Moved by
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Relevant documents: 1st, 2nd and 4th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 7th Report from the Constitution Committee

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the first duty of any Government is to keep the country safe. This means working together to prevent and reduce crime, backing the police—ensuring that they have the powers and tools they need—and a fair justice system which ensures that the punishment fits the crime but allows offenders who have paid their debt to society to make a fresh start.

We have already recruited nearly half of the promised 20,000 additional police officers and overall police funding has grown in real terms for the fifth consecutive year. We have also already ended the automatic early release of the most serious offenders sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment or more, we are implementing our landmark Domestic Abuse Act and we have published our new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. However, we need to do more to protect our communities, and the measures in this Bill are directed to that end.

The police undertake a uniquely challenging role in helping to keep communities safe. They make enormous sacrifices to protect the public and, in turn, we should protect them. The police covenant will demonstrate our commitment to back police officers and staff and ensure that the police workforce do not suffer any disadvantage as a result of their role. The Bill will require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on key issues that we want to prioritise, particularly the health and well-being of the workforce, their physical protection and supporting their families.

Our police and other emergency workers are committed to serving their communities. The overwhelming majority of the public applaud and salute that service but, shockingly, the latest figures show that assaults on police officers increased by 14% compared with the previous year. Obviously, that is unacceptable. The Bill therefore doubles the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker to two years’ imprisonment, ensuring that those who carry out these attacks receive a punishment that is commensurate with the crime that they have committed.

Sorry, some of my speech is missing, but I will carry on. Moving on swiftly, the end-to-end rape review acknowledged that the invasive nature of the process around disclosure has long been an issue for victims. We need to do more to assure victims that information will be extracted from their mobile phone only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so in pursuit of reasonable lines of inquiry. To that end, the Bill establishes a statutory framework, backed up by a code of practice, for the extraction of information from electronic devices. Our focus is on protecting privacy and supporting victims of crime and others who voluntarily provide information to the police. In the Commons debates we heard concerns, including from the Victims’ Commissioner, that these provisions do not yet provide sufficient safeguards. We owe it to vulnerable victims and witnesses to get these provisions right and we are continuing to explore how they might be strengthened.

I return to the issue of serious violence. It blights our communities and we cannot look to the police alone to solve it; that has to be a shared endeavour, with all relevant agencies working together. Part 2 of the Bill will require local authorities, specified health authorities and fire and rescue authorities, along with the police and other specified criminal justice agencies, to come together to prevent and reduce serious violence in their area. They will be required to formulate an evidence-based analysis of the problems associated with serious violence in their locality and then produce and implement a strategy detailing how they will respond, including through early interventions. To support such collaborative working, the Bill introduces new powers to share data and information for that purpose.

One way to prevent serious violence is to ensure that we learn the lessons from the far too many deaths involving knives that we see on our streets. Each of these is an individual tragedy, with the most devastating consequences for victims and their families. We will therefore introduce offensive weapons homicide reviews—to be undertaken jointly by the relevant police force, local authority and clinical commissioning group or health board—which will examine the circumstances surrounding a death and identify lessons to prevent such tragedies in future. These homicide reviews will first be piloted to ensure that we design a review process that is as effective as possible before we roll them out across England and Wales.

Part 2 of the Bill also reforms pre-charge bail. As noble Lords will recall, changes made in 2017 sought to address legitimate concerns that individuals who had not been charged or convicted of any offence were subjected to bail conditions restricting their liberty for months or, in some cases, years while the police pursued their investigation. Noble Lords will recall that the experience of the last four years has shown that the pendulum has swung far too far in the other direction, leading to concerns that bail is not being used in appropriate cases to protect vulnerable victims and witnesses.

To address those concerns, the Bill will remove the current statutory presumption against pre-charge bail, instead adopting a neutral position. This is designed to encourage its use when it is necessary and proportionate to do so, based on each case’s individual circumstances and the list of risk factors now set out in the Bill. These changes will be reinforced by statutory guidance issued by the College of Policing to help establish a consistent approach across all forces.

Lastly, in relation to Part 2, we are extending the positions of trust offences in the Sexual Offences Act to protect 16 and 17 year-olds in a wider range of circumstances—namely, in a sporting or religious context—where adults hold a position of particular influence or power. I know this change will be particularly welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

There has been much comment about the public order provisions in Part 3. The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental part of our democracy. This is not about stifling freedom of speech and assembly but about balancing those rights with the rights of others, including protecting the free press and ensuring that people can get to their work and that ambulances can quickly transport patients to hospital.

We have listened to policing professionals who have told us that the distinction made in the Public Order Act between processions and assemblies is out of date and does not reflect the operational reality. We have listened to the independent Law Commission, which recommended that the common-law offence of public nuisance be put on a statutory footing. We have listened to the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recommended strengthening powers to ensure unhindered access—including for noble Lords—to the Parliamentary Estate. We have listened to the independent policing inspectorate, which concluded that the measures we have proposed in Part 3 would improve police effectiveness without eroding the right to protest.

Part 4 of the Bill delivers on an express manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised encampments. These measures are not about restricting the nomadic lifestyle of Travellers but about protecting all communities from the distress and loss of amenity caused by unauthorised encampments. In particular, the Bill provides for a new criminal offence of residing in a vehicle on land without permission. It is important to stress that the offence applies only where a person fails to leave the land or remove their property without reasonable excuse when asked to do so and they have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, significant disruption or significant distress. I do not think any noble Lord would want to condone such behaviour.

The sentencing measures in the Bill will target the most serious violent and sexual offenders and those who pose the greatest threat to the public. That includes those who commit the premeditated murder of a child, those who kill through dangerous driving or careless driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and those who become more dangerous while in prison. However, we are aware that delivering public protection and building confidence in the criminal justice system is not just about making better use of custody. In many cases, particularly for low-level offending, effective early interventions and community supervision keep the public safer by preventing further offending. To that end, we are simplifying the adult out-of-court disposals framework, making provision to pilot adult problem-solving courts and increasing the curfew options that are available to sentencers. In addition, we will aid offender rehabilitation by reducing the time periods after which some sentences become spent so that they do not have to be disclosed to employers for non-sensitive jobs or activities.

The Bill includes measures on sentencing and remand for children. We intend these measures to increase confidence in community sentences as a robust alternative to custody and to ensure that custodial remand is used only as a last resort. They also ensure that sentences for the most serious crimes provide justice for victims and reflect the seriousness of those offences. The Bill also includes measures to enable the trialling of secure schools in order to fulfil our vision of secure environments centred on individualised education and care.

I turn now to Part 10, which includes the provision for serious violence reduction orders. These deliver on another manifesto commitment to introduce a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for the police to stop and search those convicted of knife crime. These new orders are intended to help tackle high-risk offenders, by making it easier for the police to search them for weapons, and to help protect more vulnerable offenders from being drawn into further exploitation by criminal gangs. The targeted use of stop and search, as part of a wider approach to intervening and supporting offenders, will help safeguard those communities most at risk.

In Part 10 we are also strengthening the powers to manage sex offenders—one of a number of measures in the Bill which will help tackle violence against women and girls. In particular, the Bill will help positive requirements to be attached to sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders; for example, by requiring perpetrators to attend a treatment programme.

Finally, the Bill includes a number of measures to improve the efficiency of the Courts & Tribunals Service. Our aim is to modernise the delivery of justice, including through the greater use of technology, but only where it is appropriate to do so. We are facilitating the ongoing use of audio and video technology in our courts and tribunals, building on its successful use during the pandemic. This will ensure shorter waiting times and less unnecessary travel for court participants. However, a full hearing in court will always be available when needed and where the court considers it to be in the interests of justice. The decision as to how a hearing is conducted will remain a matter for the judiciary—the judge, magistrates or tribunal panel—who will determine how best to protect the interests of justice on a case-by-case basis.

This is a multifaceted Bill, but there is one overarching objective: to keep the public safe. It promotes multiagency working to prevent and reduce crime; it gives the police the powers they need to fight crime and prevent disorder; it introduces tougher punishments for violent and sexual offenders; it helps end the cycle of reoffending; and it enhances the efficiency of the courts to help deliver justice for all. I commend the Bill to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate. I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his kind words about the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson; I am sure that I echo the words of the whole House in sending him our good wishes. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Sandhurst for the very interesting maiden speech he made during this important debate—there were times when I wondered whether he might just pop down to the Front Bench and help me on some of the Ministry of Justice issues. I very much look forward to working with him in the future.

A couple of noble Lords, including Front-Bench speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, talked about the size of the Bill. I agree, and I know that the noble Lords will lead by example and not add to its size. I welcome the support for many of the measures in the Bill, including those in relation to the police covenant, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about other parts of the covenant that he would like to explore: doubling the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers, the amendments to the Sexual Offences Act in respect of positions of trust, and the provisions relating to the rehabilitation of offenders.

It is fair to say, however, that some of the other measures have not been quite so well received by your Lordships’ House. Many points have been raised, and my noble friend Lord Wolfson and I will need to consider some of these further. I will take this opportunity to touch on some of the main themes in today’s debate, but I know your Lordships will understand that I will not get through every single point made by every noble Lord—or else we will be here until tomorrow morning.

I will first address the concerns of a number of noble Lords regarding the public order provisions in Part 3 of the Bill. I had some very thoughtful, although contrary, contributions from my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lord Moylan, and the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Walney. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Walney, spoke about the fragility of democracy, which I thought was a very interesting point. The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, gave several examples of how, historically, our right to protest might have been curtailed. I have to say that I disagree with him. I think the right to protest peacefully is as fundamental to our democracy now as it has ever been. To be a bit mischievous, I add as a postscript that the Labour Party boycotted the Jarrow marches.

That said, we must respect the rights of others who might be affected by the increasingly disruptive tactics used by some groups. We saw further examples of such disruption during the recent protests by Extinction Rebellion, with protesters stopping emergency workers from attending to members of the public—as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said—as well as gluing themselves to trains to stop ordinary working people from going to work.

The policing inspectorate found earlier this year that the balance between protesters’ rights and the rights of local residents, businesses and those who hold opposing views leans in favour of the protesters and called for a modest reset. The Bill does just that, by enabling police to better manage highly disruptive protests. These new measures will balance the rights of protesters with those of others to go about their business and their day unhindered.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Oates, Lord Beith and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the powers conferred on the police to attach conditions relating to the generation of noise. We accept that many protests are, by their very nature, noisy—they would not be protests otherwise—and the overwhelming majority of protests will be unaffected by these provisions. But in recent years we have seen some protesters use egregious noise, not as a method of legitimately expressing themselves but to antagonise and disrupt others from the enjoyment of their own liberties and rights. This power can be used only when the police reasonably believe that the noise from a protest may cause serious disruption to the activities of an organisation or cause a significant impact on people in the vicinity of the protest.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the lack of a definition of serious disruption and annoyance. Part 3 of the Bill uses many terms that are already used in the Public Order Act 1986 and other legislation and that are familiar to the police and the courts. The police are very well versed in applying the tests set out in legislation in an operational context. The tests in Sections 12 and 14 of the 1986 Act as currently drafted necessarily require the exercise of judgment based on the circumstances of a particular protest, and the amendments to the 1986 Act do not change that. To assist them in this, the police receive extensive training in public order delivered by the College of Policing.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Blackburn, Manchester and Gloucester, expressed concerns about the provisions in Part 4 relating to unauthorised encampments. I must assure the House that this is not an anti-Traveller measure and it should not be portrayed as such. Those who cause harm are a small number, who often give an unfair and negative image of the vast majority of Travellers, who are completely law-abiding. The measures allow police to tackle unauthorised encampments where they cause significant damage, disruption and distress to communities and landowners. It has to be considered that it must be time-consuming and often costly for landowners to have unauthorised encampments removed or indeed to have to clean up after them. It is only right that the Government seek to protect law-abiding citizens who are adversely affected by some unauthorised encampments, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Goschen.

On Wales, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, that we have engaged extensively with the Welsh Government on this and other provisions in the Bill.

Another major topic of discussion this evening has been the serious violence duty. My noble friend Lady Bertin sought reassurance that the serious violence duty will cover domestic abuse and sexual violence. My noble friend Lord Polak, among others, also spoke on this issue. We have intentionally refrained from including a list of crime types or prioritising one type of victim over another in the legislation. This is to allow local strategies to take account of the most prevalent forms of serious violence in the locality and the impact on all potential victims. Different forms of serious violence will vary between geographical areas, and we want to enable partners to adapt and respond to new and emerging forms of serious violence as they arise and are identified. That is why we have built in flexibility for specified authorities to include in their strategy actions that focus on any form of serious violence should it be prevalent in a local area. This could include, for example, domestic abuse or sexual violence, or other forms of violence against women and girls. What we do not want to do through legislation is to restrict things from being in scope.

On the concerns about longer sentences, the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord German and Lord Hendy, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lord Attlee expressed concern that this legislation will lead to further increases in the prison population. We are committed to a sentencing framework that takes account of the true nature of crimes and targets specific groups of offenders accordingly. The proposals aimed at serious offenders do just that—they are highly targeted interventions for the most serious and most dangerous offenders, and those of most public concern. However, at the other end of the scale, the Bill also looks to divert offenders away from a life of crime and support them into rehabilitation.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others raised the issue of female offenders. We are actively looking to target female offenders through our problem-solving courts pilot, aiming to reduce the volume and frequency of reoffending, increase health and well-being and improve the maintenance of familial relationships compared to standard court processes and disposals for vulnerable female offenders. We intend to pilot these measures in four to five courts, at least one of which is anticipated to focus on piloting problem-solving measures for female offenders who meet the eligibility criteria. The Government remain fully committed to delivering the female offender strategy, which sets out a very ambitious programme of work to address the specific needs of female offenders.

The noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Rooker and Lord Pannick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester raised the issue of the sentencing of primary carers. The case law in this area makes it clear that the court must perform a balancing exercise between the legitimate aims to be served by sentencing and the effect that a sentence has on the family life of others, particularly children. The effect of a sentence on others may be capable of tipping the scales so that a custodial sentence which would otherwise be proportionate becomes disproportionate. However, there will be cases where the seriousness of the offending is such that, despite the existence of dependants, a custodial sentence is warranted. In such cases, it will still be open to the court to find that the effect of a sentence on others is such as to provide grounds for mitigating the length of a custodial sentence.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, asked about the review of sentencing in cases of domestic homicides. I am happy to report that this work is now well under way and the first stage has been completed. He was right to identify the appointment of Clare Wade QC as an independent expert to lead the second stage of the review. The terms of reference of the review have now been finalised following a period of consultation with her, and we will publish them shortly. Ms Wade will examine the findings from the initial stage of the review and then produce a report for Ministers which will consider whether the law could better protect the public and ensure that the sentences reflect the severity of these awful crimes.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lady Sater, asked about the use of audio and video links in criminal proceedings and how it will be implemented to ensure quality and that trials remain fair. The use of live links will continue to be subject to judicial discretion, and they will be used only where the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice, having considered any representations from parties to the proceedings. We recognise that children have specific needs; the courts have a statutory duty to have regard to the welfare of children. They will need to be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice for a child to participate by live link, having considered any representation from parties and the relevant youth offending team.

My noble friend Lord Lexden spoke about the historic disregards and pardons for what were historically same-sex offences but are offences no longer. I have to ’fess up: I thought this was dealt with in the Armed Forces Bill, and it is not. I will immediately get on to this. I feel quite ashamed that I thought it was being dealt with, so I apologise to my noble friend.

My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton and the noble Lord, Lord Best, suggested that the Bill might be used to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Government are very clear that no one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live. We agree that the time has come to reconsider the Vagrancy Act. It is complex, it might not be a question of simply repealing the 1824 Act and putting nothing in its place, but we reserve judgment on that. We also need to consider the devolution implication, given that it extends to Wales. I can assure noble Lords that we are on the case, and I am sure the House will hold me to account for those words.

The IPP is something that noble Lords, particularly noble and learned Lords, are concerned about. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and my noble friend Lord Garnier argued that the Bill should address the issue of offenders still subject to the IPP sentences. We acknowledge that there are concerns about the IPP sentence, but our number one priority is to protect the public. We must not forget that many of these prisoners pose a high risk, and that the measures are working, but I acknowledge the point that the noble and learned Lords have made.

The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, argued for the introduction of a new offence of assaulting a retail worker. Were the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, here, he would be arguing for it as well. I share their concerns about the unacceptable increase, during the pandemic, of assaults on shop workers. There is already a wide range of offences which criminalise disorderly and violent behaviour that would apply in cases of violence towards people whose work brings them into contact with members of the public. These offences cover the full spectrum of unacceptable behaviour, from using abusive language to the most serious and violent offences. None the less, the Government have agreed to actively consider whether legislative change is necessary and to bring forward any proposal if it is.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Garnier, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Beith, referred to the reports published in the last few days by the DPRRC. I am very grateful to that committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights for their careful scrutiny of the Bill. We will consider, very carefully, each of their conclusions and recommendations, and respond fully in due course.

A couple of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the extraction of information from electronic devices. We agree that there is a need for strong privacy safeguards when dealing with people’s sensitive personal information. We owe it to vulnerable victims and witnesses to get these provisions right. I assure noble Lords that we are continuing to explore how they might be strengthened.

I know that I have not been able to respond to all the points raised by noble Lords during the course of the debate. I will look at Hansard; I can already think of things that I have not had a chance to respond to tonight.

I will finish by reiterating what I said in my opening speech. This is a multifaceted Bill. We want to keep the public safe and I know that together, as the House of Lords, we will make this Bill better as we work on it in the coming weeks. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.