Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 7: Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence
2: Clause 7, page 9, line 15, at end insert—
“(za) publish the strategy,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires specified authorities to publish a strategy prepared under Clause 7.
My Lords, this group of amendments responds to various recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the other members of the committee for their careful scrutiny of the Bill. These amendments address issues across the Bill, but I hope the House will agree that it would be convenient to take them together.
Amendments 2 to 10 in Clauses 7 and 8 give effect to the DPRRC’s recommendation that provision for the publication of local strategies to prevent and reduce serious violence should be made in the Bill rather than in regulations. The amendments therefore require relevant authorities to publish their strategies, but this is subject to certain safeguards. These safeguards are that material should not be included in the strategies if the specified authorities consider that it might place the safety of any person in jeopardy, prejudice the prevention and detection of crime or the investigation or prosecution of an offence, or compromise the security of, or good order or discipline within, an educational, prison or youth custody authority. I am sure that noble Lords would agree that these are important caveats.
Amendments 36, 42, 65 and 95 respond to recommendations by the DPRRC relating to the parliamentary scrutiny of statutory guidance. Here we have accepted the committee’s recommendations in part only. There are various powers in the Bill for the Secretary of State to issue guidance in relation to the serious violence duty, offensive weapons homicide reviews, powers to tackle unauthorised encampments, and serious violence reduction orders. The DPRRC recommended that such guidance should be subject to the negative procedure, or, in the case of the SVRO guidance, the affirmative procedure.
The purpose of guidance is to aid policy implementation by supplementing legal rules. A vast range of statutory guidance is issued each year and it is important that guidance can be updated rapidly to keep pace with events. There is nothing to prevent Parliament scrutinising guidance at any time. It is therefore the Government’s view that it is not necessary to make specific provision for parliamentary scrutiny for most forms of statutory guidance, and there are plenty of precedents for this approach. To take one recent example, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 enables the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the police in relation to domestic abuse protection orders; they are required to have regard to the guidance. Such guidance is not subject to any parliamentary procedure, and the DPRRC did not comment on that fact when the legislation was going through this House last Session.
Amendments 67 and 68 relate to the powers to attach conditions to a diversionary or community caution, specifically those which relate to the maximum hours of unpaid work, number of attendance hours and level of financial penalty. Clause 100 as currently drafted provides that only regulations increasing the maximum financial penalty and the maximum number of unpaid work or attendance hours attached to a caution will be subject to the affirmative procedure. The DPRRC recommended that regulations decreasing these maxima should also be subject to the affirmative procedure and, having considered the committee’s arguments, we agree.
Finally, Amendment 83 responds to the committee’s recommendation that the power for the Secretary of State to activate a problem-solving court pilot indefinitely should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. This amendment gives effect to the committee’s recommendation by separating the power to extend indefinitely from additional powers granted to the Secretary of State under Schedule 13. As such, this amendment ensures that the Secretary of State’s power to specify which courts are pilot courts for the 18-month pilot period, the cohort of offenders to be subject to the pilot arrangements, and the ability to extend a pilot for a specified period of time, will continue to be subject to the negative procedure.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, could not be here today.
He is here.
My Lords, I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Lister, who had to go to catch her train because of the postponements, and also on my own behalf.
We wanted to raise a point on government Amendment 56, which, as the Minister said, requires guidance for the police on unauthorised encampments to be laid before Parliament. This is of course welcome, but my noble friend says that she wanted to return to the current draft guidance statement that the police, alongside other public bodies,
“should not gold-plate human rights and equalities legislation”
when considering welfare issues.
When she pressed the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on this in Committee and asked her what it meant—because, on the face of it, it appears to be an invitation to put human rights and equalities considerations to one side—I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that the phrase was “novel” to her and she wrote to my noble friend Lady Lister about it.
In her letter, she explained that this phrase had been used in government guidance on unauthorised encampments since March 2015. But, when my noble friend Lady Lister followed the link in the letter to this guidance, it turned out to be called:
“A summary of available powers”—
which we do not think quite amounts to statutory guidance, and therefore perhaps was not subject to consultation at the time. Certainly, members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights were not aware of it, because they wrote a very forceful letter to the Minister on 17 November in which they
“strongly advise that the Government reviews the language and tone of its draft guidance with respect to its human rights obligations. Human rights are a minimum standard, which apply to all people equally. We do not and cannot ‘gold-plate’ human rights.”
Likewise, the British Association of Social Workers has written:
“We do not accept that this”—
“is reasonable guidance. The wording is of no assistance to social workers or other professionals.”
It sees it as a
“disturbing attempt to water down fundamental human rights in relation to Romani and Traveller people”.
In her letter, the Minister wrote of the
“necessary balancing of the interests and rights of both Travellers and settled residents”.
But we ask her—or the appropriate ministerial colleagues —to look again at this wording in the light of the JCHR’s and the British Association of Social Workers’ responses. It would appear that they were not consulted when the “gold-plating” phrase was originally used in 2015 and I ask now whether anyone was consulted.
Also, does the 2015 document constitute statutory guidance as such? If the answer is no in either case, that strengthens the case for reconsidering the use of the term. As the body established by Parliament to provide an oversight of human rights issues makes clear, human rights
“must not be side-lined or undermined for administrative convenience”.
Will the Minister therefore give an undertaking to look again at this, ask the relevant Minister to do so, and report back to us before the Bill completes its passage through this House?
I would like to add that I do feel very uneasy about the use of the term “gold-plating” in statutory guidance about how to enforce law, especially human rights law. The term “gold-plating” does not exist in law and there are no provisions for discretion in the Human Rights Act. The purpose of guidance is to give clarity, and I am afraid that a loose term such as this, giving rise to harmful concepts about different tiers of compliance, undermines clarity. I ask again: what consultation was carried out on this draft guidance? I hope, as it is still a draft, that the Government can get rid of this legal illiteracy.
My Lords, first, I apologise to my noble friend for wrongfooting him. I arrived about 15 minutes ago, having sent a message to the Front Bench earlier today that, since my train was going in slow motion because of wind on the line, I was likely to be here rather late. My message was to thank the Government, the Home Office and my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, who took on board the criticisms that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made. I have the privilege of being chair of that committee for the next three weeks only—so the Government can rest in peace afterwards.
We made a large number of recommendations and, to be fair, the Home Office took them on board and my noble friend has accepted the majority of them. That is a good message to send to other departments. It goes to show that, when my committee makes recommendations, they can be accepted by the Government, because they do not sabotage the Bill or stop the political thrust of what the Government are trying to do. At the very most, our most extreme recommendations may mean that some bit of delegated powers legislation might be debated for 90 minutes in the affirmative procedure—never under the negative, unless it is prayed against—which will mean a Minister having to host a debate for 90 minutes. It will probably be a Lords Minister, because the Commons possibly will not bother. So it can be done.
The only substantive comment that I wish to make is about my noble friend using the standard excuse—although he used it in a more delicate way—that we hear from most departments when they refuse to accept that the guidance to which one must have regard should be seen by Parliament. Some departments take a much more arrogant attitude and say, “Oh, well, we publish lots of guidance every year and we consult the stakeholders and experts, so we don’t need to trouble you people in Parliament who know nothing about it”. That is not quite what they say, but that is the thrust of it. I had a tremendous success last week, when I had a two-word amendment accepted by the sponsor of the Bill and the department—and those two words were “by regulations”. The clause said that “guidance that must be followed will be issued”, and we inserted the words, “by regulations”. That made no difference to the practical effect of the Bill.
The other justification that we often hear is, “Oh, we issue a lot of guidance, you know, and it has to be changed rapidly”. I am not suggesting that it applies to this guidance, but a lot of that is simply not true. If the guidance has to be changed rapidly, it has to be printed and issued. All we say in that case is “Put it in a negative regulation which Parliament can see, and only those who have an interest, or the Opposition, may move a prayer against it”.
We issued a strong report last week, and so did my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. My committee issued a report complaining strongly about disguised legislation, where the Minister not only has power to issue his own regulations but they are called “directions”, “protocols” and so on. That is disguised legislation. We also complained about skeleton Bills. If you want to see a skeleton Bill, look at the new Bill on healthcare, where there are about 150 delegations. The Bill has no guts—that will be filled in by legislation later.
I hope that my noble friends will speak to the Department of Health and the Ministers there. I have no idea what our committee will report when we look at the Bill next week, but I suspect that we will be highly critical of the contents. I hope that my noble friend the Minister, coming from the Home Office, can tell the Department of Health to follow our example. If we in the Home Office, one of the mightiest departments of state, can accept the vast majority of suggestions from the Delegated Powers Committee, other departments can do so too, knowing that their legislation is safe. We do not sabotage it and we do not try to stop it. We have no political input on the merits of the Bill; we leave that to noble Lords here. However, we do care about inappropriate delegations.
Having read the riot act on that, I thank my noble friends on the Front Bench for the considerable changes that they have made on this—and I just wish that they would go a wee bit further and accept the last one.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, just illustrated the value of his service as chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which the House should thank him for—but in the knowledge that his successor is unlikely to give the Government peace because this is an area where all Governments need to be brought up to the mark. His more wide-ranging report last week illustrates this, and I will refer to it briefly in a moment.
It is good to be in the part of the Bill where the Government have listened, both to the Delegated Powers Committee and to the House itself, where voices were raised, particularly on the issue of the publication of the strategy on serious violence for which provision is made in the Bill. It really does not make sense for a strategy to exist which is not published and which therefore cannot be the subject of accountability. That was quickly recognised by Ministers at the Dispatch Box here. They have acted in accordance with that and I very much welcome that. They have met the objections to publication by specifying areas in which there must be a bit more care about what should not be published because of adverse consequences for the public interest, over things such as custodial institutions and other ways in which material could be released in a way which would be damaging to the general public interest.
That is one area where I am pleased that the Government have listened. I am also pleased that in a number of respects, if not quite all, the Government have responded on issues of laying guidance before Parliament and on providing a parliamentary procedure, either negative or affirmative, for some of the instruments. I will say in passing, however, that laying guidance before Parliament is a bit of a formality. Unless Members of one House or the other find a way of debating it—it is a little easier in this House than the other—laying it before Parliament does not achieve anything practical, whereas having a procedure in the House, defective though the negative procedure is, is much more useful. In most respects that request has been met.
Producing a list of previous legislation which was deficient in this respect is not a persuasive answer to the challenging issues raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Statutory Instruments Committee. It is generally recognised that there is a serious deficiency which has been allowed to grow as the scope of legislations has extended. Things which have the practical effect of legislation have become more numerous, but Parliament has not developed effective procedures to ensure good scrutiny and to ensure that the neo-legislation is in workable and legally sound form.
As the committee said in its wider report, if, because of modern conditions, Parliament is being asked to accept new ways of legislating, it is surely right that the Government must stand ready to accept new methods of scrutiny and of being held to account. So, like others, we take the view that there is now an urgent need to take stock and rebalance their relationship. This Bill has arrived at the beginning of that very important process, but it is encouraging that Ministers have at least responded in a number of key respects, and I welcome that.
My Lords, noble Lords have already comprehensively covered the ground, and I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and his Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and to the Government for listening to that committee, and to the concerns that were expressed in Committee, and by the Constitution Committee and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
We are concerned that simply laying guidance before Parliament is not sufficient. It should be by regulations, as the noble Lord has said. However, we are pleased that the Government have listened to some extent and we support these amendments.
My Lords, I too will be brief. As has been said, this group includes government amendments relating to recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that the Government have accepted. It includes the requirement that strategies under the serious violence reduction duty are published, and that guidance on the series violence duty, police powers under Part 4 and serious violence reduction orders must be laid before Parliament. However, the Government have not accepted every recommendation of the DPRRC, and on some they have gone only half way. For example, the DPRRC recommended that guidance on serious violence reduction orders should be subject to the affirmative procedure, but the Government have made it subject only to the negative.
Like other noble Lords, I extend our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for the invaluable work that they do and no doubt will continue to do. We welcome the amendments in this group that go some way towards accepting a number of recommendations from the DPRRC, but it is interesting to note that, in its report on the powers in the Bill to introduce unpublished strategies and guidance without parliamentary scrutiny, the DPRRC said:
“We are disappointed that the inclusion of these types of delegations of power—on flimsy grounds—suggests that the Government have failed when preparing this Bill to give serious consideration to recommendations that we have made in recent reports on other Bills.”
This group of amendments introduces some improvements into the Bill, which we welcome. On that basis, we hope that the Government will be in listening mode over the next few days of debate on Report. Perhaps the next Bill that appears before us will not have such powers in it to begin with.
I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this brief debate. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Blencathra was in his place when I started speaking, but I was praising him and his committee—I also praise him for his stealthy entrance. He asked about statutory guidance. As I said in my brief introduction, all the guidance will now be laid before Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, noted, and the SVRO guidance will be subject to the negative procedure.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked the most detailed question, on behalf of her noble friend Lady Lister. She asked specifically about the comments on the gold-plating of human rights. I have a copy here of the letter that was sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and it is very clear that this is about balance:
“This language has been used in HM Government guidance on unauthorised encampments since March 2015,”
as the noble Baroness noted, but it was not statutory guidance; the Bill now provides this.
“That guidance made clear that human rights legislation does not prevent action to protect local amenities and the local environment; to maintain public order and safety; and to protect public health - for example, by preventing fly-tipping and criminal damage.
The necessary balancing of interests and rights of both travellers and settled residents reflects the position regarding qualified rights in the Human Rights Act 1998/European Convention on Human Rights … and the need to maintain good community relations under the Equality Act 2010. But operationally in the past, this may have been misunderstood by some public bodies.”
We have published in draft the guidance to be issued under Clause 65, so it is open to anyone who wishes to comment on the document to do so. We will, of course, continue to take any such comments into account before promulgating the final version of the guidance. With that, I hope that I have answered the questions, and I beg to move.
Amendment 2 agreed.
Amendments 3 and 4
3: Clause 7, page 9, line 17, at end insert—
“(7A) A strategy under this section must not include any material that the specified authorities consider—(a) might jeopardise the safety of any person,(b) might prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the investigation or prosecution of an offence, or (c) might compromise the security of, or good order or discipline within, an institution of a kind mentioned in the first column of a table in Schedule 2.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment means that specified authorities may not include certain material in a strategy published under Clause 7(7) as amended by the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 9, line 15.
4: Clause 7, page 9, line 20, after “make” insert “further”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that regulations under Clause 7(9) may make further provision about the publication or dissemination of a strategy.
Amendments 3 and 4 agreed.
Clause 8: Powers to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence
Amendments 5 to 10
5: Clause 8, page 10, line 37, leave out “may”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the amendments in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 10, line 37, page 10, line 38 and page 10, line 39 have the effect that specified authorities are required to publish a strategy prepared under Clause 8.
6: Clause 8, page 10, line 37, at end insert—
“(za) must publish the strategy,”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the first amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 10, line 37.
7: Clause 8, page 10, line 38, at beginning insert “may”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the first amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 10, line 37.
8: Clause 8, page 10, line 39, at beginning insert “may”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the first amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 10, line 37.
9: Clause 8, page 10, line 39, at end insert—
“(8A) A strategy under this section must not include any material that the specified authorities consider—(a) might jeopardise the safety of any person,(b) might prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the investigation or prosecution of an offence, or(c) might compromise the security of, or good order or discipline within, an institution of a kind mentioned in the first column of a table in Schedule 2.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment means that specified authorities may not include certain material in a strategy published under clause 8(8) as amended by the second amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 10, line 37.
10: Clause 8, page 10, line 40, after “make” insert “further”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that regulations under Clause 8(9) may make further provision about the publication or dissemination of a strategy.
Amendments 5 to 10 agreed.
11: Clause 9, page 11, line 45, leave out from “legislation” to “, or” in line 47
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 11, and speak to Amendments 22, 25 and 30. I thank the Minister for our very helpful meeting this morning, and for the detailed letter I received at 4 pm. I have carefully considered the points raised, and reread the letter to ensure I had understood it, but the basics facts remain the same—as I think the Minister realises—and I will do my best to explain them.
My comments also apply to Amendment 25, but I will focus on the three identical amendments to the three clauses. They ensure that disclosure of information by one public body to another under Part 2 of the Bill does not contravene data protection legislation. This is an incredibly important principle, yet the data sharing provisions in Part 2, as the Bill stands, would enable data protection legislation to be breached. Data protection legislation does permit information to be shared for the purposes of preventing crime, which is important too. If Amendment 11, along with identical Amendments 22 and 30, is passed, personal data could be passed to be police, but professionals could not be forced to do so against their professional judgment. That is the key principle we want to achieve.
The Minister’s letter says that the data shared under the duty is intended primarily to consist of aggregated and anonymous data, et cetera. But we have to focus on what the Bill says, rather than what our excellent Minister may intend. As I said to her this morning, if our Minister were Home Secretary, I might be content with the wording in the Bill, on this issue—I am not sure about everything else—as I have great respect for both our Ministers.
The Minister also says the duty applies to duty holders, not directly to front-line professionals, including youth and social workers. But it is these professionals who hold the information which the police may find helpful, not directors of social services, for example.
It is vital that, if we are to deal with serious violent crime, we do not undermine prevention work. It is therefore important that young people trust their teachers and youth workers. We believe these professionals must be able to exercise their professional judgment about whether it is more effective and important, in preventing serious violence, to be able to continue working with vulnerable and potentially dangerous young people to steer them away from drugs and crime, or to pass on information to the police. There will be times when the sharing of information with the police may be the first, and immediate, priority. However, if in the professional judgment of the teacher or youth worker working with the young people is the top priority, then she or he must be able to exercise that judgment, in my view.
The Minister is likely to argue that the modification of the disclosure of information legislation envisaged in the Bill is similar to that in other Bills and therefore should be accepted. We had a lengthy discussion on that issue this morning. On checking these other Bills it appears the context is quite different, as is the nature of the information that may be shared. The closest example is the Environment Act, which uses similar wording to that in Clause 9, under which information sharing may be required. However, in the Environment Act, this relates to whether public authorities are complying with environmental legislation; it has nothing to do with personal information for law enforcement purposes, which is an entirely different matter. The Medicines and Medical Devices Act only requires information to be shared without consent in a veterinary context—you cannot really ask a cow for her consent to pass on information about her. Therefore, this is not relevant to this Bill.
It seems the Government may not have drawn the right conclusions from the criticism of the Met Police’s gangs matrix system. As the Minister knows, Corey Junior Davis was murdered after his details in the Met Police’s gangs matrix were shared and fell into the wrong hands.
The system that produced that breach is being reproduced in the Bill. Surely, we will see replicated across the country other harms generated by the Met Police’s gangs matrix: young people losing college places that would probably have given them a route out of trouble; the application of eviction notices likely to lead them on a downward spiral of drugs and crime; and endless costly and pointless stop and searches, thereby undermining young people. We could also expect a repeat across the country of the discriminatory profiling that was inherent in the Met Police’s gangs matrix.
I very much welcome the Government’s acceptance of the need to respect the professional judgment of medical and social care personnel. All that we are asking for in the amendment and, indeed, the other two in the group is that the same respect for personal judgment be applied to teachers and youth workers as the Government now recognise should be given to doctors and others. Without these amendments, the work of the key public servants to prevent serious violence will be jeopardised, an issue that I should have thought the Government would be concerned about.
The Bill also gives the police the power to monitor compliance with the duty to require other bodies to share information with them, and it gives the Secretary of State enforcement powers to back those police powers. The amendment offers vital protection for professionals in exercising their judgment on how best to reduce serious violence by their clients.
The Minister has said that the collection of data is necessary in order to identify the kinds of serious violence that occur in an area and, so far as it is possible to do so, their causes, and then prepare and implement a strategy with bespoke local solutions. I am sure that the Minister knows that no personal information is required in order to do that. It is well established that anonymous data is sufficient to develop appropriate strategies. The draft statutory guidance says that most information will be depersonalised, but it does not say in what circumstances it will not. If it were clear that it was all about professional judgment, that would be fine—and that is what we are seeking.
These are incredibly modest amendments that, added to the government amendments, would go some way towards protecting the efficacy of our public services and enable young people to benefit from preventive and therapeutic interventions. These are the best hope of preventing serious violence over many years. We are not talking just about a one-off crime here. We are talking about the culture and style of life, and these public servants are working on the front line to try to divert these young people into education, training, jobs and so on. Instead of doing that, it is a huge thing to somehow divert those people into the criminal justice system. Punitive responses are never the right answer to vulnerability and deprivation—generally the backdrop to serious violence.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and her officials in the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care for meeting me, the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association and the National Data Guardian, and for listening carefully and agreeing that a patient’s personal information should not be disclosed under regulations made under Clauses 9, 15 or 16 by a health or social care authority, which currently includes a clinical commissioning group in England and a local health board in Wales, or under regulations made under those clauses. However, I wonder whether the Minister can help me and confirm that Clause 17, where the Secretary of State can instruct the transfer of information, even if a specified authority refused, will definitely not apply to patient data.
I am entirely supportive of the amendments in the group tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and my noble friend Lord Paddick. While I am grateful that the Government have recognised that there is something particular about a patient’s personal health data, there still remains the issue relating to staff in a specified authority being asked to hand over personal data to the police and other bodies. There are some roles, such as youth workers and children’s home workers, where trust has had to be built up with the people who come to them. Any data relating to those at-risk people, whether potentially violent or potential victims, should not do anything to harm that relationship. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said, anonymised data can be used.
As we know from doctors’ and nurses’ ethical arrangements, there are exceptional times when it is important for such information to be passed to the authorities. I believe that we can rely on the workers in other sectors to see that responsibility. Amendment 24 specifically sets out the ethical and legal rules that should apply.
Finally, I believe that the Secretary of State should not have these powers, however rarely they might be used, so I also support my noble friend Lord Paddick’s Amendment 35.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests in policing ethics and my work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, as set out in the register. I trust that those interests assure your Lordships that I am a strong supporter of effective policing, not its adversary.
As an occasional statistician, I am also well aware of the power and utility of data. Good data, including on the risks of serious violence, can provide the evidence that allows the limited resources of our police forces to be directed to the particular challenges faced in different contexts and localities. Perhaps it is because I trained not as a lawyer but as a mathematician that I hold firmly to the maxim that, before one can begin to find the right solution, one has to have clearly defined the problem. I am not sure that these clauses, as presently drafted, fully pass that test.
If the problem is that there are occasions when the sharing of personal data will be necessary in order to detect or prevent serious violence, such powers already exist. Indeed, they go further than simply applying to certain public bodies. Like all of my right reverend and most reverend friends on these Benches, I am a data controller—a fancy title—handling often very sensitive personal information regarding clergy, church officers and children who are in the care of churches. I know my general duties regarding when I ought to disclose such data to police or others. When I need specific advice, I have access to my legal secretary, my diocesan safeguarding adviser and others. It is difficult to see what a new duty on some public bodies to share identifiable personal information will add to this.
Alternatively, if the problem is the need to collect and process data sets that allow the setting of more general policing priorities and interventions, it is difficult to see why that cannot be done in ways that remove all identifiable personal details and hence are entirely compliant with the GDPR and other data protection law. I struggle to see why there is a need to create an opt-out for the anonymised data that can drive better policing.
The amendments that I and others have put our names to would, I believe, strengthen the Bill, making it clear that it is seeking not to set aside data protection law but to allow anonymised data to be shared where this will produce better policing outcomes. They would reassure children, vulnerable people, victims of crime and others that their personal data will not be shared, beyond that which is already shared under existing legislation. They would allow youth workers, whether they are employed by the Church, local authorities or whomever, to continue to be trusted by those who come to them.
As has been alluded to, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—who, were it not for the particular protocols of this place, I would be proud to refer to as my noble friend—has already accepted the principle that health bodies should not be compelled to share patient data. It is not a huge leap to extend that to other authorities.
My Lords, I have Amendments 24 and 32 to 35 in this group, and I have signed Amendments 11, 22, 25 and 30, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester.
I start with the government amendments that effectively protect patient confidentiality on the basis that, if patients do not trust their doctors to keep sensitive personal information confidential, they will not seek healthcare when they need to. There are already protocols to deal with situations where there is a serious risk of harm to the patient or others which allow the sharing of information. In moving these amendments, the Government have accepted the principle that professionals need to keep sensitive personal information confidential in order to maintain the trust of those whom they are working with. I will return to this shortly.
Amendments 11, 22 and 30 do the bare minimum in maintaining the protection provided by data protection legislation. This is putting down a marker that specified authorities should not simply allow the duty to share information under the serious violence duty to override everything else. We will support these amendments if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House.
But we do not believe these amendments go far enough, in that they do not address the Secretary of State’s enforcement powers. Despite government protestations to the contrary, the almost unanimous view among NGOs is that the new serious violence duty is actually a duty on specified authorities to give information to the police, so that the police can try to arrest our way out of the problem of serious violence—an enforcement-led approach, which even the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police says is not the solution. What we really need is a truly multiagency public health approach, which has worked so well in Scotland, where enforcement is only one part of the solution .
When I went to Scotland, I met a young father whose partner had committed suicide; he realised that their son would grow up without either of his parents if he did not turn away from violence. With support from relevant authorities, he has done it. How can offenders such as this be expected to trust those in authority when specified authorities are subjected to this new duty to pass what is said to them on to the police, if they are to override existing statutory safeguards and duties of confidence? The Bill would allow the Home Secretary to force them to break that trust.
As noble Lords have already said, the Government have already conceded the principle that in certain situations, guided by existing rules and protocols, information can be kept confidential, as in the case of patient confidentiality. However, sometimes people such as youth workers, social workers or people working in youth offending teams also need to be able to use their judgment about whether to pass information to the police, if they think keeping the trust of the person they are working with is more likely to reduce serious violence than passing that information on. I will be asking noble Lords to vote against the Home Secretary being given the power to force professionals—against all existing legal obligations, implicit duties of confidence and their own professional judgment—to pass confidential information to the police, even when they believe this would be counterproductive. Leaving out Clause 17 would empower the people in the best position to make those judgments—the professionals on the ground—rather than allowing central diktats from those in the Home Office who have little or no understanding of local circumstances or the individuals involved.
We support legislation that removes barriers to allow professionals working in the field of serious violence to share information with each other, including the police sharing their information. We even support a statutory reminder that authorities, including the police, have a duty to work together to reduce serious violence. What we cannot support is the Home Secretary forcing professionals operating in this scenario to share information that they, knowing the individuals and the local circumstances, believe would be counterproductive to reducing or preventing serious violence.
The Government are keen always to point to previous legislative precedence. When we asked judicial commissioners to give prior approval in cases where informants are being authorised by the police to commit criminal offences and are made exempt from prosecution, we were told that this was being done by the police handlers of those informants, who best knew the individuals and the scenarios in which they were to be deployed. The Government argued that local professionals on the ground should not be second-guessed by judicial commissioners. Here we are, with operational partners being second-guessed by the Home Secretary. Not only is this unacceptable but it is hypocritical for the Government to apply the principle in one situation—that professionals on the ground know best—and then reject it in another, and for the Government to argue that patients must not lose trust in their doctors but that those working to turn offenders away from serious violence can lose the trust of those they work with. I intend to seek the opinion of the House to leave out Clause 17.
My Lords, I am not particularly keen on GDPR legislation as it is, so I do not want to use it to support this group of amendments. I have also been happy to consider extraordinary measures to tackle things such as knife crime and gangs, because I do not want to pretend that this is a new problem. I live in Wood Green and I have seen someone stabbed. There is a horrible atmosphere in which you fear for young people’s lives. Instead, I want to raise my fear that this could have unintended consequences. It is a question of trust. The young people who we would all like to prevent from being involved in serious violence need to turn to someone and build up relationships with people, if they are to get out of situations where they could be involved in violence.
I will give a couple of examples from youth workers who I have spoken to. A young woman who is pregnant wants to extricate herself from the gang culture, but she worries that, if she talks to people such as youth workers, she will be accused of snitching on the father of her unborn child. That might lead them to the police’s arms, and so on. You can understand the situation. The youth worker reassures them that this will not occur but, actually, you cannot reassure them if the law changes as described. Then there is the young man who considers getting or tries to get himself out of a situation in which he is involved in gangs, but he is paranoid about the police. It is understandable that certain groups would think that any approach to anyone in authority would lead them into the police’s clutches. Actually, any attempt by a youth worker to reassure them that they should not be paranoid would be incorrect in this instance—they were right to be paranoid, because they are potentially putting themselves in the police’s clutches.
I ask the Minister how we can avoid the unintended consequences of this. I know that those individual youth workers will not necessarily be affected, but they work for institutions that have to make data available. Those anecdotes will become data points and important information can therefore be shared when it should not be. I note that I have told those stories anonymously and that I was given that information without any personal data being passed on. If you want to develop new strategies to tackle serious violence, it can be done without handing names, addresses and personal details to the police.
My Lords, I will endeavour to be brief. This group of amendments includes government concessions to include extra protections on doctor-patient confidentiality and healthcare data. They provide that the powers under the serious violence reduction duty do not authorise the disclosure of patient or personal information by a health or social care authority. We support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which, among other things, leave out the uncertain language in brackets in the Bill.
To be a bit clearer about it—although the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, explained it extremely well, as one would expect—the serious violence reduction duty requires data sharing between bodies, and the Bill currently provides that data cannot be shared if it would breach data protection laws. It qualifies that with:
“(but in determining whether a disclosure would do so, any power conferred by the regulations is to be taken into account)”.
An amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others would delete the provision in brackets, so data protection law would apply as normal, as it does to medical professionals. A number of noble Lords have referred to other people or organisations who have contact and involvement with that same degree of confidentiality, and professional judgments on disclosure should apply.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, referred to a meeting she had with the Minister and a letter she only very recently received. I assume that is the one dated 7 December. I appreciate the letter and thank the Minister for it but, reading the paragraph that relates to the bit in brackets that the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, seeks to delete, I struggle to understand the argument for having the part in brackets. Why is it necessary?
Why can we not simply leave it, with statements in other parts of the letter that make it clear that data can be shared, where it is lawful to do so, only under the data protection legislation? One would have thought that is surely all we needed to say—not to have something in brackets which I do not fully understand the need for, despite the letter from the Minister. I sense from what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is saying that she too struggles to understand why we need the bit in brackets at all. I have no doubt that the Minister will comment on that in her response.
Having said that, we welcome the concessions made by the Government on medical data and doctor-patient confidentiality. They show that the Government have accepted, up to a point, that the data-sharing powers in this chapter needed qualification. Data sharing, properly and intelligently done, with safeguards, can be absolutely key to tackling serious violence, to prevent silo working and some of the failures we have witnessed too many times. We have some concerns over the proposal to require all data shared under the duty to be anonymised, as there may be rare but crucial cases where information needs to be more specific to protect the vulnerable and pursue the criminal.
I come back to this point: in welcoming the concessions that have been made, we support what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is seeking to achieve, but we find the language in brackets—to which reference has been made—which appears to qualify the application of data protection law, to be unclear, and we really do not see why those words need to be there at all.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, which concern the data-sharing provisions in Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Bill. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for the time she has given me today and the discussion we have managed to have. I actually think we sneakily agree with each other—but not for the same reasons. Before responding to her amendments and those of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I will deal with the government amendments in this group, which, if I may take the mood of the House this evening, appear to have attracted broad support.
Information sharing between relevant agencies is essential to the effectiveness of the serious violence duty. It is very important to note that it can be shared only in compliance with data protection legislation. Nothing in this Bill either waters down that legislation or breaches it. The duty will permit authorities to share data, intelligence and knowledge to generate an evidence-based analysis of the problems in their local areas. In combining relevant datasets, specified authorities, local policing bodies and educational, prison and youth custody authorities within an area will be able to create a shared evidence base on which they can develop an effective and targeted strategic response with bespoke local solutions. We can see this in other areas where local bodies work together.
Each of the authorities specified in the legislation has a crucial role to play, and it is vital that authorities are able to share their data to determine what is causing serious violence in the local areas. For example, information sharing can contribute to local efforts by allowing authorities to identify patterns and trends, geographical hotspots and the most vulnerable victims, much in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, outlined.
That said, I have listened carefully to the issues raised in Committee, in particular on the question of whether it is appropriate to allow any obligation of confidence owed by the person making a disclosure, or any other restriction on disclosure, to be set aside in the case of sensitive and confidential personal information. In bringing forward amendments to address these concerns, we absolutely need to balance the protection of sensitive personal information with the need to ensure that the new duty can deliver a sea-change in how agencies work together to prevent and reduce serious violence. I have listened to the particular concerns in respect of patient information, which is why I have tabled these amendments.
The government amendments will provide that personal data cannot be disclosed by a health or social care authority—that is, a clinical commissioning group in England or a local health board in Wales—under Clauses 15 or 16 or regulations made under Clause 9. In addition, personal information which is patient information cannot be disclosed by any authority under the powers conferred by the duty. This will further limit the disclosure of information under these new powers, in particular confidential patient information held by any authority under the duty and personal data held by health or social care authorities. It is necessary to take both of these steps to exclude patient data explicitly because health and other authorities under the duty may hold this information. For example, local authorities might hold, and will hold, social care patient information. As a result, excluding patient information will mean that no authority can share that information under the provisions in this Bill and will instead need to rely on existing legal gateways should they need to do so.
In order to support the approach of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to streamlining the number of data collections currently undertaken and reducing the burden on front-line agencies and bodies responding to information requests from local policing bodies—that is, PCCs and equivalents—made under Clause 16, we are limiting these to information already held by an authority to whom the request is made.
Turning to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, let me respond first to Amendments 11, 22 and 30, which relate to the provisions in Clauses 9, 15 and 16 which provide that, in determining whether a disclosure would contravene the data protection legislation, the power conferred by the relevant section of the Act is to be taken into account. The explanation of this is a bit complex and, before I set it out, it may assist the House if I reiterate the intention behind the clauses.
Clause 9 supports collaborative working, including by conferring a power on the Secretary of State to make regulations which authorise the disclosure of information between authorities subject to the serious violence duty and other prescribed persons in a prescribed area for the purposes of preventing and reducing serious violence. This might include organisations within the public, private or voluntary sectors, as well as regional or national bodies. This would be a permissive gateway, so would permit, but not mandate, the sharing of information, and any disclosures must only be made in compliance with data protection legislation and cannot be made if certain prohibitions on disclosure set out in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 apply.
To give an example, a voluntary organisation prescribed under the regulations could share management information about the characteristics of its clients and beneficiaries which could support the development of a local needs assessment. I should stress, however, that such voluntary organisations would not be required to provide personal information on their clients by regulations made under Clause 9.
Clause 15 will create a new information-sharing gateway for specified authorities, local police bodies and education, prison and youth custody authorities to disclose information to each other for the purposes of their functions under the duty. Again, this clause will permit, but not mandate, authorities to disclose information to each other.
My understanding is that the police are able to require information to be given and Clause 17 gives the Secretary of State the power to reinforce that. As the Minister suggested this morning, the matter would then have to be determined in the courts. This is really the nub of it. We want professionals to feel able to undertake their work to prevent serious violence, with children and young people who really are pretty problematic, without feeling that, in the end, it will go to court to decide whether they are allowed to exercise their professional judgment.
If the noble Baroness will be patient, I will get on to Clauses 16 and 17 in just a second.
Going back to Clause 15, this will permit, but not mandate, authorities to disclose information to each other. It simply ensures that there is a legislative basis in place to enable information to be shared between all authorities exercising functions under Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Bill. The clause also ensures that any disclosures must only be made in compliance with data protection legislation and cannot be made if certain prohibitions on disclosure set out in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 apply.
Clause 16 provides a power for a local policing body—a PCC or equivalent—to request information from a specified authority, educational authority, prison or youth custody authority for the purposes of enabling or assisting the local policing body to exercise its role to assist duty holders and monitor its functions to prevent and reduce serious violence. While Clause 16 places a statutory requirement on the specified authority, education authority, prison or youth custody authority to comply with such a request, a disclosure is not required if it would contravene data protection legislation or prohibitions in specified parts of the IPA 2016. The provision does not place any mandatory requirements directly on individual professionals to disclose information they hold under the duty, be that confidential information or otherwise.
There are also a number of safeguards in relation to the information that can be required. As proposed by government Amendment 20, local policing bodies must request only information already held by that authority. Requests must be related to the organisation or function to whom the request is made, except when functions are contracted out. Additionally, the information supplied under Clause 16 must be used by only the local policing body that receives it to enable or assist that body to assist the relevant authorities or monitor the activity it undertakes under the duty. The information received is not therefore to be used or disclosed onwards to any other bodies for other purposes, such as law enforcement.
It is against that backdrop that we need to consider the provisions in each of Clauses 9, 15 and 16 which Amendments 11, 22 and 30 seek to strike out. These provisions state that, in determining whether a disclosure would contravene the data protection legislation,
“the power conferred by this section is to be taken into account”.
This allows the power or duty to disclose to be taken into account when determining the impact of the data protection legislation. This is to preserve the effect of the data protection legislation, dealing with the logical difficulties that can arise where an information-sharing gateway, such as that proposed by these provisions, prevents disclosure in breach of the data protection legislation, but the data protection legislation allows a disclosure which is required or permitted by the enactment. This is to ensure that these provisions can be taken into account when authorities are determining the legal basis for processing data under Article 6 of the UK GDPR.
This Bill is by no means unique in including this drafting. The provisions have been used for a number of other information-sharing clauses, including most recently the Environment Act 2021 and the Forensic Science Regulator Act 2021. I know that I am not allowed props in your Lordships’ House, but if I hold up the list to myself, there are a huge number of Bills to which this pertains. This is a standard provision. I also reiterate that both Clause 15 and regulations made under Clause 9 provide for permissive gateways, meaning that they do not impose any obligation to share information. That is a crucial point.
On Amendment 25, I totally agree that any decision to disclose an individual’s personal data should not be taken lightly. The rationale for not excluding all personal data sharing under the duty is clear. Private and confidential health data has a unique status and needs special protection or trust between patients and doctors. That could be undermined, with individuals actually going as far as to avoid treatment for fear of their data being shared. However, in order for the duty to be effective, we really must still support sharing of case-specific information on individuals at risk to both safeguard them and support vital interventions; I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, agrees with that point. Decisions about whether disclosures of personal data can lawfully be made under these provisions would always need to be made on a case-by-case basis, and always in line with data protection legislation.
As I said in previous debates, we are not seeking to replace existing data-sharing agreements or protocols, including those under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. All authorities subject to the duty should have clear processes and principles in place for sharing information and data. Any and all exchanges of data and information under Clauses 15 and 16 or regulations made under Clause 9 must not contravene existing data protection legislation or provisions of the IPA 2016.
I turn to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Amendment 18 seeks to ensure that relevant authorities are obliged to comply with the serious violence duty only to the extent that it does not conflict with its other statutory duties. We do not support this amendment, as it is essential that all relevant authorities are legally required to collaborate with the specified authorities or with other education, prison or youth custody authorities in their work to prevent and reduce serious violence when requested to do so, and to carry out any actions placed on them in the strategy. There are already sufficient safeguards in place, including considering whether the request is deemed to be disproportionate to the local serious violence threat level, whether it would be incompatible with an existing statutory duty or, indeed, whether it would have an adverse effect on the exercise of the authority’s functions, or would mean that the authority incurred unreasonable cost. In determining whether any of those conditions apply, the cumulative effect of complying with duties under Clause 14 must be taken into account.
We think that this approach strikes the right balance in ensuring that institutions which are affected by serious violence, or may have a valuable contribution to make to local partnership efforts, will be drawn into the work of the local partnership without placing unnecessary burdens on those which may not. This approach is also consistent with the structures and processes in place for existing safeguarding legislation and would allow for an effective and targeted approach within both the education and prison sectors.
Amendments 24, 32 and 33 require that any information disclosed under Clauses 15 or 16 or under regulations made under Clause 9 must comply with any duty of confidence owed by the person making the disclosure, where disclosure would amount to a breach of that duty, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010, the data protection legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, and any other restriction on the disclosure of information, however imposed. In addition, Amendment 33 also specifies that no regulations may be published under Clause 9(2) prior to the Secretary of State publishing an equality impact assessment, a data protection impact assessment and a description of any guidance or codes of practice.
We think that the amendments are not needed, as public authorities are already required to act in compatibility with ECHR convention rights by virtue of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and, similarly, the relevant duties in the Equality Act 2010 such as the public sector equality duty already apply. Clauses 9, 15 and 16 also already ensure that data can be disclosed only in compliance with data protection legislation, which requires a case-by-case consideration of the necessity and proportionality of disclosure, and where disclosure is not prohibited by certain provisions in the IPA. Obligations of confidence and other restrictions on disclosure are not breached—
Is the Minister saying—I take Clause 9(5)(a) as an example—that, when considering necessity and proportionality under the data protection legislation, the existence of this power is not relevant because the data protection legislation will determine whether it is necessary and proportionate, and the only significance of the words in brackets is to make it clear that this opens a new gateway?
Under the data protection legislation, whether or not to disclose the information depends in part on its necessity and proportionality, which is a balancing act. I think the noble Baroness is saying that the words in brackets are there—I am taking Clause 9(5)(a) as an example—only to make it clear that we are opening a new gateway here. They are not there to say, “In considering necessity and proportionality, have regard to the fact that this new power is given”. Is that what the noble Baroness is saying about how the words in brackets operate? If it is too late at night and I am not clear enough, she can by all means write to me, but it is quite important.
My Lords, as I understand it, they must be read with Article 6 of the GDPR, so it is a read-across. Yes, I am tired—my brain is not working very fast today.
Clauses 9, 15 and 16 also already ensure that data can be disclosed only in compliance with the data protection legislation; I mentioned that that requires a case-by-case consideration of the necessity and proportionality of a disclosure.
Obligations of confidence and other restrictions on disclosure are not breached by a disclosure under Clauses 15 or 16, or regulations made under Clause 9, but patient information and personal information held by a health or social care authority should not be shared in line with our proposed amendments, as it is vital that authorities are able to share their data when necessary to determine what is causing serious violence in local areas. Our draft statutory guidance provides some additional steers on this, and the guidance will be subject to formal consultation following Royal Assent and can be revised if it needs further clarification.
I turn to Clause 17, and first I shall answer a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. A direction under Clause 17 cannot be made to require information requested under Clause 16 to be provided if the information is patient information or if the health or social care authority is requested to provide personal information. I hope that she finds that clarification helpful.
Amendment 35 strikes out Clause 17, which confers a power on the Secretary of State to direct a specified authority, educational, prison or youth custody authority, where it has failed to discharge its duty imposed under the Bill. I assure the House that we expect these powers to be seldom used and utilised only when all other means of securing compliance have been exhausted. However, in order for this duty to be effective, there needs to be a system in place to ensure that specified authorities comply with the legal requirements that we are proposing to help prevent and reduce serious violence.
I hope, in the light of my explanation, that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will be content not to press their amendments and support the government amendments.
My Lords, first, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, very much for their support for these amendments and their excellent contributions, and I thank all other noble Lords who have contributed today—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who has been very helpful behind the scenes, despite a slight issue this evening, as we know.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Her remarks must have left noble Lords completely confused because, of course, if these clauses really were benign, we would not have Amnesty International, Liberty and about a dozen other organisations desperate for these amendments to pass this evening. The fact is that they are not benign, and I congratulate the Minister on the brilliant wording that has somehow left me bemused, along I am sure with everybody else in this Chamber.
I regard the issue of the ability of professionals to exercise their professional judgment in deciding whether to pass information to the police, which could jeopardise the very vulnerable young people they are working with, as a very important issue of principle. It is for that reason that I wish to test the opinion of the House—albeit I know our numbers are severely limited at this very late hour—and call a vote.
Amendments 12 and 13
12: Clause 9, page 12, line 2, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under subsection (2) must not authorise—(a) the disclosure of patient information, or(b) the disclosure of personal information by a specified authority which is a health or social care authority.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 12, line 11 require regulations under Clause 9(2) to provide that they do not authorise the disclosure of patient information or the disclosure of personal information by a health or social care authority.
13: Clause 9, page 12, line 11, at end insert—
““health or social care authority” means a specified authority which is listed in the first column of the table headed “Health and social care” in Schedule 1;“patient information” means personal information (however recorded) which relates to—(a) the physical or mental health or condition of an individual,(b) the diagnosis of an individual’s condition, or(c) an individual’s care or treatment,or is (to any extent) derived directly or indirectly from information relating to any of those matters;“personal information” means information which is in a form that identifies any individual or enables any individual to be identified (either by itself or in combination with other information).”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford at page 12, line 2.
Amendments 12 and 13 agreed.
14: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Serious Violence and the Housing Act 1996
The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, issue a code of practice under section 214A of the Housing Act 1996 on preventing serious violence to provide—(a) that the application of section 177 of the Housing Act 1996 is to be applied to those at risk of serious violence so as to ensure that it is not deemed reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation if the provision of alternative accommodation would prevent or reduce the risk of serious violence against that person;(b) for the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities to be updated to include a new chapter on the duties of local authorities under sections 7(3A) and 8(3A) of this Act, with particular reference to preventing and reducing serious violence and safeguarding young people at risk of serious violence; (c) that the police shall be responsible for timely collaboration with housing providers on the reduction of the risk of serious violence to individuals where the exercise of housing duties may reduce or prevent the risk of serious violence; and(d) guidance on the disclosure of information in accordance with regulations under section 9(2) of this Act by and to specified authorities which are housing authorities to prevent and reduce serious violence in a prescribed area, with particular reference to assisting the housing authority with the prevention and reduction of serious violence in the exercise of its duties under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 14 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds. This adds a new clause to the Bill after Clause 9—the clause dealing with the power to authorise collaboration to prevent and reduce serious violence. It is the same as Amendment 50, which we debated in Committee on 25 October. It links that objective of reducing serious violence specifically to the area of housing by giving priority to those who need to be rehoused to protect them, for example, from gang violence. Homelessness massively increases a young person’s risk of exploitation and abuse, and a safe and stable home is a key element in preventing and reducing youth violence.
The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy in 2018 identified homelessness as a risk factor in being a victim or perpetrator of violent crime. This has been confirmed by research by Crisis and Shelter. The amendment builds on the protection in the Domestic Abuse Act for victims of violence in the home, extending it to victims of violence outside the home that is every bit as dangerous. Whatever the theoretical protection offered to them by existing legislation and guidance may be, evidence on the ground shows these young people are not getting priority—a fact confirmed by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. The amendment does not ask for fresh primary legislation but requires current codes of practice and guidance to be updated and refocused, and for the police to collaborate and to ensure that relevant data is shared between authorities where people are at risk.
The Companion says:
“Arguments fully deployed … in Committee of the whole House … should not be repeated at length on report”.
I will therefore refer very briefly to what I said: that we are seeking to ensure that what the Government say is happening, and what should be happening, is actually happening on the ground. I also refer to what noble Baroness, Lady Blake, said when she gave specific examples with fatal consequences of a failure to rehouse a child out of area, and about how local authorities currently view their responsibilities in this area. The noble Baroness will deal with proposed new subsections (c) and (d) in the amendment.
The amendment was supported from the Cross Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, by the Liberal Democrat Benches and by a former police commissioner on the Labour Benches. In her sympathetic response to that debate, my noble friend the Minister said:
“We will continue to work with the relevant sectors to ensure that the statutory guidance is clear on this point”—
the priority need for those at risk of violence—
“ahead of a public consultation following Royal Assent and prior to the serious violence duty provisions coming into effect”—[Official Report, 25/10/21; col. 572.]
I took comfort from that.
But the amendment goes a bit further than that and refers to the code of practice and guidance under the Housing Act 1996. On that, my noble friend said:
“We think that the current legislative framework and accompanying statutory homelessness code of guidance, combined with the statutory guidance on social housing allocations, strikes the right balance as it considers the vulnerability of the applicant on a case-by-case basis and is the … appropriate means of determining priority for accommodation secured by the local authority.”
My noble friend also referred to the code of practice covering Section 177 of the Housing Act, saying:
“I say to my noble friend at this point that the statutory homelessness code of guidance already provides such guidance for housing authorities when a person at risk of violence or the threat of violence approaches a local authority in housing need. The statutory guidance on social housing allocations also makes it clear that local housing authorities should consider giving preference to such persons.”—[Official Report, 25/10/21; cols. 574-75.]
But the view of the Committee was that this did not go far enough to deal with the often tragic cases that we referred to.
At 5.50 pm yesterday, my noble friend wrote to me about the amendment, and I am grateful for a thoughtful and reasoned response. At the end, she says, “I hope that, in the light of these commitments, you will not consider it necessary to return to this issue on Report”. But the amendment had already been listed for debate today yesterday morning, so she will understand that this hope was ambitious. One argument in her letter for resisting the amendment is a tribute to the ingenuity of the civil servant who drafted it, but it cut little ice with me. This was the suggestion that giving strengthened advice to social landlords about those suffering from serious violence, as proposed, and simply ensuring that what should happen does happen, would add £88 billion to the PSBR. I do not believe that the National Audit Office would reclassify housing association debt on the basis of my amendment.
My noble friend’s letter says that the Government do not think that there is a case for changing the legislation, and I agree; the amendment is about the guidance. Here I welcome what she has said to me— namely, that “officials will work with those in Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and representatives from the housing sector to strengthen the statutory guidance for the serious violence duty”.
In conclusion, can I press my noble friend to give a little more detail of what she has in mind? Will this new guidance complement, and so update, the homelessness code of guidance and ensure that all agencies are adequately protecting those at risk from serious violence, as in the amendment, without requiring them to gather extensive evidence and demonstrate unique vulnerability, often without a clear idea of what it is that they are being asked to demonstrate? In other words, will it make the process more like that for those who are threatened by domestic abuse, as in proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b)? These ensure that all local authorities would be required to consider the needs of individuals at risk of homelessness due to serious violence. At the moment, this is covered by only one paragraph in the code of guidance, compared with a whole chapter for those at risk of domestic violence. I hope that she is now able to go a little further than she was able to go in her letter and flesh out what she has in mind.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, to which I am pleased to have added my name; and I would like to take this opportunity to commend him for continuing to pursue the important issues raised and for the clarity in his exposition of the points in front of us. Given the lateness of the hour and how much pressure we know we are under with this Bill, I hope I will not repeat too often some of the points that have been raised already.
In speaking to this amendment, I would like to emphasise that we are aiming to protect some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our communities. I would like to highlight the comments the noble Lord made, knowing of the increased risk to a young person of exploitation and abuse that comes from vulnerability around their housing situation. We know, in the communities where young people are targets of gangs in particular, just how difficult it is to protect them if they are not given the full support from all the agencies that could be involved to help them—and we know that a safe and stable home is a key element in preventing and reducing youth violence.
There surely cannot be anyone in this Chamber who does not want to see an end to the sickening violence that is cutting short the lives of so many young people in the most harrowing of circumstances. The question is, as always: what further steps can we take to prevent such tragedies occurring? For the sake of brevity, I do not want to go over again all the arguments I made at Second Reading, and I will focus my comments on subsections (c) and (d) of the amendment at the end.
I must admit that I find the argument that changes are not necessary because local authorities already have “discretion” to grant priority in the area of rehousing to be far wide of the mark. Unfortunately, we know that local authority interpretation varies and often leaves the onus on immensely vulnerable families to provide evidence at what can be the most traumatic time of their lives. When asked, three in four local authorities have no specific policy governing how they treat people applying for a priority need because of serious violence. In effect, a postcode lottery has been created.
We need to be completely focused on coming up with practical solutions to what I believe are solvable problems. This new clause would ensure that families with members at risk of gang violence are given the support they need, rather than placing it on a legislative footing. This amendment seeks to update the guidance issued by the Government to ensure that all agencies are adequately protecting those at risk of serious violence—in effect, ensuring that all agencies are working together to protect those at risk and that, in this particular case, housing providers are automatically included. There are areas in the country where that relationship exists, and the results speak for themselves.
This new clause seeks to specify in law what the Government say is often happening anyway. Instead of people at risk of serious violence being forced to gather extensive evidence and demonstrate unique vulnerability—something not easily done when you are under threat or in a crisis—this would make the process automatic, as we rightly recognise should be the case for those threatened by domestic abuse.
Subsections (c) and (d) would ensure that housing providers are included in any collaboration around the reduction of serious violence. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill sets out the Government’s ambition to reduce violent crime and address the root causes of serious violence across England and Wales, by making sure that public bodies work together to stop serious violence. However, at present the Bill does not include housing as a partner agency.
The new collaboration duties can play an important role. Given the role which housing often plays in serious violence, whether because of the location of specific threats or criminal activity around particular locations, it is vital that these providers are not locked out of discussions because they are not specified in legislation. By ensuring the guidance specifically includes them, the Government can guarantee that the all the expertise of this sector will not be ignored.
I conclude by repeating the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Young, on bringing in the costs situation. This is about young people’s lives. I hope the Minister can provide further clarity and more progress, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, asked for.
My Lords, we support this amendment. As I said in Committee, it is not just victims of domestic violence that need help and support from housing authorities to escape serious violence; young people groomed and exploited by criminal gangs, for example, also need and deserve to be urgently rehoused in certain circumstances. The police need to provide information to housing authorities where they believe that someone is being coerced into criminal activity, where they are being threatened with serious violence if they do not comply, and where the police believe that taking the person out of that scenario by rehousing them can reduce the risk of serious violence. Many of the young people involved in county lines drug dealing have been groomed into criminality and been the victims of child criminal exploitation. They and their families are often terrorised by those higher up the drug-dealing network. In this sort of scenario, the police need to work with social housing agencies to provide a route out of serious violence. We support the amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham for setting out the case for his amendment. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I fully agree that local authorities can and do make a significant contribution to local efforts to prevent and reduce serious violence, and it is vitally important that all victims of serious violence who need to leave their home to escape violence are supported to access alternative safe and secure accommodation. As my noble friend has already outlined, the statutory homelessness code of guidance provides guidance on local authorities’ duties under Part 7 of the Housing Act. The amendment seeks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice under Section 214A of the Housing Act 1996.
The implementation of the serious violence duty will bring additional guidance to which local authorities will have a statutory duty to have regard. The guidance accompanying the duty, to be issued under Clause 18 of the Bill, will reinforce and complement the existing guidance issued under housing and homelessness legislation. Taken together, I hope there will be sufficient guidance in place to ensure local authorities are clear on how the legislation applies in addressing the housing needs of victims of serious violence.
I hope my noble friend agrees—and I think he would—that to introduce another code of practice in addition to the existing homelessness code of guidance and the serious violence duty guidance would lead to unnecessary confusion and duplication. I hope to assure my noble friend this evening that the points his amendment is seeking to address are already covered, and are what we are planning to do in future.
Paragraph (a) of my noble friend’s new clause would require the code of practice to provide guidance on the operation of Section 177 of the Housing Act 1996 in relation to people who are at risk of serious violence.
The Housing Act 1996, as amended by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, puts prevention at the heart of the local authorities’ response to homelessness and places duties on local housing authorities to take reasonable steps to try to prevent and relieve a person’s homelessness. When assessing if an applicant is homeless, local authorities should consider any evidence of violence and harassment. Section 177 already provides that someone is considered homeless if it would not be reasonable for them to continue to occupy the accommodation and it is probable that this would lead to violence against them, their family or their household.
Paragraph (b) of the new clause seeks to update the homelessness code of guidance to include a chapter on the duties of local authorities. We are committed to supporting victims of serious violence and know the important role that local authorities play in making sure that such victims get support when they are in housing need.
As noble Lords will know, we published a draft of the statutory guidance for the serious violence duty in May. The debates in both Houses have helped to identify areas which need further development prior to publishing a revised draft, which will be subject to a formal consultation following Royal Assent of the Bill. Officials will work closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and representatives from the housing sector to strengthen the statutory guidance for the serious violence duty. This will point to the legislation and guidance that is already set out in the homelessness code of guidance and the allocation of accommodation guidance, and showcase examples of good practice in this area which local partners can draw on to raise awareness across public authorities of the legislation which protects this cohort.
I can also give a commitment this evening that we will expand the homelessness code of guidance to include a new chapter on supporting victims of serious violence, which I hope gives my noble friend the assurance he seeks in this regard.
Paragraphs (c) and (d) of the new clause concern the role of the police in timely collaboration with housing providers on reducing the risk of serious violence to individuals, and guidance on the disclosure of information. Of course, we must do all that we can to identify and provide support to the individuals most at risk of involvement in serious violence, including those who might be at risk of homelessness.
As noble Lords have stated, many housing authorities already work with the police and other key partners to reduce the risk of serious violence, including through the provision of alternative accommodation. Where this works well, it is clear that it is vital that services such as youth offending teams, educational authorities and national probation services work together locally to provide support for the household and victim of violence. Housing alone without support, I think noble Lords will agree, is not a sustainable option.
As part of the work to prevent and reduce serious violence, specified authorities in a local area will be required to work together to identify the kinds and causes of serious violence and, in doing so, to establish the groups of individuals who are most at risk in local areas.
The new serious violence duty will facilitate this and is intended to generate better partnership working locally to further protect this cohort. The draft guidance is clear that local authorities are responsible for the delivery of a range of vital services for people and businesses in a local area, including—but not limited to—children’s and adult’s social care, schools, housing and planning, youth services and community safety, so they will have an essential role to play in partnership arrangements. The inclusion of this detail in the guidance for the new duty, alongside the existing homelessness legislation and guidance, is the most effective way of supporting these victims of serious and gang-related violence to relocate and start afresh.
To support the collaboration, Clause 9 provides that regulations can also be made to authorise the disclosure of information, which we talked about earlier, between authorities and prescribed persons, which might be external bodies for this purpose, so long as it would not contravene existing data protection legislation or be prohibited under provisions of the IPA 2016. This of course would be a permissive gateway, permitting but not requiring the sharing of information.
I hope that, in the light of the assurances and commitment I have given in relation to the statutory guidance and the relevant existing legislation on this matter, my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment—and I apologise for the lateness of the arrival of the letter.
My Lords, I thank, first, the co-sponsor of the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, for continuing the duet that we launched in Committee. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his continued support. I should also mention that I am grateful to Stella Creasy and her office for the briefing that she has been able to give us in connection with the amendment.
There was a lot in my noble friend’s reply and I am very grateful for what she said. I will pick out just three things. She said that the additional guidance under this legislation will place a statutory obligation on local authorities, which will complement existing guidance. I set great store by what she said on that. She also said that the draft guidance that has already been published will be developed further and strengthened in the light of debates in both Houses. She also said, crucially, that there will be an extra chapter to the homelessness guide—again, something that I asked for.
In the words of “Oklahoma”, I think she has gone about as far as she can go. Against the background of the assurances that she has been able to give, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.17 pm.