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House of Commons Hansard
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Rule of Law (Enforcement by Public Authorities)
03 March 2020
Volume 672

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require public authorities to exercise their statutory powers to investigate and take enforcement action for breaches of the law; to make provision for sanctions for failing to take such action; and for connected purposes.

Adherence to the rule of law is one of the fundamental elements of the British constitution. The World Justice Project produces an annual report on the performance of countries across the world in complying with the rule of law. In the most recent report, the United Kingdom scores 80% and is 12th in the international league table. The top country scored 90%. In its working definition of the rule of law, the WJP requires that regulations are fairly and effectively implemented and enforced. This is an aspect on which the United Kingdom can do a lot better.

Recent events in Cambridge, where the police did nothing to prevent or to take action against blatant examples of criminal damage, serve as a salutary reminder of why the Bill is needed. Cambridge is but one of an increasing number of instances in which the Government, their agencies, the police and local authorities have failed or refused to take action to enforce the law. Now that we have left the European Union and are soon to be freed from the yoke of the European Court of Justice, it is a good time to take stock.

Continental justice, while paying lip-service to the rule of law, has often incorporated a significant discretionary element, which renders it vulnerable to political pressure for interference and ultimately to corruption by making some more equal than others under the law. The Bill reasserts the importance in our legal system of equality of protection under the law and of equal access to the enforcement authorities charged with investigating breaches of the law and enforcing sanctions against wrongdoers.

I can best illustrate the problem by example. Earlier this year, Mr Justice Julian Knowles, in the case of Henry Miller and the Humberside Police, ruled that despite a “hate incident” not being a crime, it was reasonable that such an incident could be logged pursuant to operational guidance adopted by the College of Policing in 2014. The Daily Telegraph has established that some 120,000 non-crime incidents have been logged in this way in the past five years, yet neither this Parliament nor the Government have given any authority to the police to deploy scarce and valuable resources on giving priority to non-crime incidents over criminal activity. In answer to a parliamentary question, the Policing Minister told me:

“The College of Policing is independent from Government and its role is clear: setting high professional standards…acting as the national voice of policing; and ensuring police training and ethics is of the highest possible quality.”

But giving perverse priority to non-crime incidents is not among its roles.

While the Home Office collects and publishes information on hate crime offences, information is not collected on non-crime hate incidents or the investigative resource allocated to them. This makes it impossible for Members to hold the police to account for their misuse of resources.

It is outrageous that the police are giving priority to matters that are not criminal while criminal activity, which is rife in our country, goes uninvestigated and unpunished. A prime example of this is criminal fraud. Fewer than 1% of police officers directly investigate fraud, while scarce police resources are being expended in recording non-crimes. In the year ending March 2019, 741,123 crimes of fraud were reported, giving rise to £2.2 billion in losses to victims, but only 42,127 crimes were disseminated for investigation and enforcement by local authorities. Judicial action is being taken in only about 1% of cases. This data is from Action Fraud; if ever there was a misnomer, it is the name “Action Fraud”. I have a constituent who was defrauded of £20,000 last year, from a Santander account, and we are still waiting for Action Fraud to take any “action”. Despite the Crown Prosecution Service reporting that fraud is the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales, with an estimated 3.4 million incidents in the year ending March 2017, fewer than 1% of police officers are actually investigating it.

The purported justification for recording non-crime hate incidents is that they can be the precursor to criminal activity, but an equally strong—or stronger—argument applies to cases of civil or non-criminal fraud. Why do Home Office rules only allow the recording of fraud offences that meet the definition of crime, and why does a similar rule not apply in the case of hate crime? The Bill would reconfirm that the main responsibility of law enforcement authorities under the rule of law should be to investigate and bring sanctions against those in breach of the existing law. Deployment of resources in respect of non-criminal incidents, whether involving hate or fraud, should be treated as non-core activities.

Another area of criminal impunity is in relation to illegal immigrants. Best estimates are that there are more than 1 million illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom, many of whom are engaged in illegal working and other clandestine criminal activities. They use our public services while undermining fair competition in the workplace. Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 sets out a series of criminal offences, including knowingly entering the United Kingdom without leave and remaining beyond the time limited by leave. Despite the vast number of continuing offences against section 24, few prosecutions, if any, are commenced. This scandal is completely at odds with the priorities of the general public and our constituents. The number of deportations is also pitifully few.

The scope of this Bill, however, goes far beyond fraud and illegal immigration. Other activities that are the subject of regulations that are inconsistently enforced include the licensing of houses in multiple occupation. The Government have set down minimum standards enforceable under the licensing system, yet it is estimated that more than half the properties that should be licensed are unlicensed. While the owners of these 76,000 properties operate with impunity, some local authorities are seeking to penalise those who are registered by imposing size standards far higher than the Government minimum. Local authorities are ignoring all properties that should be incorporated into the licensing system while trying to penalise those that have already applied for licensing.

A related scandal is that of rogue landlords. Although there are more than 2 million landlords in England, only 18 individuals and five companies have been put on the register of rogue landlords for offences committed since 6 April 2018. This ineffectual regulation is driving good private landlords out of the market without deterring or penalising the rogues.

Many colleagues will be aware of constituents’ anger due to double standards relating to illegal activities by Gypsies and Travellers compared with the actions of law-abiding residents, as well as due to local authorities’ failure to enforce trading standards laws against the rogue operators of park home sites. In the last month alone, I have received complaints from constituents about the police’s failure to pursue a blatant case of threatened unlawful eviction, their refusal to act against the dealers of illegal drugs, and their failure to enforce the Highways Act 1980 against a pavement obstruction. In the latter example, that was despite the offence having taken place just around the corner from the police station in Christchurch.

Respect for our legal system depends upon public trust that effective enforcement action will be taken consistently. The Bill would help to restore public respect for the law and for the rule of law.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Edward Leigh, Sir Desmond Swayne, Mr Philip Hollobone, Nigel Mills, Mr Peter Bone, Bob Blackman and Paul Howell present the Bill.

Sir Christopher Chope accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 99).