Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 7th Report from the Constitution Committee
124: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Poaching of game
(1) The Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960 is amended as follows.(2) In section 2(1), after “committing” insert “, has committed, or is about to commit”.(3) In section 4—(a) in subsection (1)—(i) after “section thirty” insert “or section thirty-two”, and (ii) at the end insert “or any animal, vehicle, or other article belonging to him, or in his possession or under his control at the relevant time.”;(b) in subsection (2), after “gun”, in both places it occurs, insert “, animal,”;(c) at the end insert—“(6) Where a person is convicted of an offence under the Night Poaching Act 1828 or the Game Act 1831, the court may order the offender to reimburse any expenses incurred by the police in connection with the keeping of any animal seized in connection with the offence.”(4) In section 4A(1), for “section thirty of the Game Act 1831 as one of five or more persons liable under that section” substitute “section 1 or 9 of the Night Poaching Act 1828, or section 30 or 32 of the Game Act 1831”.(5) After section 4A insert—“4B Disqualification Orders(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under either the Night Poaching Act 1828 or the Game Act 1831, the court may, instead of or in addition to dealing with the person in any other way, make an order disqualifying the person from having custody of a dog for such period as the court thinks fit.(2) A person who is disqualified from having custody of a dog by virtue of an order made under subsection (1) may, at any time after the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which the order was made, apply to the court that made it for a direction terminating the disqualification.(3) On an application under subsection (2) the court may—(a) having regard to the applicant’s character, conduct since the disqualification was imposed, and any other circumstances of the case, grant or refuse the application, and(b) order the applicant to pay all or any part of the costs of the application,and where an application in respect of an order is refused no further application in respect of that order may be made before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which the application was rejected.(4) Where a court decides not to make an order under subsection (1) in relation to an offender, it must—(a) give reasons for the decision in open court, and(b) if it is a magistrates’ court, cause the reasons to be entered in the register of proceedings.(5) Any person who has custody of a dog in contravention of an order under subsection (1), is guilty of an offence.(6) Disqualification from having custody of a dog under this section includes disqualifying a person—(a) from owning dogs;(b) from keeping dogs;(c) from participating in the keeping of dogs;(d) from being party to an arrangement under which they are entitled to control or influence the way in which dogs are kept;(e) from dealing in dogs;(f) from transporting dogs;(g) from arranging for the transport of dogs.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause is intended to broaden the powers available to the police and the courts for dealing with illegal hare coursers. Measures include providing for forfeiture of animals on conviction and permitting the recovery of expenses incurred by the police in housing a seized animal.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. In moving Amendment 124, I will speak also to Amendment 128 in my name. These amendments seek to strengthen police powers to deal with illegal hare coursing and, more generally, the illegal poaching of game.
Amendment 124 would amend the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960 to broaden the police’s powers to remove or arrest an individual trespassing on land where there is clear intent to trespass in pursuit of game, as defined by Section 9 of the Night Poaching Act 1828 and Section 30 of the Game Act 1831. It would also allow the police to seize any vehicles or animals used for the killing or taking of game found in the possession of the trespasser, and would allow the court to order
“the offender to reimburse any expenses incurred by the police in connection with the keeping of any animal seized”.
Further, the amendment seeks to broaden the court’s ability to limit repeated violations by issuing disqualification orders for those individuals convicted under the Night Poaching Act or Game Act for having custody of a dog or dogs.
Amendment 128 would increase the maximum fines for those found trespassing in pursuit of game and remove the distinction between a person and a group of “five or more persons” when determining the severity of a given fine to allow for individual convictions.
The diocese that I serve, which covers Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Luton and bits of London, includes many rural areas, and I know from conversations with landowners and farmers just what a problem illegal hare coursing is. It is not just the damage to land and property that causes anxiety, it is the threats, verbal abuse, intimidation and violence. This includes metal bearings being fired into tractor cabs; attempts to bribe farmers to allow hare coursing on their land; ringing farmers’ doorbells in the evening when they know that the farmer is out and the wife and children are at home; and direct threats that state that they know where the farmer lives, should the farmer report a hare courser.
One person described coursing as equivalent to being under siege—constantly having to repair damage from break-ins, and being scared for their own safety and that of the farm equipment. It is an illegal and barbaric practice that runs amok across the private property of farmers and landowners and helps facilitate organised crime, through the enormous sums that change hands in high-stake illegal betting.
Before tabling this amendment, I contacted senior members of the Hertfordshire police for their views. One spoke of how this amendment would give them confidence that hare coursing was being taken seriously and that, that being so, one of the most effective preventive tools would be to take the means to commit the offences away from the offenders.
Given the high value of the dogs used by those involved in illegal hare coursing, these amendments seek to address a substantial weakness in the existing law by extending the seizure and forfeiture powers for all poaching offences to include vehicles and dogs. That, alongside court-imposed custody of dog disqualification orders, would create the strongest possible deterrent to illegal hare coursers. These changes would address the current challenge of limited police resources, including having to pay for kennelling costs without being able to reclaim those costs from the offenders.
The current legislative framework for prosecuting hare coursing is failing farmers and landowners and it needs reform urgently. The NFU’s rural crime survey found that 41% of farm businesses had experienced hare coursing in 2020, and that figure went up to 60% in Yorkshire and 67% in East Anglia. I understand that Defra is consulting on provisions that are very similar to the ones outlined in this amendment, and I am encouraged by the comments of the Minister in the other place to the effect that the Government are taking this issue seriously and are committed to introducing new laws to deal with it. However, I am concerned that in the interim farmers and landowners will continue to be harassed, bullied and threatened by illegal hare coursers—and may well be so for another year, or two years, or longer, unless the Government bring forward legislation quickly.
The legislative changes that I am proposing command the support of some of the UK’s largest rural organisations, including the National Farmers’ Union, the Countryside Alliance and the Country Land and Business Association.
Our police and courts need the backing of the law to properly deal with illegal hare coursing and I ask the Minister to provide the Government’s timetable for introducing new laws to better deal with it, unless they are prepared to accept these amendments.
I thank other noble Lords who have signed these amendments, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who, due to a clash, is in another debate. The noble Baroness asked me to read out a couple of comments that she was very keen to be made in this debate. “I am delighted,” she writes, “to add my name to this amendment and to lend it my strongest possible support. Tough action must be taken against the despicable crimes of hare coursing and lamping, the latter of which involves perpetrators from built-up areas such as Cleveland and West Yorkshire coming to rural areas, such as North Yorkshire, and leaving deer with such unspeakable injuries that the landowner is obliged to call a vet to put the animals out of their pain.”
“Rural crime,” the noble Baroness goes on, “must be taken more seriously and put on a par with all other crimes, in terms of not just reporting such offences but procuring and punishing the offenders.” She concludes by saying that “rural communities are being neglected, and that that cannot continue.” I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as farmer and landowner, as set out in the register, and as someone who has been directly and indirectly affected by hare coursing on more than one occasion.
I am pleased to add my name to Amendments 124 and 128 tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. They concern the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960, the Night Poaching Act 1828, and the Game Act 1831, none of which are very recent, nor do they take account of developments, particularly in modern illegal hare coursing. Instead, these amendments take account of modern access to land in 4x4 vehicles, the high-value gambling with dogs and the easy facility of the organisation of these activities through social media. Sites such as dragondriving.co.uk, the Facebook group “Let the Jackers See the Hare with Coreys” and biglink are used to advertise meetings, suitable vehicles and such like.
The right reverend Prelate has given details of the NFU survey. I will not repeat those figures, but they are pretty concerning. Hare coursing has existed for many years, but more recently there has also been an increase in deer coursing, which has also been referred to. The main drivers of these activities have been the ready access to and retreat from land by 4x4 vehicles, the high stakes in illegal betting, and social media. The consequences have not been difficult to see. They include violence and intimidation to anyone who has tried to intervene, and severe damage to standing crops, hedges, gateways, and anything else that gets in the way of hare coursers. Existing laws and sentencing are dealt with by the amendments.
A Private Member’s Bill received wide support. and an amendment was tabled in the other place on this Bill. The response by the Minister was that Defra was aware and dealing with the issue. Nothing further has been heard yet. This lack of action is regrettable, and I very much hope that the Minister will now accept this amendment, or at least come up with his own proposals. Failure to move on this issue is likely to lead to people taking matters into their own hands, with all the dangerous consequences that this involves.
A farm manager local to me has experienced threats to his life by phone calls, slashed tyres, windows catapulted and a stone landing on his sofa where his wife was sitting, catapulted windscreens, intimidation on foot and by vehicle, the revving of engines, the shooting of a dog, and so on. Others, whether gamekeepers, wardens or just neighbours doing their duty, have had similar experiences. This must stop. The police do their best, but are often too late or constrained by the evidence.
At a case at Boston Magistrates’ Court in Lincolnshire in September, the farmer who brought in the police arrived at the court and was kept safely away from those charged with the offence of hunting a wild animal with dogs. The Crown Prosecution Service thanked him for his bravery and support in the case and commiserated on the damage to his crops and livelihood but explained that, due to an administrative problem regarding helicopter CCTV footage, they had to stop the charges faced by the defendants. Imagine the alarm and distress caused to, and still experienced by, the farmer, as he was directly confronted with the defendants as they left the court as free men.
A more successful ending to such an episode that did not involve the police and was told to me by the farmer concerned was when some Travellers, or tinkers, had stolen the farmer’s dog. Bravely, and with others, he entered the Travellers’ camp and removed a dog, which happened to be a greyhound. Stalemate ensued, until it became apparent that the greyhound was a champion and very highly valued. Negotiations took place between farmer and Traveller, resulting in a meeting in a layby where the dogs would be exchanged. At the layby, deadlock ensued while the order of release was agreed as to which dog would be released first. The farmer prevailed and his spaniel was duly released. The Traveller waited expectantly for the return of the greyhound, which duly happened, but instead of a fit champion, a very happy and overfed greyhound was released, to the laughs of the farmer and his friends.
Obviously, the forfeiture of an animal, as long as it is accompanied by the ability to recover expenses, particularly that of food, works well. I therefore urge the Minister to accept these amendments so that the countryside can be rid of this awful and damaging activity to communities, individuals, dogs and wildlife.
My Lords, I am very happy and pleased to support these amendments, which would improve the powers for police and courts to tackle wildlife crime such as illegal hare coursing. Wildlife crime is by its nature difficult to police. When I was on the London Police Authority, I asked the Met police to start logging crimes committed on farms, which they did not do at the time. The problem is that the crimes are often committed far from police stations—especially so since the Conservative Government have closed quite a lot of those police stations. They are also seen as less of a priority than burglary and even traffic offences. There is some exciting new technology that the police can use to overcome these difficulties of geography and resources, but you need the right powers and the power of sentencing.
I have a friend who culls a deer herd for a local farmer. He was out, I think last week, and all of a sudden, two police cars turned up—this was in the middle of nowhere—with their blues and twos going. The police thought that he was a poacher. As he was standing there with a gun, a knife and a dead deer it was a quite difficult argument to make, but they did finally understand and managed to speak to the farmer. My friend takes responsibility for culling deer that have been harmed by poachers and then left to die in pain.
These amendments have practical solutions so that offenders can be perhaps deterred, but certainly punished and prevented from causing further suffering. They are amendments that the Government should accept in full.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. It might surprise your Lordships to know some of the numbers. I am grateful to the Suffolk Constabulary for the figures of incidents of illegal hare coursing. These were the incidents reported—so not necessarily all the incidents—between 1 September 2019 and 31 March 2020. There were 139 incidents reported in 230 days. That means there was more than one incident a day for the police to deal with. The penalties for this illegal behaviour are not sufficient. That is why the right reverend Prelate’s amendments must be agreed.
I want to talk a little about hares, because they have been on the Biodiversity Action Plan list almost since its formation, in 1995. I am hugely grateful, as we all are, for the work done by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has been monitoring hares for many years and scientifically working out what their best habitat is. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, gave us a graphic description of the horrors that farmers have to face, but, if one looks at it from the hare’s point of view, they too would like these amendments.
If the farmer has too many hares on his property—particularly on the eastern side of the country, where the illegal poaching and coursing takes place, because that is where most of the hares are—the farmer will be tempted to reduce the number of hares to discourage poachers. If the laws are not strong enough and the police cannot keep the situation under control, the only sensible option for the farmer is to legally reduce the number of hares to such that it is not attractive for these people to come and drive over their land, smash their gates and cause intimidation. I am sure that, from the hare’s perspective—as I said, they are on the Biodiversity Action Plan, and numbers have been reducing since 2010—they would welcome the strengthening of the law.
I hope that my noble friend will not bat this away by saying that Defra is going to produce something. I think we are all a bit fed up of waiting for Defra to produce things—we need action now. By accepting these amendments, there is nothing here that will cut across what Defra might or might not produce in the fullness of time.
My Lords, I will speak in favour of Amendments 124 and 128 in the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I would have certainly added my name had there been room on the list.
The right reverend Prelate has laid out the case for these amendments extremely clearly. Hare coursing is, at present, illegal, but the penalties are not sufficient to deter the really determined criminal fraternity. Big money changes hands during this obnoxious practice, so it is necessary to increase the penalties to assist in preventing unnecessary cruelty to hares and to reimburse the police for the trouble involved in catching and prosecuting the perpetrators. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has spoken from personal experience of the effects of intimidation from those participating in hare coursing.
I fully support the measures in Amendment 124, in particular those listed under proposed new Section 4B(6), which gives the list of the disqualification orders, from owning a dog right down to arranging the transportation of dogs. It is entirely appropriate that those subject to disqualification orders should pay for the costs of keeping animals that have been seized and the cost of applying to have their disqualification lifted, whether it is successful or not.
Section 5 of the Hunting Act, which bans hare-coursing events, is rarely used, mainly because of the very tight definition of what constitutes an event. Now is the time to change the way hare coursing is prosecuted to ensure that successful prosecutions can take place. The seizure of both dogs and vehicles is important to ensure that criminals are not able to carry on regardless in another venue.
Hare coursing has devastating effects on farming families. It is classified as poaching, and these amendments apply to all forms of poaching in terms of seizure and confiscation.
The right reverend Prelate has already referred to the NFU’s rural crime survey and I will not repeat those figures. But nearly half of all farming businesses have been targeted by these organised criminal gangs. The right reverend Prelate also set out the threats that farmers have to suffer. It is time to put a stop to this practice and to the high-stakes gambling that profits from this cruel and abhorrent practice.
I welcome the reimbursement of kennelling costs to the police, who have the task of seizing the dogs involved. This is long overdue. As autumn is the current season for hare coursing, which takes no account of dependent, vulnerable young, now is the time for this change in the law to be implemented without delay.
Amendment 128 introduces the crime of trespassing in pursuit of game and amends the Game Act 1831, to which other noble Lords have referred. Given the level of misery caused by poaching, I am surprised that the law has not been changed sooner—surely nearly 200 years is sufficient time to test that a law is not working and needs a radical overhaul. These changes will give the police and courts measures to increase fines and reduce the threshold for individual convictions. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has given us the startling numbers of the incidents of hare coursing, which the police are expected to deal with. Those involved in poaching and hare coursing need to understand that the Government are serious in dealing with this problem once and for all.
I look forward to the Minister’s positive response to these two amendments, making it, I hope, unnecessary to have to return to this subject at Report.
My Lords, I refer to my interests on the register. Until recently, I was a farmer myself, and I have experienced, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, explained, the impact of illegal hare coursing—illegal activity—on my land.
I shall not go through the data and all the statistics, which have already been conveyed to the Committee by previous speakers, but I fully endorse the two amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and supported by other noble Lords.
The destruction, pain, distress and expense are difficult to quantify. As well as the experience outlined by other noble Lords, it has been my experience that fences have been broken down, livestock have escaped and crops have been trodden on, particularly in wet weather. These things cause enormous distress, and it is a considerable expense to clean up afterwards. Of course, farmers dare not take the law into their own hands, because the consequences of doing that are very apparent, and can be high-risk.
As has been said, all the key rural organisations very much endorse and support these amendments, and I hope that the Minister will accept them and see them as a really positive step forward. They would make the countryside a safer place, not just for people but for hares, deer and other animals.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for introducing this important debate. As we have heard in this debate, illegal hare coursing is becoming an increasing problem in rural areas, particularly in flatter, arable areas, where the land is open and easier to access.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who I thought very well illustrated that farmers increasingly feel isolated when having to deal with these problems. They feel that they are fighting this alone —and that point was equally well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. It is true that, all too often, police forces—including rural police forces—have given priority to more traditional crimes, such as burglary, rather than recognising that these are serious crimes that need to be addressed.
Noble Lords have rightly highlighted the implications of hare coursing. Hare coursers and poachers regularly cause criminal damage to gates, hedgerows, fences and growing crops. This comes at a huge cost to farmers and landowners, wasting man hours as they are forced to look for and repair damage—and then they have to foot often very expensive bills for repairs to this damage and the need to increase security infrastructure, often involving installing CCTV cameras. This is extremely time-consuming, frustrating and upsetting for many farmers, whose land is the single most important asset of their business and their livelihoods.
As we have heard, it is not just about the damage that illegal coursers cause to land and property; verbal abuse, threats, intimidation and violence are all faced by landowners and tenants. The Crown Prosecution Service website admits that:
“Hare coursing can cause significant disturbance in the countryside and is a cause of serious concern to those who live in rural communities”.
There is a common fallacy that hare coursing is just a bit of poaching, but increasingly we know that it is closely connected to organised criminals and involves enormous sums of money changing hands, through high-stakes illegal betting. Coursing is often filmed from a vehicle and live-streamed across the internet. I remember talking to a rural police officer a couple of years ago who had been involved in some raids on hare coursing. He said that the minimum bet is £50 and people are betting in multiples of £50, so it is not just small sums of money changing hands here. There is obviously also the implication that there is money-laundering taking place. Those taking part in illegal hare coursing are often guilty of other crimes as well, such as road traffic offences, including the driving of unlicensed and uninsured vehicles, drug taking and the possession of firearms. Many of these criminals are also involved in major rural crime, such as theft to order and, on occasions, modern slavery.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, rightly pointed out that hares are a species we need to treasure because they are increasingly scarce, and coursing obviously impacts negatively on the brown hare population. The Country Land and Business Association estimates that tens of thousands of hares are slaughtered each year and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, illegal hare coursing does not respect the breeding season, when vulnerable young are still dependent.
The key ingredient of poaching offences is trespass. The older game laws are still the preferred route for prosecuting illegal hare coursing, and legal guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service says that the more effective tools for prosecuting are either the Game Act 1831 or the Night Poaching Act 1828. Is it not about time that we had up-to-date, effective laws, where penalties will act as a proper deterrent? Although the powers of the police and courts have been strengthened by more recent legislation, particularly the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960, the older legislation needs to be strengthened in terms of seizure and forfeiture powers, specifically in relation to dogs and vehicles.
Police forces are working together to deal with hare-coursing offences. They have found that the dogs are the coursers’ key asset and that the ability to seize dogs is proving an important deterrent. Unfortunately, this means that police forces must fund kennelling costs and cannot reclaim the costs from offenders via the courts. Given the high value of the dogs to those involved in illegal coursing, this is a substantial weakness in the existing law. The police have asked for years to be given this power. Does the Minister agree that, for rural communities and farmers in particular, hare coursing is not simply a nuisance but a serious blight on the livelihoods and well-being of those affected? Does he agree that the current overall framework governing policing and sentencing does not act as a sufficient deterrent?
We support these amendments, which, together with a joined-up approach across the criminal justice system, can begin to address the devastating impact that illegal hare coursing has on farming communities, the wider rural community and wildlife across England. I therefore hope that Ministers will give these matters serious consideration and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their participation in this debate. I have considerable sympathy with the right reverend Prelate’s wish to see greater powers available to the police and the courts in dealing with hare coursing. I have to declare an interest here as I am a member of the BASC, which is a member of the hare coursing coalition.
This vile activity has no place in our countryside. It involves cruelty to the brown hare and, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I thought that my noble friend Lord Caithness made very important points on biodiversity and populations. It causes real harm to rural communities, with all the associated menacing and criminal practices so eloquently described by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others. As we have already made clear, including when this issue was debated in the Commons, this Government are determined to take action. Our action plan for animal welfare sets out our commitment to crack down on illegal hare coursing-related activity, providing law enforcement with more tools to address this issue effectively, including through legislation when parliamentary time allows.
Officials in both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office are working through the options in detail. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra, Rebecca Pow, is responsible for leading on this topic. She has begun detailed discussions of a range of possible measures, including in areas covered in these amendments. These were discussed at a round table she chaired in June. It is important to consider all the options carefully to ensure that the proposals that we bring forward will be effective in achieving the intended aims.
This work will, unfortunately and necessarily, take a little time, but we need to get it right, so I cannot offer the right reverend Prelate any encouragement that the Bill is the right one through which to take the matter forward. However, I assure him that the measures that he put forward in these amendments will be considered most carefully as we develop our proposals. This issue is being taken seriously: I reassure him on that point. Unfortunately, however, I cannot give him the timetable he has asked for. I nevertheless hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, that was a hugely disappointing reply. What is the difficulty for Defra and the Home Office in accepting this amendment? It does not impinge on the slow, laborious work that they are doing. Quite rightly, they have to take that seriously but, if one does not seize this opportunity to legislate in one area of the bigger picture, then we are losing a huge opportunity. What is the difficulty in accepting this? If it is accepted and it works for perhaps two years, when the next piece of legislation comes forward, it could be amended. The Minister should think of the damage that could be done in that intervening time.
I am obviously sorry to have disappointed my noble friend Lord Caithness with that reply, but I can only repeat what I said earlier. I am afraid that these things take time, and the consultations are ongoing. We intend to do something about this problem.
My Lords, I share the disappointment of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, because I am unclear exactly what the problem is; I have not heard anything substantive. I know that people working across rural areas in almost every sphere are absolutely passionate and are behind these amendments. There is a huge groundswell. I have been quite surprised, having tabled the amendments, at the appreciative comments from so many different groups. I totally accept that these amendments present only one solution, and I am aware of—and I welcome—the efforts of the honourable Member for North East Bedfordshire, who is an MP in my diocese and tabled the Private Member’s Bill in the other place. I will be meeting him before too long.
With the absence of any government proposals at this stage to deal with the matter, or to give any sort of assurances about timing, I am minded to bring these amendments back at Report. I would, however, be very happy to meet the Minister if that would help, to further discuss these proposals and see if we can find some way forward. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 124 withdrawn.
125: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of pet theft
(1) The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is amended as follows.(2) After section 2 (“protected animal”) insert—“2A Definition of pet A protected animal is a “pet” for the purposes of this Act if it provides companionship or assistance to any human being.”(3) After section 8 (fighting etc.) insert—“8A Pet theftA person commits an offence if they dishonestly appropriate a pet belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving that other person of it.”(4) In section 32 (imprisonment or fine) before subsection (1) insert—“(A1) A person guilty of an offence under section 8A (pet theft) (as inserted by section (Offence of pet theft) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021) shall be liable—(a) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, or a fine, or to both;(b) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years, or to a fine, or to both.(A2) When the court is considering for the purposes of sentencing the seriousness of an offence under section 8A it must consider the following as aggravating factors (that is to say, a factor that increases the seriousness of the offence)—(a) the theft caused fear, alarm or distress to the pet, the owner or the pet or another person associated with the pet;(b) the theft was for the purposes of commercial gain.”(5) In section 34(10) (disqualification) after “8,” insert “8A,”.”Member’s explanatory statement
Combined with two other proposed amendments after Clause 54, this new clause seeks to create a new offence of pet theft.
My Lords, I approach our deliberations in this Committee with some degree of despondency today. We are addressing the rule of law in this; we are, in effect, saying that the law is not being sufficiently complied with in order to get better compliance with the law for our citizens. The key aspect of the rule of law is that it applies to everybody. Approximately 45 minutes ago, in the other place, as a result of a government-whipped vote, somebody who had been found guilty of a breach of the conduct obligations of the House of Commons was, in effect, let off. The Government used their majority to let him off. It is very difficult for the citizens of this country to take Parliament seriously as an enforcer of the rule of law if the position is that, when one of the Government’s own looks like they are in trouble, they use their majority to let them off. The whole point about a code of conduct enforced independently is that it applies to whatever political party you are in. I look at these deliberations in Parliament, therefore, with a degree of real, personal despair. It is about much more than simply the conduct of the Government: it is about how the public will view Parliament.
As far as pet theft is concerned, the Metropolitan Police said that, for the year up to March 2020, seven out of 10 abductions of pets involved dogs. It identified that, in that year, 2,000 dogs were abducted. There are, I think, between 8 million and 9 million dog owners in the country, so the percentage of dogs stolen is comparatively small—but the number is going up, because more people own pets and they have become more valuable. There is a wide sense among lawyers that the Theft Act does not deal adequately with the offence of pet theft because it treats pets simply as property, so stealing a pet is a crime but the nuance of the crime, and in particular the effect on the owner, is inadequately reflected in the law.
This view is shared quite widely, including, as I understand it, by Her Majesty’s Government. They set up a task force, chaired by three Secretaries of State. It reported in May 2021 and recommended that there be a new offence of pet theft. When the matter was raised during the passage of this Bill through the Commons, the relevant Minister committed to introducing an amendment to deal with pet theft. So there does not appear to be an issue between the respective Front Benches in respect of the fact that pet theft is going to be made a crime in this Bill. So I await with interest the details of the pet theft crime that the Government are going to put into the Bill, because, in the light of the report from the three Secretaries of State and the commitment made in the other place, it is inconceivable that no amendment will be advanced by the Government. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in favour of this small group of amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. He set out his case eloquently, and I fully support him on the move to introduce an offence of pet theft.
During lockdown, the family pet had an extremely important role in helping to keep the mental health of families in reasonable order. People were allowed to take exercise; if they had a dog, this meant slightly longer exercise. For those living alone, especially the elderly, there was a living creature to talk to—one that did not contradict or answer back. Children with small furry pets were able to spend more time with them and, hopefully, take more responsibility for their care, cleaning and feeding regimes.
Lockdown meant that there was an increase in demand for pets from all quarters. Some wanted cats and kittens; others wanted a dog. There was a boost in the need for puppies and the price rocketed. Sadly, the latter often resulted in the illegal importation of puppies who had been separated from their mothers too early. Like other Peers, I am sure, I had friends who were searching for a puppy. I stressed to them all that the puppy must be seen with its mother, not alone, and had to be more than 12 weeks old before it could be separated from its mother without harm.
Having acquired a puppy or kitten, or a full-grown cat or dog, it is devastating to have that beloved pet taken away by opportunistic criminals. There are examples of pet dogs being stolen to order. Some owners were afraid to take their pet out for a walk, in case it was stolen while they exercised it. This is not acceptable.
As has already been said, a pet is classified as the owner’s property, which it is—but this does not take account of the emotional distress caused. An elderly person will have lost their only constant companion. A child will have lost the friend they could play with and confide in when times were tough, especially when there were no school friends to talk to during lockdown.
As the noble Lord said, the Government set up a pet theft task force to tackle an increase in incidents during lockdown, with 2,000 dogs being reported as stolen last year. However, as a pet is currently seen only as property, with theft attracting a potential maximum sentence of seven years, this sentence is attached to the monetary value of the pet, which is treated as goods, not the emotional impact of the loss, so the maximum sentence is rarely reached.
Stealing a beloved family pet to bring monetary reward to the criminal should be treated with a more serious penalty which will both deter others and adequately punish the perpetrator. The task force has made recommendations, including introducing an offence of pet theft. Charities involved in animal welfare are keen to see sentences for this crime match those contained in the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021. If the Minister is not minded to accept these three amendments, perhaps he could tell us when the Government plan to introduce the necessary legislation on pet abduction. An explicit commitment on a timescale would be very welcome in this debate, as thieves continue to steal pets while the current derisory sentences are in place.
My Lords, I support this amendment. During lockdown, mobile pet grooming businesses sprang up, with vans appropriately fitted out to wash and dry dogs, cut their nails and do whatever was needed. Regrettably, some of these mobile vans have been used as a way to steal pets, whose owners might never see them again or might be asked for a ransom payment. My daughter and her cockapoo Eddie use a reputable mobile grooming facility, but the risk of a pet being stolen in this way, particularly prevalent during lockdown, will continue if the deterrent in this amendment and the others is not adopted.
My Lords, I rise to respond to an amendment about pet theft, but I will start by saying a few words about amendment theft. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, stole some of the Committee’s time to give us a lecture about the rule of law. I regard the rule of law as a matter of supreme importance, but let us remember what it is and is not.
First, it is not a law; it is a constitutional principle. Secondly, we can have a debate about the scope of the rule of law. The rule of law as adumbrated by Lord Bingham, for example, has a different scope from that set out by Lord Justice Laws in his book; there are different views as to the breadth of the rule of law. But everybody agrees that one has to abide by the law as set out by a court. There was no court in the circumstances set out by the noble and learned Lord. The only court involved is the court of Parliament and, with great respect, the other place was quite within its rights both legally and, I suggest, morally to set out its own procedures.
What happened today was Parliament complying with the rules of Parliament, because ultimately Parliament regulates itself. That is how it works. The phrase “rule of law” in the normal sense means a Government or an Executive abiding by the rule of a court. The only relevant court here is the court of Parliament.
However, I now turn to pet theft. I am sure we will come back to the rule of law, and perhaps the human rights issues, when we discuss the Judicial Review and Courts Bill. On pet theft, I thank the noble and learned Lord for tabling this amendment. As he set out, on this point there is actually very little between us. The topic of pet theft caused some consternation in the other place, and—again I agree with the noble and learned Lord on this—quite rightly so. Pets should not be seen as just property; that is at the heart of this issue. Pets are cherished members of the family, so it is right that we take time to consider, as the Government are doing, what measures we can and should take to tackle this abhorrent behaviour.
The Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce reported on its findings in September. It recommended a number of measures to address this crime, including a new offence of pet abduction. Your Lordships might ask why we should create such an offence when a simple pet theft offence might suffice. In that regard, I note that the noble and learned Lord’s amendment in large part mirrors the wording in the Theft Act 1968. However, I suggest to the Committee that we need to reconsider how pets are treated in law, because they are not just possessions or chattels. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that the wording of the Theft Act is inapt; it does not encompass the issue sufficiently. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, set out, that is particularly the case now we have seen so many cases of pet theft during the Covid period. We recognise that animals should therefore be treated as more than property. We are already bringing forward legislation to crack down on puppy smuggling and other cruel crimes, and I hear the points made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and my noble friend Lord Attlee.
In the new offence of pet abduction, we will seek to bring into focus not merely the taking of a piece of property or a chattel but the impact on the animal and its welfare when a stranger takes a pet away from its carer. This new offence, alongside the other recommendations from the task force, will make it harder for thieves to abduct and sell pets, make it easier for the police to catch them, and ensure that any welfare concerns can be appropriately reflected in the punishment given to offenders.
I will pick up two shorter and, I accept, more minor points which are relevant to this issue. First, the noble and learned Lord’s consequential amendment expands the scope of Section 17 powers under PACE. That section allows a constable to enter and search premises for the purpose of arresting a person for specified offences, and the amendment would include the new pet theft offence in that. We suggest that this is unnecessary. Because the amendment proposes to make the offence triable either way, the Section 17 powers would already be available.
Secondly, the noble and learned Lord has tabled an amendment in respect of Scotland. The Committee will be aware that crime and justice are devolved. Therefore, it would be for the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to consider whether they wanted a specific offence under the distinct operation of Scots law.
Coming back to the main issue, the Government have announced that they will take appropriate action. I am afraid I cannot put a date on that today, but I hear the strength of feeling on this issue. The Government have made their intentions clear, and I hope that, whatever future debates we may have on the rule of law, the noble and learned Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to everybody who has spoken in the debate, with considerable force. There was a universal view around the Committee. I am disappointed to hear that there appears to be a retreat from what was promised in the Commons. I am grateful to the Minister for the points he made on my amendments, which we will take into account when we bring them back on Report. I anticipate that if he does not, we will, and will almost certainly seek the opinion of the House in relation to it.
On the broader point, I am absolutely amazed that the Minister thought that killing off the tribunal when one your friends had been found guilty by it was not a breach of the rule of law. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 125 withdrawn.
Amendments 126 to 128 not moved.
129: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: power to search for possession of drugs for personal use
(1) The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is amended as follows.(2) In section 23 (powers to search and obtain evidence), after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The constable conducting a search under subsection (2) must explain to the suspected person the grounds for suspicion and must record the explanation.(2B) Subsection (2) does not apply if the constable also has reasonable grounds to suspect that the drug is—(a) in the possession of the person for that person’s personal use only, or(b) in the vehicle or vessel for a person’s personal use only.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove the power of the police to search a person or vehicle for possession of controlled drugs for personal use only.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 129, I will speak also to Amendment 276 in my name. It is unfortunate that these amendments were not grouped with amendments concerning the new violent crime prevention orders, as these, too, relate to police stop and search.
As well as being a police officer rising to the most senior levels in the Metropolitan Police over the course of more than 30 years, I worked in Brixton in south London between 1980 and 1982, in the 1990s, and again in the early 2000s. I was a police sergeant during the Brixton riots, a chief inspector and acting superintendent in the 1990s in Brixton, and I was the police commander in Lambeth, unusually in the rank of commander—the equivalent of assistant chief constable—in the early 2000s. In so saying, I am an expert on police stop and search. I realise that an expert is somebody who knows a little bit more about a subject than other people do, but I think I fall into that category, particularly in areas with high levels of visible minority communities and a poor track record of police community relations.
In 2001, Lambeth, with Brixton at its heart, had the highest street robbery rate in western Europe and high levels of burglary, and criminals were openly dealing crack cocaine and heroin on the streets. We were 100 police officers short of the 1,000 officers we were supposed to have in Lambeth. I recall an incident when I was a sergeant in 1982, the year after the Brixton riots, that clearly demonstrated that the community was concerned about street robbery, and not about possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. When we chased a handbag thief into an illegal gambling den, the youth was ejected from the premises into our waiting arms; when we chased someone who we thought had cannabis, the door was slammed in our faces.
In 2001, it was more than just community priorities, and that involved the arrest of one of my officers for allegedly taking cannabis from suspects on the street and keeping it himself. But one of the prime motivations for suggesting on the front page of London Evening Standard that the police should not arrest people for small amounts of cannabis for personal use was that there were far more important things for the police to spend their time on—both far more serious crimes that were at endemic levels and crimes that were a priority for the community. Clearly, possession of small amounts of cannabis was not one of them. When the “no arrest” policy was introduced, a public opinion survey found that well over 80% of people in Lambeth were in favour of the approach—slightly lower among the black community but still over 80%.
Following intense media debate and the submission of detailed data about how long it took officers to process someone arrested for cannabis—two officers over four hours each—plus the administrative work by police support staff and the CPS to prepare the case for court, the court time involved and the usual conditional discharge or small fine on conviction, this all persuaded the then commissioner to agree to a six-month pilot in Lambeth, where no adult was arrested for possession of small amounts of cannabis. These are the sorts of penalties courts are imposing today for possession of small amounts of class A drugs for personal use, if the case gets to court at all—many cases are dealt with by means of a police caution.
Despite false stories in newspapers, an independent assessment by the Metropolitan Police Authority of the pilot, which was extended to 12 months, showed reductions in all forms of serious crime, an increase in the amount of cannabis seized—as officers were able to quickly and easily deal with any that they found by seizing it and warning the person on the street—and an increase in the number of class A drug dealers arrested. Fears of an influx into the borough of those seeking cannabis proved to be the reverse of what actually happened.
Police and community priorities change. Now, in many areas of the country, knife crime is the priority, rather than street robbery. Noble Lords will quite rightly think that properly targeted stop and search is a powerful weapon in taking knives off the street, particularly if third-party information—community intelligence—points to those who are the knife carriers.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has done some number-crunching on stop and search, and I am very grateful to Matt Parr —he might not be thanking me in a moment—who briefed Peers on the issue last week. Some 63% of police stop and search is for drugs; over 80% of those stop and searches are on suspicion of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. On average, only 9% of police stop and searches—less than one in 10—are intelligence-led; the proportion varies by police force between 23% in the best performing and 1% in the worst. These are HMICFRS figures. The top five police forces in the UK account for 90% of all stop and search carried out. Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank, published a report a few weeks ago that found the Metropolitan Police had the highest rate of stop and search of any police force and the lowest rate for apprehending drug dealers.
Tackling knife crime is the Government’s priority, it is our priority, and it is the priority of many communities, but, looking at the facts as presented by HMICFRS, it is not police officers’ priority when it comes to stop and search. My Amendment 129 would not allow the police to stop and search someone on suspicion of personal possession of a small amount of a controlled drug for personal use. The police already cannot search for possession of illegal psychoactive substances that are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act; in fact, possession of small amounts of illegal psychoactive substances for personal use is not even an offence.
We are not talking about not tackling drug dealing—that is not covered by this amendment; indeed, there will be more police resources available to tackle drug dealing. We are not even talking about an untried and untested leap of faith. When we did not arrest people for simple possession of cannabis over a 12-month period in Lambeth, the police ended up concentrating on more important offences instead, more serious crimes and crimes that were a priority for the community.
We have too few police officers at this time, as I had in Lambeth when I was the police commander. We have too much serious crime, as I did when I was the police commander in Lambeth. We need to focus scarce police resources on what really matters; whatever that priority is, it is not possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.
The key to effectively reducing serious violence is the police and communities working together, with communities providing information to the police about who is involved in serious violence, so that the police can concentrate their efforts, particularly stop and search, on those carrying and using knives. Policy Exchange believes that community policing is key. Other metropolitan forces, such as Merseyside, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, do less stop and search and more community policing than London’s Metropolitan Police, and they are far more effective at arresting those involved in drug dealing.
Nothing is more damaging to police-community relations, trust and confidence in the police than poorly targeted stop and search. From standing in the middle of Brixton, being bombarded with bricks, paving slabs and petrol bombs, as I was in 1981, following a massive poorly targeted stop and search operation, I can tell noble Lords that that is the sort of damage it does. Visible minorities are four times more likely and black people nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people, but they are no more likely to have something illegal in their possession than white people. That is when the police have to have reasonable grounds to stop and search people. Amendment 129 would not allow the police to stop and search for small amounts of controlled drugs for personal use, removing the cause of so much hostility between the police and communities, whose support and co-operation are vital in reducing serious violence.
That is not the only disproportionate form of stop and search. In 2010, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, responding to a European Court of Human Rights judgment that suspicionless stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act was illegal, said:
“The first duty of Government is to protect the public. But that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties”,
adding that the then Government would not have appealed the judgment, even if they could. She said that the court found that the powers were
“drawn too broadly—at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used”
“contain insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/7/10; col. 540.]
That is very similar to the position we are in today with Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which still allows indiscriminate stop and search.
The purpose for which the police are using Section 60 goes far beyond what Parliament intended it to be used for. When this power was given to the police there was a recurring problem with rival gangs of football supporters arranging to meet at a specific time and place, arming themselves with weapons. Noble Lords will immediately see the point of a Section 60 power to search everyone in the area at the time rival gangs planned to meet, without the need for reasonable suspicion in these particular circumstances. This rarely, if ever, happens today.
Instead, if there has been a stabbing, the police will routinely impose a Section 60 order in the area surrounding the incident. That is not what it was intended for and of limited use in such circumstances. The first thing a knifeman will do after stabbing someone is dispose of the weapon and go to ground. Even if he is in the area, there is usually a description, from witnesses or CCTV, and other powers of stop and search based on reasonable suspicion can be used. I maintain that the Section 60 power is being misused and is ineffective.
The second problem with Section 60 is that indiscriminate stop and search causes untold damage to police-community relations. As I have said, people from minority-ethnic communities are four times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police and black people are nine times more likely. But when it comes to Section 60, where no reasonable suspicion is required, that figure rises to you being 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black than if you are white. The overwhelming majority of these people have nothing on them to justify such a stop and search. Community intelligence is vital to make stop and search effective in tackling knife crime, but communities are losing trust and confidence in the police because too many innocent members of their communities are being stopped and searched using Section 60.
The police have argued that black people are disproportionately involved in knife crime, and in some areas, this may well be the case, but it is in these areas, in these communities, that the flow of community intelligence is even more important if knife crime is to be tackled effectively. In evidence to support a super-complaint about Section 60, it was revealed that in 2012, the Metropolitan Police reduced the use of Section 60 by 90%, and stabbings and shootings fell by a third and 40% respectively. In the year ending March 2020, only 1% of Section 60 stop and search resulted in an arrest for possession of a weapon. Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 2,800% increase in the use of Section 60, despite the evidence showing that Section 60 is effective only in creating hostility between the police and the communities who are subjected to it, the very communities whose intelligence is vital in reducing serious violence.
The cost-benefit analysis of Section 60 is negative. The reason for its enactment rarely, if ever, occurs. Therefore, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 should be repealed. That is the intention of Amendment 276. I beg to move Amendment 129.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in tabling this amendment, and it is the reason that we first met. When I heard about this commander down in Brixton who had an innovative way of dealing with cannabis possession, I went down there very quickly to meet him and find out exactly what he was doing, and I was very impressed.
He has laid out the rationale behind the amendment extremely thoroughly and with great insider knowledge, but I will throw in what the Green Party has been saying for the past 50 years. Our drugs policy is to create a regulated drug and alcohol market that is focused on safety and harm reduction, which our current policy is clearly not. In the interim, decriminalisation is important, but it will never be as effective at reducing crime and improving health outcomes as a fully regulated system.
Many police forces have de facto decriminalised cannabis. They have seen that it just does not work to keep on with this targeted racist behaviour. The amendment would be a very welcome step. At the moment, it is a gateway power which allows the state to interfere with people and search them for something that should not even be illegal. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said very clearly, it alienates communities at the very point at which you need those communities to help the police with intelligence. I have been out with quite a few stop and search teams. I have seen it done well, but that was the exception. I have seen it done okay and done extremely badly. It is an issue of training as well as for the law itself, and it is used in discriminatory ways. This is a brilliant amendment. Well done to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for tabling it.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 276, to which I have added my name. Suspicionless stop and search is a significant problem for community relations in this country. It is a significant problem for trust in the police. In recent days, we have rightly given a great deal of time and attention on all sides of your Lordships’ House, including in this Committee, to trust and confidence on the part of women, and young women in particular, but we must not forget other aspects of broader trust and confidence, including the issue of young black men and policing.
Decades after the Lawrence inquiry, we still need to keep returning to this issue. No power or set of powers has probably done more to weigh against the strides made by the late Sir William Macpherson and by everyone across politics, including former Prime Minister, Theresa May, to try to address problems with stop and search. No power has been more problematic than that of suspicionless stop and search in general and Section 60 in particular.
This is really not a partisan issue. Your Lordships know that, long before I came to this House, I was a civil liberties campaigner and not popular with Governments of either stripe in relation to powers such as these. In my view, there has been an authoritarian arms race about law and order in this country for too long. No Government are perfect. No Opposition are perfect. This is a good moment to look at stop and search. There is no better parliamentarian to be leading us in this conversation than the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
The problem with suspicionless stop and search is this. No human is perfect; therefore, no police officer is perfect. Stop and search, conducted by humans of other humans, even with reasonable suspicion, is problematic, but there is no choice if we want to combat crime and investigate offences that have happened or that might yet take place. We have to have powers to stop and search. They are problematic, even when based on reasonable suspicion because what is reasonable suspicion? Who do we think is going equipped? Who do we think meets the profile of somebody who committed an offence a few hours ago? Of course, it is hard for any citizen, including constables, to rid themselves of all the baggage that comes with being in this—or any—society. Those problems are so compounded when reasonable suspicion is taken out of the equation.
Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act gives the power—which is triggered by a senior police officer, but a police officer none the less—effectively to change the criminal law in an area for the period in which that power is triggered. In that particular part of town, there is effectively a suspicionless stop and search zone. We are often talking about urban areas, and areas with a very high density of people from certain communities. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, can correct me if I am wrong. Within that area, young black men in particular know that that is a stop and search zone. Their first encounters with the police service are often very negative.
Because of the rise of the internet, mobile phone use and videos of incidents, this material is now there to be viewed. I have seen some very disturbing scenes of quite young boys being stopped and searched, without suspicion, on streets not many miles from here. These young boys and men do not have the protections that they have post-arrest in the police station. Arrest is based on reasonable suspicion. Officers usually stop a young man. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave the statistics. If you are a young black man you are many more times likely to be stopped and searched than if you are a young white woman, let alone a middle-aged woman like me.
Sometimes officers will be situated in a particular place. I understand their reasons. They are worried about knife use, for example. Some young men are being stopped on a routine basis. Sometimes big, burly officers make a human wall around a boy of perhaps 13 or 14 years-old. I have seen the pictures. People in that community—bystanders, if it happens in the daytime—will be trying to remonstrate with the officers. They will be held back. This young man—13, 14 or 15 years-old —is having his first encounter with the authorities. He is frightened. He is behind this human wall of big, burly officers. There is not even reasonable suspicion that he has done something wrong.
It seems to me that this is very dangerous—and it is not an occasion where I can even blame the police. It is an occasion when I have to look to the statute book itself, because this is about legislators, not police officers. I have been critical in other debates, and I am afraid that I will have to be critical about some decisions that the police have made. But this is a legislative problem, because legislators from both major parties have allowed this regime to be triggered for suspicionless stop and search, and it has created problems over many years. It really is time to address this.
This seems like a radical probing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but if Section 60 were removed from the statute book, what would be the consequence? There would still be ordinary, democratic, rule of law-based powers to stop and search with reasonable suspicion. That is a fairly low threshold in any event, I would argue, but this ability and power to designate particular areas—everybody knows where those areas are and who is affected in them—would go. I cannot think of a more positive signal and progressive step for any Government, any party and any legislator who cares about race relations in this country, and cares about rebuilding trust in policing and the rule of law.
So once more I find myself thanking the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I feel that I will do so again a few more times in this Committee.
My Lords, I have some questions for the Government on Amendment 129, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
Drugs policy and the drugs trade have come up in our debates on this Bill as part of the debate on the serious violence reduction duty, particularly regarding child exploitation and county lines. It will come up again shortly when we look at the groups of amendments on road safety and dangerous driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. There is a complexity of links in multiple areas of policy, be they poverty, health or criminal justice. On the serious violence reduction duty, the Government’s stated aim is to reduce serious violence through a public health approach. So my question to the Minister is: what work is being done alongside those plans to look at a coherent public health approach to drugs policy? As with serious violence, there needs to be a focus on what reduces harm, not just what deals with the symptoms.
Amendment 129 is specifically about removing the power of the police to search people for drugs for personal use only. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave a very informative history lesson, if you like, on his part in the “no arrest” policy in Brixton. I thought I might update what he was saying with my perception as a magistrate who sits in criminal and youth courts in London. I can say with reasonable confidence that I very rarely see in front of me, for the possession of class B drugs alone, either a youth or an adult who is of good character. I really cannot remember the last time I saw that in a court in which I was sitting. In my experience, when that is charged, other matters are charged as well, or the amount of drugs found on the person is at a much higher level but, nevertheless, the CPS chooses to charge that person only with possession rather than possession with intent to supply. Nevertheless, it is an interesting amendment, and the noble Lord raised a number of interesting points about the appropriateness of that power of the police under Amendment 129.
I turn to Amendment 276, which would repeal Section 60 of suspicionless stop and search. Obviously, we have concerns about how stop and search is used, but we do not support a blanket repeal of this power. I will make a few general comments. We will debate this again when we get to Part 10.
Over the past eight years the Government have moved from a position where the Home Secretary—Theresa May at the time—sought to limit stop and search powers significantly, including restricting the use of Section 60, to the current position, which supports extending suspicionless stop and search and making it easier to use. What has changed? What different picture of policing and the use of these powers has led the current Government to come to such different conclusions? Can the Minister provide the Committee with statistics on the success of intelligence-led searches compared with Section 60 searches? The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave some statistics, which I tried to jot down and which seemed to show a fairly stark difference between the success of the two types of stop and search. I do not know whether the Government have their own figures. What are the Government actively doing to reduce the disproportionate use of this power against black and ethnic minority communities? Both my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave statistics on that.
As Home Secretary, Theresa May raised issues around police training and fitness to use stop and search powers, and improving transparency, recording and public accountability for police decisions on stop and search. Can the Minister update the Committee on how this work is being advanced?
I agreed with a lot of what my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, especially her comment that this is not a particularly partisan issue: it is one that all sides of the House want to get right. Stop and search is not new. I was brought up in central London, in Notting Hill. When I was a teenager I lost track of the number of times that my friends and I were stopped and searched by police officers. It did not worry us because we were not intimidated in any way—but we were stopped very regularly by police officers. I absolutely accept that I came from a community that was not intimidated by the police. So it is not a new technique. It is, however, one that alienates communities, which is a central point that other noble Lords have made, and it needs to be handled very carefully.
I will make one further point. I have sat on a number of appeals concerning stop and search processes in the Crown Court. We look at the police process, which I understand is known as “Go wisely”, to see whether they have followed each element of the stop and search process. It is interesting that the advent of body-worn video cameras has changed the dynamics of stop and search. It has not necessarily reduced the suspicion of those who are stopped and searched, but as far as I can see the way it is managed by the police has changed. Nevertheless, this is a very sensitive issue and I will listen to the Minister’s response with interest.
Could I put an ethical and constitutional question to my noble friend, who is both an experienced parliamentarian and a magistrate? When I go to the airport, I understand that I shall be subject to some search, and I have no problem with that—first, because I understand that an airport is a very sensitive place and, secondly, because everybody will be subject to the same search as me. Therefore, I feel no disgruntlement. Equally, with ordinary stop and search powers, if I am stopped and searched on reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence, I may know that I am completely innocent but I shall understand that I have been stopped and searched on reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence.
What is the ethical and constitutional justification for stop and search without suspicion, when everybody is not stopped and searched, as at the airport? If not a suspect and if not everybody, who then? My fear is that, subject to the answer that my noble friend—and, I hope, in due course, the Minister—will give, the answer is that that in-between stop and search, a suspicion under Section 60-type stop and search, is almost inevitably an arbitrary and therefore potentially discriminatory stop and search.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a very interesting speech. For about the first 40 years of my life, I lived in north-west London and—on this discrimination point—I have never been stopped and searched by the police. I have had my vehicle stopped a few times, but I can perfectly well understand why the police did it. So it is quite an interesting point on discrimination.
My noble friend asked me a very interesting question, but I am not sure that I can answer it. I suppose that the short answer is that I am very conscious that this is a divisive issue and one that the police themselves have strong views on. They do not agree with each other—I have certainly heard a range of views within the police about its effectiveness or its blanket use being ineffective. I think that the answer is that the Government need to look at this issue very sensitively and be very aware of the distrust that it breeds within communities, particularly ethnic minority communities.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining the amendments, which relate to stop and search powers. We can always rely on him to share his experience on the ground. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his very thoughtful contribution at the end.
Amendment 129 seems to be a step in the direction of decriminalising drug possession, but I do not think that the noble Lord has ever disguised his wish to see that happen—ditto, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. As the noble Lord will know, this Government have no intention of decriminalising drug possession. Our approach on drugs remains clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.
The noble Lord gave the statistic from Matt Parr saying that 63% of searches were for drugs. He is absolutely right on that. We make no secret of our intention to disrupt drug markets, because that is often part of the police’s strategy for tackling serious violence, and possession searches may come in response from reports from CCTV or the public or from factors that officers more obviously encounter on patrol, such as drug transactions. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seemed to reflect that in talking about the types of issues that he sees in the magistrates’ courts.
There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that controlled drugs are harmful and can damage people’s mental and physical health, and our wider communities. The decriminalisation of drugs in the UK would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities. I bet that everyone in your Lordships’ House can think of someone who has been affected. The police therefore have a wide range of powers at their disposal to deal with drug-related offences, including the powers to search and obtain evidence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. How the police choose to pursue investigations is an operational decision for chief constables, but we are clear that we expect them to enforce the law.
I return to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about what we are doing to assist young people away from drugs. He will know that we invested tens of millions of pounds in the National County Lines Coordination Centre; he will also know that we do not wish to criminalise young people—our prime aim is to move them away from a life of drugs and some of the criminal activity that can sit alongside it.
On Amendment 276, the police should have the powers they need to keep the public safe and combat serious violence while ensuring that these powers are used fairly and within the law. The Government fully support the police in the fair use of stop and search to crack down on violent crime and protect communities. It is only right that these powers are used to stand firm against criminals who break the law.
Every knife taken off our streets is a potential life saved. While I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his statistics, I will give some of my own. In 2019-20, stop and search removed over 11,000 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in over 74,000 arrests. Crime statistics have previously shown that increasing proactive policing such as stop and search is helping the police find more knives and arrest more criminals.
That said, the noble Lord is right to highlight the vital importance of ensuring that officers are using their powers based on intelligence and legitimacy, to ensure that the rights of the individual are upheld. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives police the powers to stop and search individuals or vehicles, in anticipation of or after an incident of serious violence, to find offensive weapons or dangerous instruments. They do not need grounds to suspect that the person or vehicle is carrying these items.
Because of its suspicionless nature, the use of Section 60 must be limited in geographical scope and duration, and must be authorised by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. That is to ensure that these powers are used proportionately and only where necessary. PACE Code A sets out that use of Section 60 should be authorised only where there is a reasonable belief that serious violence may occur, and that this should be based on objective factors and led by intelligence. The authorising officer should communicate this intelligence to officers on the ground. When carrying out searches under a Section 60 authorisation, officers should search only individuals likely to be involved, having regard to the intelligence that led to the Section 60 being authorised.
Section 60 searches make up a tiny proportion of the stops and searches carried out by police officers: in the last year they were just 3% of all searches carried out. Despite its low level of use, the police tell us it is a vital tool to tackle serious violence. These powers can also act as a deterrent to prevent offenders carrying weapons, by increasing the perceived risk of detection.
That is why the Government announced, as part of the beating crime plan in July this year, the relaxation of the five voluntary restrictions on the use of Section 60. This follows a two-year pilot during which we gathered and analysed data from forces and community scrutiny leads on their perception of the changes, which told us that officers felt more confident using Section 60 during the pilot, and that the relaxations better reflected the operational reality of policing and the pressures and conditions officers face on the ground. It also showed that many forces had implemented their own best practices to reassure themselves internally that this power was being used legitimately and with accountability.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pressed me on this and I will say that there are a number of legal safeguards, including statutory codes of practice and the use of body-worn video, to ensure that officers are accountable during a search, including any conducted under the powers in the Misuse of Drugs Act. We publish extensive data on these powers, which allow police and crime commissioners and others to hold forces to account. HMICFRS also inspects force level disparities and the use of stop and search as part of its regular inspection programme. I assure the Committee that no one should be subject to the use of stop and search powers based on their race or ethnicity, and that safeguards exist to prevent this.
As part of our Section 60 pilot, the Government asked the College of Policing to update its stop and search guidance to ensure fair and proportionate use. The updated guidance was published in July 2020 and provides best-practice examples for forces to use on community engagement and scrutiny. We expect that forces will follow the guidance in their use of the powers. The Government will always give the police the tools they need to tackle serious violence and other crimes, and I do not think it is in the best interests of public safety to repeal these important powers. I hope that, with those words, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, will she briefly address the question I put to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, because I think it is crucial to what a legitimate use of Section 60 looks like. If I am a young man who feels I might be particularly affected by this, and after a crime there is an area that has been designated and cordoned off and everybody is being stopped and searched when they enter those two streets—like at the airport—I can understand that. Similarly, if I am stopped and searched under “reasonable suspicion” powers, I understand: I may be innocent, but there is a reasonable suspicion that I meet the profile of the suspect, or I have otherwise given rise to suspicion in my conduct. But how is Section 60 ever to be used in a way that is not arbitrary, and therefore most likely discriminatory? Why have I been targeted for a suspicionless search? How can I be legitimately targeted for a suspicionless search?
Of course, Section 60 is based on local policing intelligence in specific local areas. The noble Baroness has already pointed that out. I have talked about the safeguards, including statutory codes of practice, the use of body-worn video and external scrutiny; I will also talk about the use of data. The Home Office collects more data on stop and search than ever before. The data is published online, allowing local scrutiny groups, PCCs and others to hold forces to account and we discuss it with the relative NPCC leads in forces to understand why disparities occur, if they occur. HMICFRS inspects forces’ stop and search data annually, and extensive data is also published to increase trust and transparency. So, there are a number of things on which we test ourselves and are scrutinised to ensure that stop and search is not being used in an illegal and discriminatory way.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister did not disappoint me, because she mentioned the phrase “operational independence” for the police. Would she be entirely content if a local police commander decided that he or she was not going to have their officers do stop and search unless they thought it was absolutely essential?
It is part of that operational independence of the police that they know what is best for their area; therefore, it might be relevant for police forces in a certain area not to have much occasion for the use of Section 60 stop and search.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Chakrabarti, for their support for these amendments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that the issue of drugs is very complex: it needs a complex approach and stop and search of this nature is not the way to go. When I suggested to the commissioner that we did not arrest people for cannabis in Lambeth, former MP Ann Widdecombe accused me of usurping the power of Parliament: she cannot accuse me of that now.
Turning to the response of the Minister, almost her whole argument around Amendment 129 was an argument against decriminalisation, yet this amendment does not call for the decriminalisation of personal possession of drugs. It is all about focusing the police on serious crime, rationing scarce police resources by focusing them on what is really important to communities and to the courts. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that he rarely saw anybody in front of him for possession, particularly of class B drugs, unless by chance—usually it is when the police find cannabis when they have arrested the person for something else. They are there for the substantive offence and they get charged for the cannabis as well, for example.
The noble Baroness talked about the harm caused by drugs. Why, then, are new psychoactive substances not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act not an offence? Why is personal possession of psychoactive substances not illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act, if drugs cause so much harm? Why is alcohol not illegal when we look at the harm that alcohol causes? But we are not talking here about decriminalisation; we are talking about getting the police to focus on what is important. As far as Section 60 is concerned, I support stop and search. I have said how important stop and search—properly focused, acting on community intelligence and focusing on those who are suspected of carrying and using knives—is, and how important Section 60 is.
The Minister talked about the figures between 2019 and 2020 and the number of weapons that stop and search removed. This is not an argument about removing the power of the police to stop and search; it is about focusing intelligence-led stop and search on taking knives off the street to be even more effective. The figures that the noble Baroness gave about the number of weapons taken off the street, I assume, are not weapons found by using Section 60. If Section 60 searches were only 3% of all searches, and only 1%—one in a hundred—of Section 60 searches find a weapon, then the figures that the noble Baroness quoted cannot possibly be about Section 60. Why is she using figures about stop and search generally when the amendment she was addressing is about Section 60? It is a blunt instrument.
The noble Baroness is right; it has to be an inspector who authorises a Section 60. Until a couple of years ago, it was a superintendent who had to authorise a Section 60. That is why there has been a 2,800% increase in the number of times Section 60 orders are issued, and that is why Section 60 is so ineffective, with only one in 100 searches resulting in a weapon, and why it is so damaging to police-community relations, which are essential to tackling serious violence.
The noble Baroness said no one should be stopped and searched based on their race. You are 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 if you are black than if you are white. The two things do not add up. Of course nobody should be searched on the basis of their race, but the facts are that you are 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than if you are white. That is why Section 60 is so damaging and so ineffective. That is why I brought this amendment but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 129.
Amendment 129 withdrawn.
130: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of candour
(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months after this Act comes into force—(a) consult such persons as they consider appropriate, and(b) lay before both Houses of Parliament a report regarding the matters in subsection (2).(2) Those matters are means of achieving a culture of transparency in police forces and prosecuting authorities in England and Wales including a statutory duty of candour in their dealings with the victims of crime and the relatives of victims of crime.(3) The proposed duty is subject to any exemption required in the interests of national security.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is based on a recommendation from the Report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, to create a statutory duty of candour to be owed by law enforcement agencies to victims and their families.
There is no rest for the wicked. I rise to move Amendment 130 in my name and support Amendment 132A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which seeks to achieve similar things.
I must first declare an interest. When I was a deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police—the equivalent of a deputy chief constable—I told the truth about a misleading statement made to the News of the World by the then commissioner of the Metropolitan Police about the shooting dead of the innocent Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, by the police in 2005. Another senior officer leaked to the BBC the content of the statement I had made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was investigating a complaint by the family of the deceased that the police had misled the public. In response, the Metropolitan Police issued a press release saying it knew the officer who had given evidence to the IPCC and what he said—what I said—was not true.
The deputy commissioner at the time tried to bully me into issuing a press statement saying that I was mistaken. Instead, I instructed solicitors to threaten to sue the Metropolitan Police if it did not retract its press statement which effectively called me a liar; I was not the easiest senior officer to manage, as noble Lords can probably work out. The Metropolitan Police withdrew the press release and paid my legal fees. The IPCC subsequently confirmed what I had told it was true, but the die was cast; I was subsequently forced out of the police service for telling the truth. I think it is important for the Committee to know where I am coming from when I talk about this issue.
My amendment is based on the recommendation in the Report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel to create
“a statutory duty of candour to be owed by … law enforcement agencies”
to victims and their families. The Daniel Morgan Independent Panel was announced by the former Home Secretary Theresa May on 10 May 2013 to address questions arising from and relating to police involvement in the murder of Daniel Morgan; the role played by police corruption in preventing those responsible for the murder being brought to justice; the failure to confront that corruption; the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists; and the alleged corruption involved in the links between them.
It is not possible or necessary to go into all the findings of the independent panel, but I want to give two examples. First, the Metropolitan Police admitted on more than one occasion that police corruption had impacted on bringing those responsible for Daniel Morgan’s murder to justice, but when asked by the independent panel what that corruption was, and what impact it had had, the Metropolitan Police refused to provide an answer. This is even though Tim Godwin, the then acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had made a formal admission of corruption on behalf of the Metropolitan Police at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority. The Metropolitan Police’s response to the panel was, “You’ll have to ask him what he meant.”
Secondly, at every stage following the initial investigation of the murder, the Metropolitan Police maintained that the initial murder investigation had been carried out in accordance with the standards of murder investigation at that time. It was only seven years after the independent panel was formed that the Metropolitan Police made the panel aware of the existence of the London Homicide Manual, which set out the standards expected of murder investigations at the time of Daniel Morgan’s murder. This document proved that the initial investigation was not, in fact, carried out in accordance with the standards expected at the time. Such a lack of frankness, candour and honesty is a disgrace that these amendments seek to address.
Noble Lords will recognise that the cover-up is often more damaging to an organisation than the initial misconduct, which almost inevitably emerges. This does not appear to be a lesson the police have learned. Policing in this country is based on consent and on the public having trust and confidence in the police. The public are the eyes and ears of the police, prepared to dial 999 when they see something suspicious and to be witnesses in court. Many senior police officers wrongly believe that covering up misconduct helps preserve the trust and confidence that is essential for the police to operate effectively.
In response to the debate on Monday, the Minister said:
“In February 2020 we amended regulations—this is an important aspect—to ensure that police officers are under a duty to co-operate as witnesses with investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings under the revised standards of professional behaviour. They are guilty of a disciplinary offence if they fail to do so.”—[Official Report, 1/11/21; col. 1095.]
The Daniel Morgan Independent Panel found:
“There was not insignificant obstruction to the Panel’s work … the Metropolitan Police did not approach the Panel’s scrutiny with candour, in an open, honest and transparent way”.
Bearing in mind that the panel’s report was not published until June 2021, almost 18 months after the regulations changed, can the Minister tell the Committee, following on from her remarks on Monday, why no officer has faced disciplinary action?
Last week Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, Sir Tom Winsor, warned MPs about a “culture of colleague protection” within police forces. He gave an example; I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who told the Committee what that example was. Let me give my own example.
I was a police commander at the time, the equivalent rank of assistant chief constable, and I stood in for an absent colleague on an initial gold group to consider the impact on the reputation of the Metropolitan Police of an allegation made by a junior female police officer that she had been raped by her superintendent. She had not reported the incident for fear it would damage her career—a telling comment on the culture—but she had confided in female colleagues when they were all on a residential training course away from London and her colleagues had reported it.
The expert female officers from Operation Sapphire, who specialised in rape investigation at that time, told the gold group that complainants often changed their minds given support, and so it transpired. After I had handed the matter back to my colleague, the Sapphire officers told me that the female officer had changed her mind and she was prepared to support a police misconduct hearing to prevent the superintendent abusing his authority again, although she did not want to support a criminal trial. They also told me that, instead of a misconduct hearing, the superintendent had been allowed to retire from the police service with no action being taken against him, on a full pension. When I confronted the then deputy commissioner about the case, he said it was “complicated”.
On Sunday, a leader in the police service wrote in the Sunday Times that
“we have to accept that we have a problem, as only then can we deal with it … We must demonstrate not only through our words, but also through our actions, that sexism and misogyny have absolutely no place in the police service … Doing nothing is not an option.”
That was not a senior police officer, who have generally denied there is a problem—whether with racism, sexism, or misogyny. I quoted the words of John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who represents rank and file officers up to and including the rank of chief inspector.
That is why these amendments are so important. That is why there needs to be a statutory duty of candour. If not, the culture of cover-up, back covering and misogyny will persist in the police service. I am told that a statutory duty of candour was introduced for the National Health Service and its effect was transformational, so why not for the police service? We have been slightly less ambitious in our amendment than the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in allowing the Home Secretary 12 months to consult on this issue and bring forward legislation, but this needs to be addressed urgently. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for introducing this group and referring to his personal experiences on the issue we are debating. The amendment in my name would likewise establish a statutory duty of candour on the police workforce and is similar in effect to that he moved. It would create a statutory duty on law enforcement to act at all times in the public interest and with transparency, candour and frankness, and to assist in court proceedings, official inquiries and investigations where its activities, including omissions, may be relevant. I will be brief because the Committee is already familiar with this issue and I do not intend to repeat everything that has just been said by the noble Lord.
In his 2017 report on the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families, Bishop James Jones proposed a duty of candour to address
“the unacceptable behaviour of police officers—serving or retired—who fail to cooperate fully with investigations into alleged criminal offences or misconduct.”
As has already been said, in June this year, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel recommended
“the creation of a statutory duty of candour to be owed by all law enforcement agencies to those whom they serve”.
The chair of the panel, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, said in this House that
“the creation of the duty of candour in matters such as this is vital for the integrity and effectiveness of policing”.—[Official Report, 22/6/21; col. 134.]
The report of the independent panel was frankly withering on the events that had influenced its recommendation. My thoughts, and I am sure those of all in the House, are with the Morgan family and the Hillsborough families, who have shown such courage and been denied justice for some three decades.
When the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report was published, the shadow Home Secretary called on the Government to publish a detailed timetable for when the report’s recommendations would be implemented, and called for urgent action on the long-overdue establishment of a duty of candour. In answer to questions in June from Members on all Benches of this House, the Minister responded that the Government were considering the duty of candour as part of their response to Bishop James Jones’s report and wanted to engage with the families before publishing a response. In the House of Commons, the Home Secretary said of the duty of candour that
“work is taking place across Government on how those wider issues will be addressed, but, at the same time, there is absolutely no justification for delay.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/21; col. 130.]
We now have before us a flagship home affairs and justice Bill from this Government in which they have found space to prioritise offences against statues and being noisy while protesting. Where is the prioritisation of the reforms needed in light of these failures of justice? What engagement has occurred with the Hillsborough families and the family of Daniel Morgan since June? Can the Minister confirm tonight that the Government will accept the recommendation for the duty of candour? How developed are the Government’s plans to bring forward reform, and when can Parliament expect to see legislation?
It is for the Government to ensure and prove to both the families and the public that these appalling failures of justice can never happen again. Frankly, it is time for the Government to cease dithering; it is time for the Government to act.
My Lords, I congratulate the Lib Dem and Labour Front Benches on tabling these amendments. I had to laugh when I saw them, because you sort of assume you can expect duty of candour; it really should not have to be emphasised in the way that it has been here.
I have had a number of clashes—perhaps I should say experiences—with the police not exercising candour in situations where they really ought to have done. Examples include freedom of information requests, subject action requests, legal proceedings, police complaints and the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The end result of all these processes, which others have gone through as well, has been a great deal of frustration and anger and very little progress. I trusted the police less; I am sure most people would find this to be their experience. Rather than feeling that wrongdoing had been put right and the truth exposed, I felt there were cover-ups.
Obviously, if we pass this amendment, we ought to expect candour in the other place as well, but I feel that would be a step too far. I am afraid that the Government are not very honest—in fact, they are duplicitous. The Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson—talked earlier about what they have done today as being morally right, but I think that is absolutely wrong. It is wrong of him even to say that; it was not morally right. Coming back to the amendment, I say that a duty of candour is something we ought to expect from our Government, but we absolutely cannot. Therefore I am not very optimistic about these amendments, but the Government really should put them in the Bill.
My Lords, I am more optimistic about these amendments than the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and want to help her find some optimism. However, I first pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I feel that his speech is historic and will be remembered in this country for a very long time. It must have been so hard to make; we all know that it is hard to speak out of turn in general, but it is particularly hard when you are speaking about your own profession, service, career and friends. I hope that Members across this Committee will share that tribute to him.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me—he has trailed this already—that in terms of these amendments we have to prefer that tabled by my noble friend Lord Rosser. I congratulate my noble friend on not just his speech but this amendment, which was no doubt prepared with his colleagues and team. This is why I am optimistic. I do not believe that the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—is unsympathetic on this issue. There is not really a problem with something like the amendment proposed by my noble friend, not least because he anticipates the potential challenges that might come the other way. For example, there is of course a need to protect privacy, data protection and national security. Any duty of candour would have to be subject to those things, but my noble friend has already done so much of the thinking. The Minister also has the considerable resources and expertise of government, the government legal service and parliamentary counsel at her disposal, but I remind her that the Daniel Morgan review was commissioned by a Conservative Home Secretary, who had been and gone as Prime Minister before the review was published, with its excoriating comments, some of which I repeated on Monday evening.
On the duty of candour, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is right. We think that one should not have to legislate for duties of candour, and yet, in certain professions in particular, these things are so important that they must be legislated for. It is about making it clear that there is not just a duty to protect the body corporate and the organisation itself but a supervening duty to a wider public interest or the interests of justice. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, said specifically in her remarks in the summer that she felt that at times the Metropolitan Police behaved as if the review panel was like a hostile litigant and not a review set up by the Minister’s own department—the Home Office—and, by the time it reported, a former Prime Minister.
Frankly, the argument made by noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was devastating. On Monday, when I argued for a statutory inquiry in relation to Sarah Everard, the Minister replied that one of the arguments against me was that rules had been changed and police officers were now under a greater professional duty to co-operate. But the devastating argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, today—which I was not aware of—was that this has been there for some time and there is still non-compliance.
So I plead with the Minister, first, to think again about the statutory inquiry with powers of compulsion and, secondly, to look at my noble friend Lord Rosser’s amendment in particular, because it is not too difficult to create a statutory as well as professional duty of candour on the police—something like he has proposed. Parliamentary draftsmen will do even better, I am sure, and my noble friend has already done the thinking about the need to think about privacy, data protection and national security.
My Lords, I, too, support these amendments. The statutory duty of candour is vital not just to affect the culture of the police and enhance public confidence in policing but to give confidence to those police officers who face enormous internal pressures from their colleagues not to be candid. They need support; they need a statutory regime they can point to in order to justify to their colleagues what is required.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, quoted some of what the Home Secretary said in answering questions in the House of Commons on 15 June, and I will quote one other statement she made. She was specifically asked by Yvette Cooper about the duty of candour, and her response was that
“there is absolutely more to do here.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/21; col. 132.]
I very much hope the Government will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but, if they do not, what more are they going to do in this area?
I rise briefly to support both amendments. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, looks at this from the position of the victim. It is, of course, right to acknowledge the huge progress that has been made over the last 20 or so years in improving the position of the victim—but we have not got to the end of the road. The important point of his amendment is that it gives further protection to the victim at two important stages: first, where things have gone wrong and there is an inquiry, and secondly and much more importantly, in the victim exercising the right of review where there has been a failure to prosecute. It seems to me, therefore, that the duty of candour is yet another step in putting the victim—as is so often said by politicians on both sides—at the heart of the criminal justice system.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, looks at this from a broader perspective, which encompasses the position of the defendant and the greater public interest. We should think of experiences over the years. One can go back, for example, to a problem that arose in Tiger Bay in Cardiff over 30 years ago, where the inquiry into the Lynette White murder investigation went on and on. One cannot help feeling that, if there had been a duty of candour, it would have brought that very damaging case to an end.
I say nothing about the undercover policing inquiry as it is still ongoing, but it seems that there is ample evidence that we need to enshrine this duty of candour to protect the position of the defendant and the wider public interest by making it absolutely clear that the police owe that duty—and they should be grateful to have that duty imposed on them, because we need to restore, above all, confidence in our constabularies.
My Lords, I support these amendments as well. I look at the situation from an unusual perspective and with the unusual experience of sitting as the senior judge in Scotland in a criminal appeal. It was a case of murder, and I was not able—because I was sitting in a court where all the evidence was already out—to develop what was at the back of my mind, which was that the police had identified the wrong individual, who was then accused and convicted. I will not go into the facts of the case for obvious reasons, but it struck me that the court at that late stage was powerless to deal with what I thought had not been a frank and fair police investigation. I make that point simply because stages are reached where the situation is beyond recall, but I was deeply disturbed by what had happened in that case and could not do anything about it. So I welcome the steps that are being taken to improve the standard of candour among the police at all stages in the investigation of crime and its aftermath.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for once again sharing his experiences with the Committee in moving his amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for tabling his. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, summed it up very well: we have not got to the end of the road. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, also challenged me about what the Government are going to do. I hope I can explain to both noble Lords how we are going to get to the end of the road and what we are going to do.
Noble Lords have rightly highlighted the very important fact of transparency within police forces and prosecuting authorities when dealing with victims of crime and their families. I totally agree with noble Lords about the importance of placing this at the heart of engaging and supporting victims and their families and, as we have talked about so much over the last week or so, the importance of regaining trust in the system.
There are a number of areas where the Government have already made progress and where work is ongoing to improve integrity and transparency in policing. In relation to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, it is worth highlighting the introduction of the College of Policing’s statutory code of ethics in 2014, which makes clear the requirement on all officers to act within their powers and with integrity.
In February last year, we amended the policing standards of professional behaviour to make it clear that failing to co-operate as witnesses in investigations and inquiries can be a disciplinary matter. This means that there is now a clear framework in place to hold officers to account where they fail to reach the high standards the public expect of them. Ultimately, a significant breach can mean that an officer is dismissed and placed on the barred list. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly asked me why no officer had been disciplined following the Daniel Morgan independent panel. The IOPC is still considering that, so we could still get a call-in referral. On the failure to co-operate, those regulations have been in force since February 2020, so anything before that would be difficult to enforce.
I turn to the concept of a duty of candour. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I pay tribute to the bereaved families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster, who have campaigned for a statutory requirement for candour in public life. This idea, as noble Lords have said, was also endorsed by the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel as a means of ensuring that law enforcement agencies are fully transparent with the public.
It is absolutely right that the Government carefully consider the arguments made around the duty of candour. This is not the first discussion we have had about it in this Chamber. There is ongoing work across government, and we continue to work closely with our partners to carefully consider all the points of learning in Bishop James Jones’s report concerning the bereaved Hillsborough families’ experiences and from the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report. Before we respond to Bishop James Jones’s report, we believe it is important that the families have an opportunity to share their views, as it is critical that the lessons that can be learned from their experiences are not lost. We hope to do that as soon as is practicable. The Home Secretary has committed to updating Parliament in due course on the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report.
I fully understand and empathise with the interest in the introduction of the duty of candour. The Government have already made significant changes to ensure that officers can be disciplined if they mislead the public, and we are committed to properly consider and respond to the recommendations for a duty of candour, as highlighted in Bishop James Jones’s report.
I hope that, having had the opportunity to debate this and given the work that is ongoing, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for reminding us of the resilience and suffering of the Hillsborough victims’ families and of the Morgan family, and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Chakrabarti. I too prefer the noble Lord’s amendment; we tabled ours first. We need to address this issue.
The Minister said that this is not the first time that we have had a discussion about the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report and the duty of candour, but it is the first time that we have had an opportunity to do something about it. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, very disappointing that the Government did not take the opportunity of this Bill, which is so obviously the vehicle that should be used to get a statutory duty of candour on to the statute book. I hope the noble Lord will bring back his amendment on Report, so that we can divide the House on this very important issue, because this needs to happen. Wherever you look, this is urgently needed, whether we talk about Hillsborough, Daniel Morgan or what is happening in the Metropolitan Police at the moment—even yesterday, officers were convicted of offences.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, raised the very important point about support for officers. I am still regarded as a traitor by some in the police service because I told the truth about what happened after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, spoke powerfully about the need to protect victims, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, gave his own worrying example of the need for better, greater candour on the behalf of the police.
We will come back to this on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 130.
Amendment 130 withdrawn.
131: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Section 67A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (voyeurism: additional offences) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).(2) After subsection (2), insert—“(2A) A person (A) commits an offence if—(a) A records an image of another person (B) while B is breastfeeding;(b) A does so with the intention that A or another person (C) will look at the image for a purpose mentioned in subsection (3), and(c) A does so—(i) without B’s consent, and(ii) without reasonably believing that B consents.”(3) In subsection (3), for “subsections (1) and (2)” substitute “subsections (1), (2) and (2A)”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would extend the definition of voyeurism in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to make it an offence to take a photograph or video of a person breastfeeding without that person's consent.
My Lords, this amendment is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Cumberlege and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I am grateful to all of them for their support.
This amendment seeks to provide protection for mothers from being photographed or videoed without their consent while breastfeeding their babies. I suspect that few Members of the House will have been aware that such unpleasant, intrusive and distressing behaviour takes place at all, and will be surprised that it is not actually an offence. I suspect that even fewer would seek to defend what the then Minister, Victoria Atkins, described in Committee in another place as
“this unacceptable, creepy and disgusting behaviour”.—[Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 24/6/21; col. 748.]
Ms Atkins paid tribute in that debate to the many women who have shared their experiences and distress, and their demands for a change in the law in recent months, as do I.
I particularly congratulate Julia Cooper, who began the campaign for a change in the law after her own experience, and initiated a petition that has now been signed by over 30,000 people and supported by organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust, La Leche League and Mumsnet. Her experience was this: during a visit to a park in Greater Manchester, she noticed a man first staring at her as she fed her baby and then attaching a long-range zoom lens to his camera and taking photographs. She confronted him and asked him to delete the photos. He refused, saying it was his right. She then approached a park warden. He also unsuccessfully asked the man to delete the photos and then said that there was nothing more he could do because the law offered no protection. The response of Greater Manchester Police was exactly the same: sympathetic but powerless. Other women have come forward with similar stories and described how deeply distressing and violating an experience it has been, and their shock at having no recourse when their privacy has been invaded in this way.
This amendment therefore seeks to provide protection and a remedy for individuals affected by this unpleasant behaviour, and to deter and, if necessary, punish those who perpetrate it. But the context is not simply a matter of protecting the individual. Successive Governments have supported and protected women who breastfeed their babies, and continue to promote this public good. The Department of Health encourages women who can and choose to do so to breastfeed their babies because it brings powerful public, as well as individual, health benefits. Only last week, the Chancellor allocated £50 million to support breastfeeding in his package of help for young babies and young families. The Equality Act protects breastfeeding mothers from discrimination in employment and the provision of services. So it is illegal for a cafe owner to refuse to serve a breastfeeding mother, but not for a man to hover over her with a camera, videoing her as she feeds her baby in a playground.
Far fewer babies are breastfed in this country compared with many others in Europe and beyond. It is very obvious from repeated surveys on the issue that embarrassment and the logistical difficulty of combining feeding a baby with “normal life” is one of the main deterrents that keeps breastfeeding rates in this country so low, with all the detrimental effects on individual and public health. Failing to sanction unwanted, intrusive photography can only add to women’s reluctance and their fears.
Noble Lords will recall that, in 2019, Parliament took action against another unpleasant, intrusive aggression against women, upskirting, by passing the voyeurism Act. But the provisions of that Act are very narrowly defined and do not protect women in the circumstances we are discussing today. This amendment mirrors the provisions of the 2019 Act by adding the photographing or videoing women breastfeeding without their consent to the list of prohibited acts under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, to which the provisions of the Voyeurism (Offences) Act then apply.
When this issue was discussed in Committee in another place, the Minister did not query the need for action, and obviously shared the disquiet among Members at the present situation. She suggested that the matter could be considered in the strategy on violence against women and girls, but that strategy has now been published without any reference to the issue. Her main argument, however, was that we should wait for the Law Commission, which is reviewing the law around the taking, making and sharing of internet images without consent. That is a very broad subject, and we know how slowly grind the wheels of such a report’s journey to legislation. Even when the Law Commission recommends action, there is no guarantee that it will be agreed. Fewer than 50% of Law Commission reviews commissioned in the past decade have, as yet, led to legislative change. Rather than waiting on a review that may or may not be accepted by the Government after more consultation, and then for a relevant legislative vehicle, we have the chance in this Bill to act on the specific, clearly defined issue and to protect mothers and babies now.
I am ashamed to say that it is nearly 50 years since I first entered Parliament. One thing that I have learned in that time is that legislative time can be as precious a commodity as financial resources. This Bill gives us the opportunity to protect women from the damage and distress that is currently occurring. I hope that the House and the Minister will agree that we should grasp that opportunity. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. I start by thanking the campaigner, Julia Cooper, who the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, quoted earlier, for her extraordinary diligence and campaign and her 30,000-signature petition to Parliament. I also thank the excellent Pregnant Then Screwed charity and Stella Creasy MP for their briefings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has spoken eloquently on the need to add to the offence of voyeurism that of those breastfeeding. I echo her comments on the critical need to encourage mothers to breastfeed for as long as possible—hopefully for a minimum of six months. The truly long-term health benefits to babies are well evidenced, not least in the extra immune protection they are given, lasting for years. It is good that Clause 13(6) of the Equality Act 2010 currently protects breastfeeding women by saying that any business that displays less favourable treatment, or denies a woman access to goods or services, because she is breastfeeding can be in breach of the Act. This has been tested in the courts under the employment discrimination in McFarlane and another v easyJet Airline Company Limited, where the employer did not provide reasonable adjustments for new mothers who returned to work while still breastfeeding. However, there is no protection in itself of the act of breastfeeding, so it cannot be used to require the police or the courts to act to tackle the practice of taking photos or videos without consent.
I was pleased to be a member of the Liberal Democrat team supporting the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, which created the criminal offence of up-skirting. Offenders now face up to two years in jail and being placed on the sex offenders register for taking a picture under a person’s clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks. This law banned the degrading practice, with the intention of deterring perpetrators, better protecting victims and bringing more offenders to justice. As the law specifies the location in the body to which the Act applies as being below the waist, this legislation does not protect those who breastfeed from a similar intrusion. I remind your Lordships’ House that we did not need to wait for a Law Commission to decide whether that Act should go through.
Julia Cooper’s experience, outlined earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is chilling. The 30,000 people who have signed her petition, and the evidence taken from Pregnant Then Screwed, show that this is not an isolated incident. Polling by YouGov in May this year shows that 75% of the public think that breastfeeding voyeurism should be banned. One new mother told Pregnant Then Screwed: “Just a few weeks ago, in my first time out with my new-born, feeding on a park bench, a man walks past, gets a camera out and, pretending to take a photo of something behind as he walks by, the camera tilts down on me. He caught me off guard so I didn’t say at the time, but I am now far more conscious of who is looking and would call them out. But we shouldn’t have to think like this.”
Why should we not follow the recommendation of Victoria Atkins MP, the Government proposal that the ongoing Law Commission review on taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent is the correct vehicle for legislation? This review is currently expected to report in the spring of 2022 and might make recommendations to expand the list of protections under voyeurism legislation, but even this is not guaranteed.
This simple amendment echoes the up-skirting legislation by seeking to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It also uses the language of the 2019 Act and would require consent to photograph or record breastfeeding without prosecution, ensuring that women breastfeeding are given the same protection. If passed as part of this Bill, it would quickly—in legislative terms—give protection to women who breastfeed, without compromising the Law Commission review, which would have time to consider this change, if necessary, in more depth.
It is important to say that the amendment has the support of the National Childbirth Trust, the La Leche League and the Breastfeeding Network. Those of us in favour of the amendment are pleased that the Government think that it is unacceptable for breastfeeding voyeurism to take place. I thank the Minister for that, but will he say why, if the Government support the principle of the amendment, it would be acceptable to delay its implementation for years, which would be the result of taking the Law Commission route? Why not use the route of the up-skirting legislation, which did not have to wait for the Law Commission? I hope that the Minister will be able to support the amendment.
My Lords, with great alacrity, I support the amendment put forward so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The noble Baroness, of course, has had a very distinguished career. We think of her as our first Lord Speaker in this House, but she also has a wide experience in health and other matters beyond. However, I just thought: “Breastfeeding? Why is she coming forward with an amendment on breastfeeding?” Then I understood that, when she was in the House of Commons, she was the first woman in Westminster to breastfeed. That must have taken a lot of courage and I congratulate her on that. Not only that, but, of course, as a Member of Parliament in the Commons, she also had the skills to manage the organisation of her constituency as well as a new baby. We know that new babies can be all-encompassing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I are fellow practitioners in breastfeeding. She has four sons and I have three sons. My aunt had six sons, and I thought that the writing was on the wall: three is plenty. I have to say that they have grown up and they are very nice young men. We, the practitioners of breastfeeding, know that breast is best. There is no argument about it: it is best for babies and best for mothers too. In fact, my husband said to me the other night: “It is best also for us, you know—the partners—because we don’t have to get up at two in the morning to feed the baby.” So he said there was a bonus there.
When I was a junior Minister in your Lordships’ House, I did my very best to promote designer food for babies. That is what we called it. We know that it improves the baby’s immune system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, the heart and circulation, the joints and muscles and much more. It is such an important start to life.
We also know that breastfeeding is important for mothers in the short term. It helps with quicker recovery after birth; the uterus contracts when the woman is breastfeeding. It reduces the amount of bleeding after birth, and urinary tract infections. There are also a lot of longer-term benefits, but I will not go into those tonight. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said in her introduction, it is really a public good. Despite all the positives I have just outlined—and there are many more—the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. I think that is troubling and disappointing.
Six years ago, I was invited by Simon Stevens—later Sir Simon Stevens, now the noble Lord, Lord Stevens—who was the chief executive of NHS England. He invited me to review maternity services for England. I think he had a sense of humour, because he gave us nine months to do the report. We were going around England, listening to women, practitioners, midwives, obstetricians, paediatricians and so on, and we thought: how can we tackle some of this? One of the issues that came up was a programme called “continuity of carer”—the r at the end is important—because all the research, including high-quality research from Oxford and the Cochrane collaboration, shows that continuity of carer provides a safer service for mothers and their babies. Mothers value knowing the same midwife, and possibly her partner as well for when the midwife is on leave. These midwives will look after her during pregnancy and through the birth and provide care afterwards. No woman forgets the birth of her baby; it is a seminal time in her life. Women find it more rewarding, and safer. They know the research; they have told us it. Midwives also know the research and know it is a safer way to work, and that the relationship that is built is crucial to support the mother and the baby.
There are two remarkable midwives who set up independently two different schemes—one in the north of England and one in the south. They provided this care I am talking about. One system was called “one to one”. It is on the tin: it was one to one. That midwife has marked, watched and evaluated the breastfeeding rates of the women on the one-to-one system; and 98% who birthed in her units are breastfeeding. The other one, who set up Neighbourhood Midwives in a very poor part of London, told me that 94% of women who birthed in her unit were breastfeeding. So we know that there are other things you can do to promote it.
I was looking at some of the briefing I had from Stella Creasy MP: it is shameful that in 2015, Public Health England, in its Start4Life programme, found that more than a third of breastfeeding mothers were very shy. They were shy about breastfeeding in public, and that put them off, and they thought that people did not want them to breastfeed. I can remember being on a train, and there was this howling baby. People in the carriage were really upset by this, and the woman very discreetly fed her baby, and we were so relieved. It was terrific. There are ways of doing this.
It is important that we try to block all the different methods that prevent women breastfeeding. This amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is another way of giving confidence to women, of ensuring that they will have the law behind them. She cited the upskirting amendment that went through. This seems to me to be much more important. This is our future generation we are bringing forward. We want this generation to benefit from all I have been talking about on breastfeeding.
I want to say one thing about the Commons debate, because it was interesting. I have a lot of respect for Victoria Atkins, the Minister who answered the debate. It was interesting that she said that
“breastfeeding provides a moment of tenderness, of love, and of innocence. To have a stranger defile that moment by trying to take photographs or video it—that is not something that would occur to most decent, right-thinking people. I very much understand why this new clause has been tabled, and I want to support the mothers and the women who are facing this.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/6/21; col. 748.]
I thought: “That is so encouraging; we are really getting there.” But no. She then said that she would have to wait for the next part being put forward by the Law Commission. I know this House is full of lawyers. This House probably has many lawyers who sit on the commission—I do not know. Forgive me, but I think the commission does not always act at speed. What we really want is some speed on this, because we have a problem. We can sort this problem—or help to sort it. We have this opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, and we should take it, because we need the next generation to have the best start to life, and we know it is in our hands, to some extent. So, I strongly support this amendment.
My Lords, despite being a lawyer, it is a great pleasure to follow three such excellent speeches. I have added my name to this amendment, in part to emphasise what is obvious—that this is a matter of concern not just to women who breastfeed but to men, particularly men who are fathers, husbands and fathers-in-law, all of whom are affected by this subject.
When the Minister replies, I think he will express two concerns about these amendments, unless he is prepared to accept them, which I hope he will. He might say there is a concern that Amendment 131 is too broadly drafted. I do not understand such concern, because the drafting is very simple. It ensures there is a criminal offence only where the woman concerned does not consent and—this is vital—the defendant photographs or videos the breastfeeding for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm.
That is a very limited mischief. It is properly drafted, since it adopts in its definition the ingredients of the offence of upskirting, which is already on the statute book, so it is a confined mischief. There is no question of capturing someone who innocently takes a photograph, and, in the background, there happens to be a woman who is breastfeeding. However, as we are in Committee, if the Minister thinks that the drafting can be improved, I, and the other signatories to this amendment, I am sure, would be very happy to see an improved version.
The other concern, which I know that the Minister will express, and which has already been addressed, is that the Law Commission is due to report on the law relating to intimate image abuse. It had a consultation which closed in May. The report is awaited. We certainly will not see it this year. The Committee may be interested to know that it is a consultation paper that covers 423 pages of material, a wide range of subject matter and complex issues. After the commission reports, sometime next year, there is no possibility of any legislation being brought forward for months, and that is optimistic. Who knows when the Government may reach a conclusion on any of these topics, particularly the specific narrow topic that we are discussing today? Who knows—the Minister does not—when there will next be a legislative opportunity to bring forward proposals such as those promoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman?
It is time to address this because the case for a change in the law on this specific subject is simply overwhelming for all the reasons that the Committee has heard. There is no question of delay here because the conduct is every day causing great distress to the victims. We already have the model legislation in the upskirting provisions that Parliament has approved, which have been enacted and which are working very well.
In July, this Government announced their intention to take steps to protect women from violence and harassment. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, provide an opportunity for the Government, at no financial cost, to take a small but important practical step.
My Lords, I support this Amendment and agree with every word that noble Lords have said. My strong advice to my noble friend the Minister, bearing in mind that this is a policing Bill, is to come quietly. The alternative is to have another 45 minutes on Report, lose a Division and get into ping-pong. It is much easier to agree in due course.
My Lords, I feel quite inadequate. I only have two sons, not six, and two were a handful. Clearly, I am a huge supporter of this amendment, and was completely unaware of somebody wanting to watch someone breastfeed. I am pleased that we are today trying to stop this or at least make it clear that this is beyond the pale.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has given us the A to Z of why this is the right thing to do, but as well as being the right thing for the child, it is the right thing for the mother. I remember really looking forward to breastfeeding my kids because I knew that I would get half an hour of peace and quiet. I put my feet up, sat down and listened to Radio 3 or whatever, and it was quiet and easy. Both my boys were born in the early 1980s. Younger Members may not be aware that as an MP, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, took her young baby into the House so that he would not miss a feed. I do not know if she is aware that this gave my contemporaries an enormous amount of confidence. Breastfeeding in public, albeit discreetly, became acceptable. On trains, I just got used to sticking my baby up my jumper if I wanted to feed him. He would go quiet, and everything would be fine. I am quite surprised that a lot of young women these days tend not to want to breastfeed, particularly if they are working, but I understand the challenges. If you are a working mum with a tiny baby, how do you manage that?
However, this is not a health debate, but a police Bill debate. I am totally in support of the amendment that will stop this abominable voyeurism.
My Lords, we have witnessed a rather remarkable half an hour in the House where an overwhelming case was made. I pay a special tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I thought her case was overwhelming until I heard the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Cumberlege. I then thought, “Goodness me, there are more reasons than those which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has given.” My mind then moved to the possibility of legal difficulties and whoosh, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, came in and dealt with them all.
What is the reason for not doing this? The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, gave two possible reasons. He dealt with what might be the arguments in relation to the breadth of the amendment, and I completely agree, but if the Government have some good reasons for why this amendment should be changed, I am sure that the House will deal with them. The other reason given was the Law Commission. As the person responsible for the Law Commission over a long period of time, over 50% of its reports never see the light of day. It takes a long time to get there.
I ask myself another question. Can you imagine any provision or suggestion that the Law Commission would make which would cut across this amendment? I cannot. I would expect the noble Lord—sadly not the noble and learned Lord—the Minister, to give reasons why this will not happen, because like the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, I was encouraged by the extract that she read of what sounded to be an incredibly understanding speech by Victoria Atkins in the other place, which was then dashed. The Law Commission is manifestly not a legitimate excuse. It should be treated with utter contempt if it is advanced as a reason. From the point of view of the Government, the work has been done by the campaigners, Stella Creasy and the crack squad of amenders that we have just heard from, so it costs the Government nothing to put it into the Bill. There will be some additional costs to the criminal justice system, and the police will deal with a number of cases, though I suspect not many, so there is not much public expenditure. The question for the Minister is: why not?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Attlee indicated that I should come along quietly. I am not going to do that; however, I hope that I will come along realistically and clearly in setting out the Government’s position. There is no dispute in this Committee that the behaviour we are talking about is absolutely abominable and indefensible. I therefore appreciate why a proposed new clause on this distressing subject of breastfeeding voyeurism has been tabled for debate. I start by expressing my unequivocal support for the mothers who have experienced this sort of appalling behaviour.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, we have heard a number of really outstanding speeches, some of which were very personal in terms of people’s history and families. I respectfully endorse the point made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Brinton, that this is not just a matter of protecting privacy or preventing distress; it is also important because we want to promote the very real benefits of breastfeeding. I take all the points made in that regard on board; I also take on board the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on the bonding time—the quiet time, if I can put it that way—that breastfeeding provides. On whether breastfeeding also benefits fathers because we do not have to get up at night, on that I will—if, as a Minister in a UK Government, I am allowed to dip into a foreign legal system for a moment—plead the fifth amendment.
To pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I assure the Committee that, depending on the specific circumstances, it may be possible—I underline “may” because I accept that it will not be possible in all circumstances—to capture this sort of disgusting behaviour under some existing offences, including public order offences and offences dealing with harassment and stalking, along with the common-law offence of outraging public decency. However, this is not a complete answer; I do not put it forward as such. We recognise that the law in this area is not always clear, and that consideration should be given to improving it. That is why we asked the Law Commission to review the law around the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent, to identify whether there are any gaps—or, rather, what the gaps are—in the scope of protection already offered to victims. The review looked specifically at voyeurism offences and non-consensual photography in public places, including whether the recording and sharing of images of breastfeeding should be included in the scope of “intimate” images for the purposes of any reformed criminal law.
However, a change in the law here will not be straightforward. I will explain why in a moment. With an amendment such as the one moved by the noble Baroness, there may be a variety of situations in which it is still not an offence to take a picture of a person breastfeeding. That is why the Law Commission’s review is looking into intent, the definition of “image” and other circumstances relevant to this issue. As the Committee is already aware, the Law Commission’s work has gone at some pace. It obviously has an important eye for detail; that is why it is there. It intends to publish its recommendations by the spring of next year, so we are certainly not trying to kick this ball into the long grass. We are proactively considering what more can be done to tackle this behaviour and protect mothers now, ahead of the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of the law in this area.
However, I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that this issue is clearly defined in her amendment. I want to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, if I may; we have had the benefit of some discussions. A number of points look like drafting points but are not, because they really go to the question of the scope of the proposed amendment and what it is seeking to encompass. Let me give a couple of examples, without turning the Committee into a legislative drafting session. Here is example A; I will try to use the initials from the amendment. A takes a photo of his wife, partner or girlfriend on a beach in her bikini, intending to use that image for his own sexual gratification. Another woman, B, is on the same beach, breastfeeding her baby, and is unintentionally caught by A in the picture. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, but I respectfully suggest that this would be caught by the proposed amendment. A would have no defence as, first, he intended the picture for sexual gratification and recorded the image for that purpose. Secondly, he would have no defence of consent by B because B did not consent. A would also not be able to have the second defence of reasonably believing that she was giving consent because he had no idea at all that she was in the picture.
That is one example, but this goes further than drafting. Let us say that A was aware that B was caught in the background of the photo but was not aware that she was breastfeeding. Again, A would not be able to say that B had consented or that he reasonably believed that she had consented. Further, would an image of someone breastfeeding that did not actually include the act of breastfeeding—for example, a photograph capturing only a breastfeeding mother’s face—be captured under this amendment? What parts of the body, if I can put it that way, would we require the image to capture? As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, explained, this is different from the upskirting offence because the law there condescends to particular parts of the body that must be captured in a photo. Would we wish to capture images taken of breastfeeding regardless of whether it is in a private, semi-private or public setting?
I underline to the Committee that I do not raise these matters as drafting points or to be difficult. On the contrary, it is because this issue is so important that we must get the nature, boundaries and scope of the offence absolutely correct.
Does the Minister accept that his second potential problem would easily be dealt with by a drafting amendment to make it clear that the offence relates to a photograph or video of a breast? It would not be difficult to draft that. In relation to his first concern, which, as I understood it, was that if someone takes a photo of their wife or girlfriend breastfeeding for the purpose of sexual gratification and there is some other woman in the background—oh, I am sorry, have I misunderstood?
Before the Minister answers that question, does he not also agree that we have perhaps seven or eight weeks before we get to Report, so the pettifogging points he is making could plainly be dealt with if we all sat round a table and agreed a draft?
In drafting legislation, the first thing we need to do is make sure that we agree on the nature and scope of the amendment. I have tried to make it clear that I am not putting these points forward as pettifogging points of drafting. There are important points underlining this about what we want the amendment to cover. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was about to rise again; should I give him an opportunity to do so?
It may be thought by the Committee that the first example that the Minister gave was somewhat esoteric and unlikely to occur in practice. The risk of such esoteric events occurring is more than outweighed by the actual mischief that this amendment seeks to address. In any event, the same objections—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, called them pettifogging; that is his word, but I understand why he said that—could well be raised in relation to upskirting, in that pictures could be taken in whose background there is some other unfortunate woman. Perhaps the Minister might wish to reconsider these matters. We would all be happy to sit round a table and agree a draft that meets these points.
My Lords, I have been in your Lordships’ House for nearly 30 years. I have seen plenty of examples where, eventually, the Government have given way on an issue and parliamentary draftsmen have been able to draft far more complex provisions than these.
We are all united in our admiration for the parliamentary counsel and draftsmen, absolutely—there is no doubt about that. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is an habitué of Instagram. If he were, he would appreciate that the example that I have given is far from unlikely: people take photos of their wives or girlfriends or, indeed, of people who they do not know, but who are not breastfeeding, for all sorts of purposes. Under the definition in the amendment at the moment, if a person is caught in the background of a photo breastfeeding, there would be an offence.
That leads to the question: do we want to capture that? Do we want to make it a criminal act? That is not a point of drafting—that is a point of principle. The points that I have put to the Committee I am putting by way of, “We need to draft this”, but that is because there are points of underlying principle, which is why we have a Law Commission to help us in areas such as this.
I am certainly not saying, in answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that it is acceptable to delay for years. I am saying rather that it is critical that we get this right. If the Law Commission had not started its work or was going to report in five years’ time, it would all be different, but the Law Commission is reporting in this area in a matter of months, and I respectfully suggest that the appropriate way in which to proceed here is to see what it says, and then we can get an absolutely first-class piece of legislation in place. So, with respect, I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has spoken in the debate and for the support that has been shown, from all sides of the Committee, for taking action to combat a wrong that everyone accepts should not be allowed to be perpetrated. I have got a law degree, and I do not want to be rude about lawyers—and of course I listened with huge interest and respect to what was, if I may say, a very legalistic response, after the warm words and acceptance in principle on the issue from the Minister. He respectfully suggested to me that the best course was to wait for the Law Commission—he said for a few months. It would be a few months, maybe, for the first round of the Law Commission, but a lot more than a few months before we got the possible legislation.
I respectfully suggest to the Minister that there is another interpretation. We could legislate now and, when we have the Law Commission report on the wider issues, and we are looking at all the esoteric—I think that was the perfect word—examples that he gave, we could then put right anything that was wrong. But in the meantime we would have taken action and, in the meantime, on the 80:20 rule, we would have done a great deal to protect women.
Not all women can breastfeed and not all women want to breastfeed, but those who do deserve the protection of the law. With respect to a possible meeting with the noble Lord between now and Report to try to make this a better amendment in terms of drafting—I take his point about purpose, but I think the Committee knows what the purpose is, and we could get an amendment that would do some good. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 131 withdrawn.
132: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 is amended as follows.(2) Omit section 176 (low-value shoplifting).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause repeals section 176 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, relating to low value shoplifting
My Lords, the purpose of the amendment in my name is to remove Section 176 from the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. With regard to what is affectionately known as shoplifting, it is estimated by the British Retail Consortium that businesses lose £770 million a year to shop theft—and retail theft crimes are rising year on year. According to figures available from the Home Office, there was an overall increase in retail theft of 19.1% between 2014 and 2018, compared with an increase of 4.96% between 2010 and 2014. This is no surprise.
Section 176 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 allows anyone accused of shoplifting anything under £200 to plead guilty by post, as if they had been given a parking ticket. Use of this legislation is often cited as a cost-saving exercise, but the truth is that it does not save money. In fact, it does the opposite, as everyone loses, whether it is customers who end up paying higher prices or the retailers who lose their jobs when the business fails. But it is still being used, with Thames Valley Police for example informing local shops that they will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal less than £100-worth of goods. This piece of legislation has, therefore, massively reduced the deterrent to theft and the punishment that an offender can expect, with many savvy criminals exploiting the situation to steal with virtual impunity.
Just one in 20 of all shoplifting offences are now prosecuted, while the number of cautions for such thefts have fallen from 40,000 to just 5,000 in a decade, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, it is worth noting that it takes an average of 30 offences before an individual is convicted of a shop theft that results in a custodial situation. It is soul destroying for hard-working businesses to have their livelihood literally stolen away from them. The British Independent Retailers Association has come to see me on a number of occasions; its crime survey for 2021, just completed this month, shows that two-thirds of its members see most crimes against businesses valued at less than £200, while two-thirds of members also reported a disproportionate increase in the theft of goods worth less than £200 since this threshold was put in place in 2014. This shows that businesses are losing more and more each year to this type of crime, as it is currently being left unchecked.
John Barlow, a BIRA member in Nottingham, rightly pointed out that the police are basically telling kids, “Help yourselves”. Of course, there are more serious crimes that the police need to solve, but you cannot just give thieves a licence to steal. Shop theft is not a victimless crime; in fact, smaller independent retailers feel the impact of retail crime more acutely than larger retailers, which typically have better security systems, employ guards and security staff, sell larger orders and have better margins and economies of scale. Conversely, a small retailer operating on a typical margin of 8% would need to sell £2,500-worth of goods to make back £200 of stolen goods. In addition, they are often working alone, unable to call in back-up from another staff member, and left literally at the mercy of the perpetrator and the trauma of the event. How can this be right?
The removal of this legislation would send a signal to those who perpetrate shop theft: it is very clear that you will be prosecuted; your actions matter; and you will be held to account. It would show that this Government really hold our retailers, who have kept our country going through the pandemic, in high regard, and that the retailers can have confidence that justice will be served. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support my noble friend Lord Dholakia in wanting to protect small shopkeepers by calling on the police and CPS to take low-level shoplifting more seriously. Repeated low-level theft adds up and, as my noble friend has just said, when the profit margins are typically around only 8%, you need to sell a lot of goods to make up for those losses. This is particularly a problem if perpetrators do not believe that the police and courts will take effective action. I would welcome a response from the Minister to reassure small shopkeepers that the Government take this issue seriously—and that includes what action they will take in response to my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I am not sure that this requires a change in the law; I think the problem lies elsewhere. Section 176 should have been an improvement; low-value shoplifting offences should have been dealt with much more quickly and efficiently.
The Home Office guidance for implementing Section 176 is very clear. It sets out, for example, that repeat offenders, organised criminals and people going equipped should all be referred to the CPS for prosecution, rather than using the simplified procedures. I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts.
Something has gone wrong. I am going to guess that it is a consequence of 11 years of austerity inflicted on police forces. Rather than being a legal problem, it is a simple operational matter of the police not having the resources to deal with the problem—they cannot respond, investigate or prosecute. I think the solution lies in policing and not the law.
My Lords, we too want to protect shopkeepers. I endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made an interesting point when she said it was not necessarily a mistake of law but in the application of the law that this problem has emerged.
I too received the briefing from the British Independent Retailers Association; its figures are stark. I also have the previous statements by Kit Malthouse, the relevant Minister. He has said that he is happy to look at the data to see what it tells us about the operation of the policy, now that we are four or five years in. I do not think there is any problem with us reviewing the data internally, deciding whether the policy is working and then promulgating some kind of best practice. However, in January 2021, in response to a Written Question on when the Government was planning to review the operation of Section 176, the Minister said that it would be part of a wider, post-legislative review of the Act but that no date had yet been set.
The point I want to make to the Minister is that there is some urgency on this. The system does not seem to be working very well. From my own experience as a magistrate sitting in London, I cannot remember the last time I saw a youth come to court for shoplifting—they never come to court for shoplifting; we see them for much more serious offences. I am not saying that they should be brought to court for shoplifting but that they are being dealt with in another way and it is questionable whether that alternative is appropriate. We do see low-level shoplifting in adult magistrates’ courts, but it tends to be by multiple, repeat offenders, who are part of a gang. We see that element of shoplifting, but we do not see occasional, low-level shoplifters in court very much. They are being dealt with in other ways, and this may be part of the problem.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for tabling his amendment and for explaining it in considerable detail.
I start by expressing my support and respect for all those who work in the retail sector. Shops are the lifeblood of our communities and neighbourhoods. As the noble Lord pointed out, that fact was perhaps amplified by the pandemic. It is important that businesses should be free to trade without fear of crime or disorder. I recognise the significant impact that shoplifting can have, not only on businesses but on the wider community and consumers. It is vital that perpetrators are brought to justice. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, pointed out, it is not a victimless crime.
Section 176 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 inserted Section 22A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980. This provides that shoplifting, where the value of good stolen is less than £200, is a summary only offence. However, the provision preserves the right of adult defendants to elect to be tried by jury in the Crown Court, and this offence can be prosecuted by the police. The aim of Section 176 was to improve efficiency, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has noted—perhaps he is not seeing these people because the system is operating more efficiently; I do not know the answer, but it is a possibility. The provision was intended to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system by allowing for a simpler, more proportionate, police-led process in high-volume, low-level, uncontested cases, so as to ensure that such cases were dealt with as swiftly and efficiently as possible. It is in retailers’ interests for cases to be brought to a quick conclusion.
I understand that there is a perception among retailers that the introduction of Section 176 led police forces to treat £200 as a threshold for prioritising their response to shop theft. The perception is that the police do not respond to or investigate shop theft where the goods stolen are below that value. Let me be clear: that was not the intention of the provision.
In 2019, the Government ran a call for evidence on the issue of violence and abuse against shop staff to better understand the problems faced by retail workers and the measures which may help prevent these crimes. The Government’s response to that call for evidence was published in July last year. Some respondents raised concerns about the changes introduced by Section 176, stating that it was their impression that such crimes would no longer be investigated by the police. They considered this to be a contributory factor behind increased brazenness among offenders.
I should note at this point that, at a later stage of the Bill, we are due to debate a couple of amendments—one put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and one by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe—on the subject of offences against retail workers.
Let me be clear: shoplifting offences involving the theft of goods up to £200 can and should be pursued by the police as a criminal offence. Section 176 has no bearing on the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute a person for theft from a shop or on the courts’ powers to punish offenders. The Government highlighted this in their response to the call for evidence in July 2020. In September 2020, the Minister for Crime and Policing reiterated the message in a letter to police and crime commissioners and chief constables, to ensure that the intention of Section 176 of the 2014 Act was understood. The Minister stated:
“Section 176 of the 2014 Act does not constrain the ability of the police to arrest or prosecute someone in the way they feel is most appropriate.”
I would like to highlight the programme of work under way by the National Retail Crime Steering Group, which the Minister for Crime and Policing co-chairs with the British Retail Consortium—specifically Tom Ironside, who is the director of business and regulation. The steering group brings together the Government, retailers, trades unions and trade associations, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the police-led National Business Crime Centre to help ensure that the response to retail crime, including shoplifting, is as robust as it can be. Through the steering group, six task and finish groups were created. They have published free to use, downloadable resources for retailers and employees, including information to assist with reporting these crimes and guidance on how to effectively share the information effectively with other businesses and the police, so that crimes can be investigated and appropriate action taken against offenders.
As part of that work, the National Business Crime Centre undertook a survey of police forces, asking about the reporting of retail crime. The survey specifically asked whether forces had a policy where the monetary value of shop theft determined whether the crime was investigated. Thirty-four out of 43 forces responded. I emphasise that the survey found that no forces used a £200 threshold for making decisions about responding to shoplifting offences. One force stated that it used a monetary value alongside other factors, such as the shoplifter being an identified offender or the use of violence.
There is nothing to suggest that repealing Section 176 would assist police in responding to shop theft. Particularly when it is committed by prolific offenders, shop theft is most effectively tackled when retailers and local policing teams work together—for example, through business crime reduction partnerships and other initiatives—to share information about crime.
I hope I have reassured the noble Lord to some extent that Section 176 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 does not prevent these low-level shoplifting offences being investigated by police and the perpetrator being brought to justice. On this basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation. A large number of these businesses are owned by people from our diverse communities, and corner shops are areas of high crime rates. They have made a number of representations to me. I shall discuss the Minister’s comments with them and, if need be, come back later, if possible. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 132 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.20 pm.