said and it seems to me that it would be wrong simply to steamroller this amendment through now when virtually everyone who has spoken has done so very eloquently against it. Would it be possible to take it away, talk to learned Members of this House and come back at Third Reading with something that might be more acceptable ?
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I, too, apologise for not being here at the outset when my noble friend Lord Hailsham began. I know that next week we are going to talk about IPPs. That subject carries with it all the problems that this subject will bring with it. We now know that IPPs went wrong and have created injustices, and that there are people who have IPPs but short tariffs well past their expiry date and who are still in prison 10 or 15 years after their sentencing. Could we not learn the lessons from the IPP problem and, in order to help us learn those lessons, postpone a decision on this clause until after we have had the IPP debate, so that together we can draw a united conclusion about how best to move forward with justice?
My Lords, the joys of the IPP debate are ahead of us. That raises very different points. The IPP sentence has different characteristics and the problems that it has given rise to are entirely different. I listened very carefully to the debate in Committee on IPPs, when a number of noble and noble and learned Lords expressed disquiet and tabled various amendments. They will know that I have had conversations with them about it. So I am entirely alive to the IPP issue, but that is completely separate from this issue. We consider that this measure is an appropriate response to this form of offending.
The Minister listened very carefully to the debate in Committee on IPP. Some of us have read that and thought about it a lot since then. The problem is that noble Lords have not had the opportunity to listen very carefully to the debate on this particular amendment: that is the problem, in a way. It is not a straightforward amendment. I learned of it by hearing about it via the media and thought it could not possibly be being brought forward in relation to this Bill; I actually explained to people that they did not understand the way in which legislation was made, and that that was just something that the media said. Then, I realised that it was happening.
The Minister was very good and answered some of my queries and made sure that I did not fight any straw men when I went to him with particular arguments. He was very considerate in answering them. However, I do not think that the House has had the chance to consider this amendment. It is not without parallel to the IPP, inasmuch as it is a controversial sentencing change that has very big implications. We know that, because in the press release and the media reports, it was said that this would change everything. That is how it was announced: it was proclaimed as something that would change everything. Therefore, if it is going to change everything, people in this House should have a chance to debate it more thoroughly than now, so it is reasonable to ask if it could be brought forward later on in the Bill in order for some consideration to be given.
I do not know which of the no-doubt multifarious press releases the noble Baroness read, but it was clear in the ones that I saw that the matter was going to be brought back here. This amendment was, I understand, tabled on 1 December, so the issue has been live. I am very happy to take any further interventions. That was probably not a good idea.
My Lords, I cannot resist the temptation. Would the Minister be prepared to express some uncertainty about the “exceptional” rule? If he expressed that uncertainty, it would mean that a Third Reading amendment to the noble Lord’s amendment would be acceptable.
My Lords, I am not quite sure what I am being asked to accept, but I do not have any uncertainty as to what “exceptional circumstances” is. It is a phrase used in this legislation; it is used in other legislation; it is a phrase that is well known to the courts. It is a phrase that they are perfectly able to deal with.
The relevance of IPP sentences to this debate is that, when IPP sentences were introduced, rather similar speeches were made from the Front Bench to the one that the Minister is making tonight. I know his style his different, but the fact remains that it was a disaster and a scandal. It developed in ways in which all those who introduced it did not anticipate, and now concede was wrong, but they had not fully understood at the time what the consequences were. This has all those hallmarks about it.
As I said, I am very alive to the IPP issues, as the noble Lord knows; but the IPP issue and the IPP sentence was a novel sentence which did things that other sentences did not do. Indeed, that is why it was brought in. The shape of this sentence, however, is not novel. It is the application to this particular offence that is new. With the greatest of respect, therefore, I disagree with the comparison to IPP sentences, which were themselves novel.
I hope that I have set out the government position clearly and fairly—
My Lords, the noble Lord started his contribution to this debate by saying that he was listening. Surely, he has heard from the House that the House is not content to allow this amendment to pass at this stage. Surely, the only reasonable thing to do in these circumstances—because nobody wants to divide on this issue here and now—is for the Minister to say that he will take it away and bring it back at Third Reading once noble Lords have had a chance to discuss the issue with him between now and Third Reading.
As I hope the House knows from this Bill and plenty of other Bills, I am very happy to discuss issues with anyone at any time. However, points of principle have been made, and points of principle have been answered by me as clearly and cogently as I am able to do. I think that the appropriate thing to do—relative newcomer as I am to this House—is that the Question on the amendment should be put. If people want to—
My Lords, I have another suggestion for the noble Lord, as we can all see that he is in a difficult situation. The Government have put forward their protest amendments, which are coming at the latter stage of Report. There is nothing to stop the Government from withdrawing this amendment now and bringing it back at the latter stage of Report. It will give everyone time to consider their position and the Government would not lose time. They could do it via Third Reading, or they could do it the way I am suggesting now. I hope that the Minister will consider that suggestion constructively.
I am sorry to make a second intervention before the Minister has had a chance to answer the first. The point I wanted to make to the House and for the Minister’s consideration is really a very similar one. It seems to me that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord West, is a viable one and the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is also a viable one. The noble Lord mentioned listening. We all know that he does listen and that he is prepared to listen. That listening generally involves talking and having meetings about amendments and proposals. This is a government amendment, and the Minister is quite right to point out that it was publicised on 1 December. That was one week ago for an important change in the law. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, allows this to be considered and discussed with noble Lords about the House during the rest of Report, and it could come back in January, because we have this very long period due to the Christmas break. May I suggest that that is the fair and sensible way to proceed, rather than insisting on putting the Question on it tonight, landing the House with an unexpected vote if there were to be a vote, and failing to discuss it with noble Lords around the House in the meantime, which could quite easily be done?
My Lords, I am not convinced that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is correct because if we delay the amendment, we would be putting it at the back of the Bill, but it has to be in this position in the Bill. Therefore, I think we should leave it until Third Reading rather than delay it.
My Lords, I am not going to try to adjudicate on that point, which seems to be a point of procedure, better left to those who know more about it than I do. I have listened very carefully to the debate, and points of principle have been raised. With genuine respect, however, I believe that I have set out the Government’s position on those points of principle. Kicking the can down the road—attractive as that can sometimes appear—will not achieve anything substantive.
This is pretty shocking. There is a lot of support for the principle that the amendment could be so much better if it could be debated. I completely understand the noble Lord’s embarrassment. He does not want to go back to the Ministry of Justice and not have the amendment, but if you want good law, recognising that the Government want this, there is so much that could be discussed to make this provision better.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, agreed without any pressure on two things in relation to the additional protest measures. First, she agreed that they should come at the end of Committee and secondly, she did not move them in Committee because of the exact problem that has arisen in this case. She indicates the right way forward. We would greatly appreciate in the House if the noble Lord would show us the same courtesy that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, showed us.
I am very happy to be accused of all sorts of things, but I hope that nobody in this House believes that I act either towards it or towards any of its Members with discourtesy. We may have disagreements, but they are always, I hope, courteous. I am not in the least embarrassed about going back to the Ministry of Justice with or without anything. My task, as I see it, is to set out the Government’s position in this House and then the House has to take a view.
With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, I do not accept that this is a question of tweaking the provision or making it better. The points that have been put to me are really points of principle—people do not agree with this at all, while saying, “Of course we agree.” The matter ought to be presented to the House and dealt with by it today.
Following on from the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, can the Government agree to the House being adjourned for half an hour or so, so that there can be a discussion between the usual channels and between the groups in the House as to how this should continue? We would be very grateful and it would be seen as a matter of utmost but necessary courtesy.
No. We can.
Any Member of the House can call a vote but, if the Minister is not willing to accede to any of the suggestions that have been made, it is the obligation of the Front Benches to indicate that they are so dissatisfied, in the light of all the debate and the fact that we have only had a week to consider this, that they will divide the House. If they were so to indicate, that might impose a bit more pressure on the Minister.
In the last week, as is my wont, I have had discussions with a number of Members of this House on this matter. Any Member of the House knows that my door is always open to them, metaphorically and often literally. All the discussions that I have had on this amendment have been ones that I have reached out to others to have. Nobody has knocked on my door. In those circumstances, I cannot say that we will adjourn. If I am told differently, that will be for others to decide. At the moment, I will ask the House to vote on my amendment.
My Lords, I want to put it on record that in the last week, when this amendment has been tabled, all the engagement I have had on this matter I have facilitated, and I have reached out to. Not a single Member of this House has reached out to me about this amendment. I beg to move the amendment.