All Lord Lexden debates involving the Home Office

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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

(Lords Hansard - part two)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 17th November 2021

(2 weeks, 1 day ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Lord Cashman Portrait Lord Cashman (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendments 266 and 267 and pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Lexden and Professor Paul Johnson of York in doing so. Due to the lateness of the time I want to focus exactly on what our amendments do: they are focused on the pardons and disregards scheme. In 2012 the scheme was introduced to enable those living with a caution or conviction for a now-repealed homosexual offence to have that caution or conviction disregarded. In 2017 a further scheme was introduced to provide those so cautioned or convicted, both living and dead, with a pardon. A pardon, aside from its legal status, is a strong, symbolic apology to each and every person who has been wronged.

However, the disregard and pardon schemes in England and Wales are significantly flawed because they encompass only a small fraction of the laws that, over the decades and centuries, have immiserated the lives of gay and bisexual people. For five years I have worked closely with my noble friend Lord Lexden and, as I said, with Professor Paul Johnson at the University of York.

Significant problems, as I said, remain in this disregard and pardon scheme. The amendments before your Lordships would cover, for instance, now-repealed criminal offences such as the offence of solicitation by men, which was used to entrap gay and bisexual men, sometimes for doing nothing more than chatting up another adult man. The amendments would also cover the offences in the repealed service discipline Acts, which were once used to prosecute and punish consensual same-sex relationships. Those living with cautions or convictions for these and other relevant offences would be able to apply for a disregard and, if successful, be pardoned. Those who have died will be posthumously pardoned.

It is important that I am absolutely clear on one point: no one who was cautioned or convicted in respect of conduct that would be an offence today would be able to attain a disregard or receive a pardon. Our amendments to the Bill contain the strongest safeguards to ensure that those who committed crimes that today remain crimes cannot take advantage of, or benefit from, the disregard and pardon scheme. Equally, the extension of the disregard scheme that we propose means that it should be decided on a case-by-case basis by the Secretary of State, who would grant a disregard only if satisfied that the conduct in question would not be an offence today.

I could speak longer and in greater detail on crimes that have been perpetrated against homosexual men and bisexual men over 500 years, but I will say nothing more. I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I endorse all that my noble friend Lord Cashman has just said. We have been close allies, as he mentioned, for five years, in a sustained campaign to bring far more gay people within the scope of a hugely important scheme, through which they can attain disregards and pardons for offences that have been rightly overturned by Parliament. The House will understand how earnestly we hope that the end of our campaign is at last in sight.

Our amendments include provisions originally incorporated in amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, now completing its passage through the House. The provisions in question have now been embodied in these amendments. This has been done on the advice of the two Ministers concerned—my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lady Williams—with whom most helpful conversations have been held.

I refer to the provisions that relate to the Armed Forces. More gay members of our Armed Forces need the belated release from past injustice that our proposal will provide. Many were routinely punished, sometimes with imprisonment, under the service discipline offences, for actions such as disgraceful conduct for engaging in consensual same-sex activity, even when, after 1967, this was perfectly legal for civilians. They must now have the redress that our amendments would provide. Medals have been restored to former gay service personnel. Their reputations must be fully restored, too, by the removal of the stains that they should never have borne in the first place.

It was through initiatives in this House that the disregard and pardon scheme was significantly extended, five years ago. It is immensely gratifying to know that wide support exists across the House today for the scheme’s further enlargement to bring redress to many more gay people who have suffered grave injustice, particularly former gallant members of our Armed Forces, who served our country in peace and in war.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise to briefly and extremely humbly speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who signed Amendment 266. I am greatly honoured to follow two such champions of this matter of undoing great injustices of the past.

I want to record our support for this and also to ask the Minister a question—to which I do not expect an answer now. These clauses provide for people to apply. Why can we not have a situation where we go through, find and identify these case and wipe them clean? That is the question I was asked to ask, and I am asking it. I do not necessarily expect an answer now, but I am putting it on the record.

England: Historic Counties

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure the preservation of England’s historic counties.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The history and traditions of this country are very important and the tapestry of our historic counties is one of the bonds that draws the nation together. We support various initiatives to celebrate our historic counties and encourage local leaders across Great Britain to do the same.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, do our historic counties not enable us to recall many elements of our long and glorious past? Should they not appear on all maps, as a matter of course? Should they not be used on all ceremonial occasions rather than, as is sometimes the case, the more recent artificial creations?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My noble friend is right to raise this issue. The Government have taken steps to ensure it is easier to recognise historic counties. In 2014, planning rules were changed to allow councils to put up boundary signs marking traditional English counties. In 2015, the Government commissioned Ordnance Survey to produce historic and ceremonial county-boundary datasets, and we are open to other ideas.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

(2nd reading)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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My Lords, with some trepidation, I rise to speak in the gap after such a long day. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for his understanding. I only want to speak briefly to three points.

First, I support a comment made earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. I support the Government’s attempts in the Bill to withdraw digital evidence from mobile phones for sexual offence victims, but the problem is wider than that. There will have to be a radical reform of the criminal justice process because of the volume of digital evidence, the ability of the police to withdraw and analyse it and, finally, the ability of the disclosure Act to cope with the challenges that it faces. I support further action on that point by the Government.

My second, main point is about the right to protest. I know that people are concerned about this, and sometimes the police are too, but it is reasonable to ask for an incremental response to changing protester tactics. Many of the points raised in both the submissions by the police and the Government’s response are a reasonable response to some of the challenges that the police and the public have faced. The police are often challenged for not taking action if the law does not allow them to, and then of course they are challenged if they take too quick action. We have seen the two extremes in the Oxford Circus protests a couple of years ago and in the recent actions on London Bridge, where completely different actions led to protests and complaints about the police. However, I think it is important to make sure that the police can respond.

We have talked about whether noise is a nuisance factor sufficient to break the standard of whether or not criminal law should get involved. This is not merely about simple nuisance; it is about whether noise becomes an intrusive feature of people’s lives. It can be to do with its volume, its persistence or its content. It can be different if it is your home or your place of business, or if you are the leader of a business that is being protested about. It is important that we consider these important matters.

There is also the point that we have a right to balance the needs of the protester with our right to expect that an ambulance can get through traffic to give us help when we require it. I am afraid there have been times when that has not been the case. Only this week at Heathrow, some people needed to travel for very good reasons but could not. Of course it was right for the protesters to make their point, but are they to be the only arbiters of whether what they do is okay or should the people disrupted by their actions have a right of remedy and the police intervene on their behalf, to be tested eventually in the courts? I argue that in these cases it is important that there is an opportunity to intervene. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox: there have been times when I have wondered whether the police could have taken more action with the existing laws but, frankly, sometimes case law has developed in ad hoc ways that have left them with dilemmas about particular circumstances that have arisen later.

My final point is about three amendments that will be tabled which have been proposed mainly by the Police Federation, and I happen to agree with them. The first is about the defence available to police drivers when they break the law on our behalf, either to attend an incident or to pursue other cars. If we do not want that to happen then we should say so, but if we do then we have to support them when it gets difficult. I am afraid that officers have been under investigation for long periods of time. That leads to the second amendment, which is about how long that process takes. Often the reason why it takes so long is the sequential nature of the consideration of the investigation of the officer, first by the force, then by the CPS and then by the Independent Office for Police Conduct—and lastly it goes back through that process again. I do not understand why that cannot happen in parallel rather than in sequence. It cannot be right for either the victim or the officer to be under sustained investigation for so long.

I thank noble Lords for their indulgence. Those were the points that I wished to make.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I do not crave quite as much indulgence as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, since I put my name firmly on the list but, sadly, was omitted from the final version of it—surely something that should be made an offence under the Bill.

I have an additional decoration, if I may be allowed to present it, for this heavily laden Christmas tree Bill. It is a very modest addition which would deal with an issue that I have raised repeatedly over the last few years alongside my friend the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who cannot be in his place today. That issue is the inadequacy of the current schemes under which those convicted of or cautioned for certain offences that turned gay people into criminals in the past can secure disregards and pardons now that those offences, which should never have been on the statute book in the first place, have been swept from it. It is the issue to which the case of Alan Turing first gave prominence.

The schemes under which pardons can be made available are inadequate because they do not encompass the full range of offences under which gay people have in the past been convicted of or cautioned for conduct that today would be entirely lawful. Five years ago, at the time of the last major policing legislation, the Government accepted that the schemes needed to be extended.

The Home Office has had the detailed information that it needs for action in its hands for years; it was sent to it in 2017 by Stonewall and Professor Paul Johnson of York University, the country’s leading legal expert on this subject. They submitted a comprehensive list of all the relevant offences. Since then, Professor Johnson has tried to assist the Home Office by furnishing it with two draft Bills and a draft statutory instrument that it could have amended, and if necessary refined, as a basis for its action.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and I, working in close association with Professor Johnson, have asked a string of Oral and Written Questions and corresponded with my noble friend the Minister, all to no avail. Year after year we are told that the Government’s researches are still continuing. While I and my colleagues recognise and respect the Home Office’s unique expertise, we simply cannot understand protracted delay, given the information which is in the Home Office’s possession. The Government’s inaction condemns a substantial number of people—we do not know exactly how many—to go on living with convictions for conduct that is now lawful, convictions for which the Government have a clear commitment to provide pardons. Worse still, as the years pass some are dying with justice still denied to them.

In all this there is a profound irony. Scotland has already solved the problem. Under its legislation, pardons can be made available for any offence that in the past regulated or was used to regulate sexual activity between people of the same sex that is now lawful. In Committee, I intend, in conjunction with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, to bring forward an amendment to create in England and Wales arrangements analogous to those in Scotland. I hope that it will attract wide support in the House and that the Government will be minded to accept it.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, on his excellent maiden speech. I have known the noble Lord for very many years, and it is a pleasure to be with him in this House. I look forward to working with him, particularly on access to justice.

The noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer, Lord Judge and Lord Garnier, my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lord Beith and many others have attacked the size of the Bill. The Constitution Committee’s report was damning. Paragraph 5 stated:

“Bills of this size and complexity impede proper legislative scrutiny in Parliament. This is not the first time the House has encountered this problem. It should not be repeated.”

The fact that we are spending seven hours at Second Reading, with 66-odd speakers, time limited, debating such a raft of disparate measures makes the point. Each of the first 12 parts of the Bill would have justified a Bill of its own.

My noble friend Lord Paddick pointed out that the Long Title brings within scope amendments to cover the whole gamut of criminal justice topics, and so we can expect many. We will need a great deal of time in Committee and on Report to do this justice. This Bill arrogates power to the Executive, effectively sidelining Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, laid bare the way this Bill usurps the role of Parliament with wide and unacceptable regulation-making powers.

There is, of course, much that we welcome: the earlier rehabilitation of offenders, long worked for by my noble friend Lord Dholakia, and the police covenant, on which my noble friend Lady Harris spoke so knowledgably, to make sure officers and retired officers get the support they deserve. In principle, we welcome the regulation of the intrusion of extraction of information from mobile phones, but innocent victims of offences must be protected and not deterred from pursuing prosecutions by the fear of losing their devices and having their private information trawled through by strangers. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, highlighted the difficulties.

However, this Bill seriously threatens fundamental liberties. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, denied any such threat. We disagree. The right to peaceful assembly and protest is fundamental in a democracy and it is axiomatic, as so many have said, that protests are noisy and often unruly. Yes, they may cause disruption, inconvenience and nuisance, but that is all part of dissent being permissible and being heard. My noble friend Lord Oates and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, passionately argued this case in relation to climate change. Certainly, Greta Thunberg’s original solo school demonstrations were not noisy, but Extinction Rebellion, and no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, are squarely in the Government’s sights.

The “Today” programme this morning reported on the anxiety of young people about climate change—on the reluctance to have children, on the feeling that the world is doomed. This is not our world now, but theirs. Are the under-35s represented in Parliament? No. Do we, the over-50s, understand their concerns? At an intellectual level, yes. But as a personal threat? Bluntly, no. As one summed it up, “For us, it is personal.” How are they to be heard? Through protests. Will they be noisy? Yes. Offensive? Probably. May they

“result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation”,

using the words of the Bill? What about demonstrations outside company meetings or political meetings? The Constitution Committee rightly concluded that the noise trigger provisions offend against Article 10 convention rights to freedom of assembly. And who makes the regulations to define “serious disruption”? Why, the Secretary of State, of course—no matter their age, nor how authoritarian or illiberal their attitudes. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Chakrabarti, my noble friend Lady Miller, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others made these points graphically.

The sentencing provisions in the Bill are overwhelmingly retrograde, pandering to the tabloid view that longer sentences reduce crime. But all the evidence is to the contrary, as my noble friend Lord Beith pointed out—granted that locking up people for longer affords the public the temporary protection of keeping some offenders in custody. But the price of that protection far outweighs any benefit. We pay the cost of imprisoning more people than any other nation in western Europe, but we also institutionalise offenders; we break up families; we make offenders less employable and therefore more dependent on the state; we overcrowd our prisons, which have become violent academies of crime; and so we increase reoffending and the human, social and financial cost of divided and criminalised communities. Yet the Bill establishes more minimum sentences; restricts the discretion to depart from some in cases where there are exceptional circumstances; increases many terms to be served from half to two-thirds of notionally determinate sentences; and ends automatic release at the halfway point for many sentences.

On community sentences, we see increased curfew hours and periods, but nothing about increasing help for offenders to turn their lives around. There is provision for recall to custody for breach of community orders, with short custodial penalties, in the face of all the evidence that these do not work and have a disproportionate effect on women and minorities and an adverse effect on families—points persuasively made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.

We need fewer offenders in prison and more looked after in the community. We must address the personal issues that caused their offending: mental ill-health; histories of physical and sexual abuse; drug and alcohol addiction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said; homelessness; and missed educational opportunities. None of this is new. But it is desperately sad that a Bill said to be directed at overhauling our criminal justice system is misguidedly focused on imprisoning more people for longer, on reducing judicial discretion and on abandoning important principles that have long underpinned our justice system. We will support the attempt of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to increase the use of restorative justice, for all the reasons she gave.

We agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, that we must now end the utter scandal of detaining IPP prisoners indefinitely, way beyond their tariff term. We will support the Children’s Society-backed amendments to ensure that serious violence reduction strategies prioritise protecting children and young people. We will oppose groundless stop and search for persons who have been once convicted of any offensive weapons offence, even on a joint enterprise basis. That is an unjust and racially divisive proposal.

On encampments, we see no reason for criminalising trespass with intent to reside, for the reasons explained by my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Brinton, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. The proposal is unnecessary; there is already a wide range of eviction powers in existence. The proposed new powers rely far too much on the subjective judgment of the police. This proposal is discriminatory; it is also one-sided. If encampments are to be restricted, we need adequate local authority provision of safe and approved sites for the Traveller community.

On sentencing for assaults on emergency workers, we agree—but why not include retail workers, transport workers and public service staff? This provision needs rethinking to extend it to protect those providing a public service.

On remote hearings, we agree with the proposals for more—and more efficient—such hearings in appropriate cases beyond the pandemic. But we also agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that such cases do not include jury trials. Jury trials depend, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, on working relationships between judges and juries; but they also depend, crucially, on discussion and debate among jurors, which cannot be properly achieved on Zoom or Teams. For my part, I have long said that I would like to see more public broadcasting of proceedings—at the discretion of judges, certainly—for the purpose of improving open justice, but that is a different matter.

Finally, noble Lords have spoken of the missed opportunity to add more protections for women and girls. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, argued for an amendment to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which we will support, extending the upskirting legislation to cover photography without consent of women while breastfeeding. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others that serious violence should explicitly include domestic and sexual abuse. We also agree with my noble friend Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and others who will propose amendments to increase the surveillance of offenders and introduce further measures on domestic violence.

There is much to debate in the Bill and much of it is not good.

Independent Office for Police Conduct

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the work of the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, the IOPC’s annual report, signed off by the Home Office, provides an assessment of its work, including details of performance against targets. The 2020-21 report will be published very shortly. On 15 June, the Home Secretary announced that she is bringing forward the next periodic review of the IOPC, which will consider the organisation’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, why has this organisation not published the results of its inquiry, which started two years ago, into the disgraced former chief constable, Mike Veale? He is the man who infamously said that Sir Edward Heath was 120% guilty while investigating allegations against him. Are the Government going to take heed of the demand from six former Home Secretaries—both Labour and Conservative—for an independent investigation of misconduct during Operation Midland, including that of the IOPC, which failed even to question the most senior police officer involved, Mr Rodhouse, and was unable to provide an adequate explanation to the Home Secretary when she asked for it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, there were quite a few questions there but, as I said in my first Answer, the Home Secretary has announced that she is bringing forward the periodic review of the IOPC. The Home Affairs Select Committee has taken evidence for its inquiry into police complaints and discipline and into the IOPC’s role and remit in general. As part of this, the committee questioned relevant parties, including the IOPC, regarding Operation Midland and its subsequent investigation. We understand, as my noble friend knows, that Lady Brittan has submitted evidence to this, but the overall point is that the IOPC is an independent body from the Government.

Law Enforcement Agencies: Duty of Candour

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I say to the noble Lord that I agree with pretty much everything he says. This work is urgent. I know that work is progressing at pace and that the Home Secretary wants to speak to the family before making further progress on it.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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In light of the Morgan inquiry, what action has the Metropolitan Police taken in recent years to root out crime and corruption from its ranks? How many police officers have been prosecuted, suspended, forced to resign or retire early or sacked for corrupt behaviour since the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police took up her post?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I did not hear all of my noble friend’s question, but I think he was talking about police officers being prosecuted, suspended, forced to resign or sacked. Between December 2017, when the police barred list was established, and 2020, a total of 117 officers and 18 special constables from the Metropolitan Police service were dismissed and added to the police barred list. The College of Policing breaks this down by category, but there is no single category for corruption. We do not intend to collect data on police suspensions, as that is obviously a matter for individual chief officers, but I can tell my noble friend that the Home Office is currently amending its data collection on police misconduct and we intend to publish data in greater detail from this autumn.

Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Home Office
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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There was due to be a review of the IOPC at the end of this year, and the Home Secretary is bringing it forward to start as soon as practicable in the next few weeks.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, has said that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police placed “hurdles” in the way of the panel’s work, prolonging it by years. The commissioner has said that she gave “maximum co-operation” to the panel. Who are we to believe? Will Sir Tom Winsor, in the course of his inquiries, tell us the truth about these two irreconcilable statements? It is not unsurprising that the Morgan family has been unable to accept the apology of the Metropolitan Police, whose sincerity must be open to doubt.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I can understand the feelings of the Morgan family; it has been a devastating 34 years for them. Clearly, this review has covered more than one commissioner; it has been in train for the last eight years. I cannot say whether the commissioner gave full support to the inquiry but, certainly, some of the following investigations will look into it, particularly that of the HMICFRS.

Private Landlords: Tenants with Pets

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is fair to say that Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has been involved in the development of this agreement. Indeed Peter Laurie, the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home interim chief executive, welcomed the announcement that demonstrated the clear continued commitment to improving access to pet ownership for renters as well as helping to support and promote responsible pet ownership. The purpose of the agreement is to ensure that there is no blanket ban on pets and to consider each pet on a case-by-case basis, and to accept a pet where they are satisfied that the tenant is a responsible owner and the pet suitable for the premises.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Does my noble friend recall the importance that Winston Churchill attached to his pets, which included budgerigars that flew around his bedroom, to the discomfort of visiting Ministers? Would not the great man have been distressed that so many landlords are denying their tenants the affection and companionship that loving pets provide? Perhaps my noble friend can hear a famous voice muttering those words, “Action this day”, to get those new tenancy agreements widely applied, so important in this context, and to bear down on the landlords who are not using them at the moment.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out the views of the great man. We recognise that domestic pets bring joy, happiness and comfort to people’s lives. We have seen that particularly in the pandemic. We also recognise that the model tenancy agreement is a step forward. We need to see its wider adoption, which is why we will work hard to ensure that landlords adopt it as often as possible.

Abolished Offences

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 9th June 2021

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Home Office
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to enable more people convicted under abolished offences relating to homosexual conduct to apply to have their convictions disregarded.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are committed to enabling men with historical convictions for decriminalised homosexual conduct to apply to have their convictions disregarded. We are actively exploring whether further offences can be brought within the scope of the scheme to enable more people to benefit from it.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, have the Government noted that exactly 10 years have passed since the disregard scheme was announced to “right an historic wrong”, as it was described at the time, so that gay men convicted of or cautioned for offences that have been swept from the statute book—and indeed should never have been there in the first place—would no longer be stigmatised by having to declare such convictions and cautions? I thank my noble friend for her reply and pay tribute to all that she has done in connection with this issue, but is it not something of an affront to gay people that four and a half years have elapsed since she gave a commitment to extend the scheme—not least because the Home Office has long been in possession of draft regulations prepared by my friend Professor Paul Johnson at York University, who is the greatest expert in the country on the matter? Surely those regulations ought to have appealed strongly to a Government who resort so frequently to secondary legislation, particularly at a time when Scotland and Northern Ireland have wider disregard schemes than England and Wales.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My noble friend will know that I have noted what he said and that we remain committed to doing all we can to right this historic wrong. I pay tribute to my noble friend and others who have been so committed, and I pay particular tribute to Professor Paul Johnson for his expertise. It is important to note that any additional offences must meet the suitable legal criteria to be eligible to be disregarded.

E-scooters

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 26th May 2021

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I totally share my noble friend’s concerns. Of course, there are two categories of scooter: the rental scooter, which can be insured, and the privately owned scooter. It is perfectly legal to purchase them, but they cannot be insured. Trials have been going on all over the country, but I hope the trials going on in London will clarify the situation once and for all and prevent the problems my noble friend outlines.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, how can we be confident that the illegal riding of e-scooters on pavements will be prevented when the illegal riding of bicycles on pavements flourishes almost unchecked? How about introducing compulsory training in courtesy and respect for others before anybody is let loose on an e-scooter, or indeed a bicycle?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My noble friend outlines an important problem. As a humble pedal biker of a Brompton—other brands are available—I know how frightening it is to be approached by one of these e-scooters on the road. Riding on the pavement can result in a fixed penalty notice of £50, but to my noble friend’s point I recommend that everybody who rides a cycle, wherever they ride it, gets the proper training they need.

Daniel Morgan: Independent Panel Report

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I know of no meetings that have taken place with News UK. As for the report being published, we cannot arrange timings until it is received.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and answered.

Fire Safety Bill

(Consideration of Commons amendments)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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If Motion A1 is agreed to, I cannot call Motion A2. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to speak to Motion A2.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council.

Throughout the course of this Bill, I have said that I support its contents and purpose. I cannot support the unintended consequences that will have a devastating impact on individual leaseholders and a very damaging effect on the housing market. Those are the reasons for my asking again for the Government to take responsibility for the consequences of this Bill, which despite the Minister’s best efforts has been totally underwhelming so far. Promises have been made by the Government and not kept.

The Government’s response to date is to provide grant funding of £5 billion while knowing that the total cost is estimated at £16 billion. The grant includes only blocks over 18 metres and only removes the flammable cladding. For those in lower blocks, there is the prospect of paying up to £50 per month for years to come.

Conveniently, the Government fail to take into account the non-cladding issues that are a result of construction failure of immense proportions. These non-cladding issues are the ones that will finally push individuals over the edge. Meanwhile, those who have literally built this catastrophe walk away with their billions of profit. The Government have a duty to protect their citizens—it is their prime duty—yet here we are today with perhaps a million of our fellow citizens being thrown to the ravages of financial bankruptcy, and the Government wash their hands and look the other way.

The Government will argue that the Bill is a vital response to the Grenfell tragedy. It is so vital that it has taken four years to get to the statute book. The Bill’s purpose is to include external walls, doors and balconies in the fire safety order of 2005, so that action is taken to protect people from another Grenfell tragedy. However, a Bill is not now needed to force action to remove cladding; that is happening. It is not needed to get fire alarms put in; that is happening. Those who own the buildings, and those who are leaseholders and tenants, already know that action has to be taken to make their buildings safe. It is no longer urgently necessary to get legislation to force the issue and it is no longer possible to force construction firms to take the necessary action; there is not capacity to do so. If, though, the Bill does fall, this provides a breathing space for the Government to develop a package of further measures that will protect the interests of leaseholders and save them from penury.

The amendment in my name seeks to achieve that breathing space. It is based on the original one in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and has been adjusted to include the various very valid points that have been made during the passage of the Bill. We must all recognise that passing this Bill will not magic away the crisis that individual leaseholders are facing. It will not remedy the construction scandal. It will not provide stability for a foundering housing market. It will be the beginning of a scandal of individual bankruptcies, homelessness, intense stress and mental illness. It will become a public scandal and I for one will at least have on my conscience that I have done all in my power to prevent it. Leaseholders have done everything right and nothing wrong. Liberal Democrats will stand by them. I give notice that I wish to test the opinion of the House on the amendment in my name.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB) [V]
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My Lords, as we seem to be in the last chance saloon, I will try not to repeat myself too much, but declare my interests as both a property professional and a vice-president of the LGA. As I said yesterday, the House seems to be presented by the Government with a choice. On the one hand is the evident desirability of implementing fire safety measures in pursuance of the valuable recommendations in the report by Dame Judith Hackitt into the Grenfell tragedy, plus a partial solution to some of the effects of cladding replacement on a limited class of taller buildings, as we have heard. On the other is what I am afraid I must describe as the effective hanging out to dry of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other home owners. It should not be a question of either/or in dealing with a growing and pressing social and economic disaster. I too support improved fire safety, but not on the basis of creating further untold, and probably unquantified, problems.

Yesterday, the Minister endeavoured to persuade us by saying that this brief and simple Bill merely clarified the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. I am afraid to say that, on my own rereading of that, he is plainly mistaken. This Bill amends the scope of the fire safety order by inserting an exception to paragraph 1a, referring in turn to two newly inserted paragraphs, 1A and 1B, that substantially expand the scope of the order. The fact that anything was attached to the named elements means the Bill has far wider implications than might be supposed. So I am afraid to say that the Minister’s assertion really did it for me. I felt it was misleading and what my late father would have described as an exercise in intellectual sharp practice. My distinct impression is that I am being taken for some sort of fool. The indisputable fact that must be regarded as plain is that this Bill makes the changes that by direct chain of causation have created the issues and caused the results that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, seek to resolve.

Another issue appears to be one of definition. The Government are concerned that any scheme that might be put in place could be used to avoid regular maintenance and routine upgrades. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in particular, seeks to address that. In my experience there may be grey areas, but I do not have any difficulty in my work in distinguishing repairs and the like, or like-for-like replacements, from those items that are improvements. Nor do most leaseholders and property owners.

Let us be clear—and here I take a cue from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for a bit of historical background—that it was on the watch of a Conservative Government that the 1984 Building Act brought in the approved inspector regime and the effective privatisation of the regulatory oversight of construction quality, previously exercised by local authority building control. Despite indicators of shortcomings and shortcutting, this process continued, without adequate checks on who was doing the inspection of the works, or how good the oversight was in practice. It is on the basis of the subsequent 37 years of construction and its legacy of known and unknown deficiencies, scattered randomly about the nation’s housing stock, that modern housebuilding, construction warranties, lending and home ownership have been founded.

If the Government consider that they need to take steps to protect the valiant and much-abused postmasters from system failure, how can they, with it any cogency or conscience, make a distinction concerning a far greater number of home owners who are affected at least as severely? So, while I note that the Minister in the other place this afternoon sought to point the finger at the unelected Lords blocking the democratic decision of the Commons, I simply say that the exercise of raw political power vis-à-vis the party whip to procure a majority in the Lobby does not endow the Government with a moral superiority, or indeed the social advancement of justice and ethical treatment of citizens. I note the reasons for rejecting our amendments, which simply translate as “too difficult”. I suspect not half as difficult as picking up the bits after this has rolled itself out.

At one point I believed the Government had it hand to corral all the potential damage, but I believe they have not done so. It would not concern me if this Bill fell, so unreasonable do I believe its true effects to be, and so lacking is the willingness of the Government to deal with it. What it has proposed will roll out far too slowly: eight months to do the highest-risk buildings, and how much longer to deal with the far greater number in future stages? What about capacity in terms of manpower, training and so on?

I took note of the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, but I find that sitting on my hands, signifying my acceptance of the Government’s position here, does not sit comfortably with my conscience—knowing, as I do from professional experience, just what harm the Bill is likely to do, alongside its undoubted good.

I suspect that the Bill will ultimately pass into law, even if the Parliament Act has to be invoked—but I am afraid I cannot agree to it as it stands. I fear that Lobby fatigue may mean that this is the end of the matter for now. Either way, I shall return to this subject in the new Session—as, doubtless, will the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Meanwhile, I have absolutely no hesitation in supporting the thrust of the amendments—any one of them, whichever might gain approval. And I hope I will sleep with my conscience clear as a result.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I call first the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I remind the House of my interests: I am a leaseholder. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I heard Boris Johnson telling Parliament in February that

“no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own.”—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/21; col. 945.]

To be honest, I cheered. Maybe I was being naive, but I sort of took him at his word—and I sort of still do. But can I? Has anyone briefed the Prime Minister on how his promise to leaseholders is being broken by his own Government as we speak?

In the other place the Minister, Chris Pincher, said that the amendments lacked clarity and prohibited minor costs from being passed on to leaseholders. That was so disingenuous. This is not a load of whiny leaseholders whingeing about minor costs. People are utterly desperate. As we have heard from other noble Lords, this Bill almost guarantees that major costs will be passed on to them—unless the Minister thinks that remediation costs of up to tens of thousands of pounds each, or 400% hikes in service charges, are minor. Those are not minor in my world, nor in the world of so many leaseholders who, as I have stressed here before, bought into that nirvana of home-owning democracy. They were often first-time buyers, who became leaseholders as part of affordable housing schemes.

The Minister in the other place said that the amendment would not help leaseholders. But leaseholders do not feel that way. What they do feel is exasperated. They have been told about the loans scheme, and that this issue can be sorted out by the passage of the building safety Bill. Even then, if there were an assurance from the Government that they would prioritise that Bill as an urgent piece of legislation at the start of the next Session, it might be some consolation. But of course, we do not know when it will appear.

As one group of leaseholders noted in an email to me, the reality is that they are accruing costs now. They are not allowed to postpone paying them until a new parliamentary Session. They cannot say, “Sorry, won’t pay until the building safety Bill’s got through.” They fear that by the time that legislation is passed, many of them will already have lost their homes—and, as one said, “I will certainly have lost my mind.”

Earlier today I heard a Minister here justify imposing a set of regulations on the Northern Ireland Assembly, although that would undermine the devolution agreement. He justified that decision because he said that the Government had a duty to ensure that women’s rights were addressed, and legal abortion services were made available. I was anxious at this procedural and technical fix to solve a complex constitutional and moral problem. But now, if only the Government would come up with some procedural and technical fix to solve what is undoubtedly a complex problem, but one, in this instance, of leaseholders’ rights. There seems to be a sort of stubbornness, which is so unbecoming—a kind of evasiveness, which is kicking this problem down the road, where it will get worse, and letting the most blameless take the hit in the meantime.

I have a lot of respect for the Minister, but I feel as though the Government must know in their heart of hearts—with Tory rebels in the other place, noble Lords from all sides of this House and all the devastating personal testimonies we have shared over the last few days—that what is being asked for here is modest. We are asking for any mechanism, however technical, or any scheme that would actually help leaseholders and save them from bankruptcies now, as is so urgently needed.

We have heard about the £5 billion scheme, and we have all welcomed it, but it really applies only to those in buildings over 18 metres. Leaseholders in buildings of 17 metres or 15 metres are still being asked to pay sky-high costs. As we have heard, it is estimated that the £5 billion scheme still leaves at least £10 billion unaccounted for, and maybe more.

I want to test whether the Government are true to their word—true to the Prime Minister’s word that I started with—and ask the Minister a simple question. If this Fire Safety Bill were to pass, what will the Government do in the interim between its passing and the building safety Bill to stop leaseholders’ bankruptcies and the negative equity crisis that this Bill undoubtedly helps to create?

Finally, I take this opportunity to say to the leaseholders: you have allies in the other place and here who will continue to stand up for you and keep raising awareness of your plight. I am still hopeful that the Minister and the Prime Minister might be among those allies too.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as a leaseholder affected by fire safety remediation costs.

This afternoon, I decided to listen to the debate on the Bill in another place to see whether I had been missing something, by just hearing debates here, about the Government’s real reasons for not taking any appropriate action. Instead, I found that the key challenges that have been set out by noble Lords this evening were being made most eloquently by Conservative Back-Benchers. Bob Blackman made the key point that leaseholders have no luxury of time to deal with the demands dropping on their doormats today. Sir Robert Neill made the logical and consequential point that bridging provisions to fund remediation were needed, until the Government had put in place measures to recoup the costs from developers and builders—costs to be met, in the interim, by the Government. As a former Minister, he also made the telling point that the Government would have had time to produce their own amendments, if they had put their mind to it.

The response from the Government was from the right honourable Christopher Pincher, who replied with all the empathy and grace of a Victorian miller faced by workers’ demands to install expensive safety equipment on all the machinery. He also put the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, to shame in his ability to ape Sir Humphrey. Unlike the noble Lord, who at least shows a certain lack of conviction in some of his adjectives, Christopher Pincher had none. In describing this amendment, as we have heard before, he mentioned the uncertainty that it would cause, the lack of clarity and the litigation that would flow, which would be voluminous. He had us almost in tears at the prospect of these terrible consequences.

There was not a word of explanation as to why, given that the Government allegedly want to do what is right, in the seven months since this Bill’s Second Reading they have made no progress whatsoever in bringing forward their own proposals to deal with the issues now. There was not a scintilla of a suggestion, from him, of when there would be certainty for leaseholders. He said that the building safety Bill would be brought forward as quickly as possible and that it would protect leaseholders “as far as possible”. Those two statements are of literally no comfort to somebody facing a bill today. We all know that those phrases “as far as possible” or “as quickly as possible” allow the Government to do whatever they want or not very much at all.

He also had the temerity to say that the Bill should now pass,

“so that people can get on with their lives.”

The one thing certain is that, if this Bill passes unamended, hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to get on with their lives, because overwhelming uncertainty will remain over their financial position and their ability, if they wish to do so, to sell the property in which they live.

The truth is that the Government have shown themselves indifferent to the mental and financial anguish faced by these people today, or else they would have made a meaningful commitment to the timetable for lifting the burden of costs and uncertainty from them. In these circumstances, how can we, in all conscience, pack up our tents now and let the Bill sail into the night? We on these Benches will not do so, and I urge Members across the House to vote for my noble friend’s amendment to bring tenants the relief that they so richly deserve.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has also indicated a wish to speak, and I call him now.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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My Lords, in Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty says:

“ ‘When I use a word, … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ ”

That is exactly the position we find ourselves in today. It is an argument about the meaning of words, which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in an excellent speech, has just pointed up. If one took the Government’s statements and sought to give the usual meaning to the words, then there would not be a problem here this evening.

I noted down what the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, said in his opening remarks: these are just some of the statements he made. My writing is not fast enough to recite his whole speech, but if one took his whole speech, one would think there was no disagreement between us at all. “More needs to be done”, he said. “Industry must play its part and pay its way,” he said. “I agree that leaseholders need more protection,” he said. “Forfeiture,” he said—the fact we are talking about forfeiture is a sign of quite how serious a crisis we are facing—“is a draconian measure”; my writing was not fast enough here, but I think he said, “which is to be discouraged.” He also said, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, just said, that these measures will be further addressed in the building safety Bill.

All those statements that the noble Lord made go to the heart of the protection we have been seeking to provide for all of those categories of people affected, not just those who live in buildings of more than 18 metres and not just those with costs directly attributable to cladding if they fall in the category of remediation costs which are essentially post Grenfell. This is the key point, because assessments that have been made about fire risks which are not just restricted to cladding are in the wider areas, some of which are in the expanded fire safety order which the Minister referred to.

The issue then is whether the scheme that the Government have said they will introduce to implement the principles that the Minister himself has set out to the House this evening is adequate to the task. We take the Minister at his word that it will be adequate to the task. There is some disagreement about how far it needs to be legislative and how far not legislative, though the fact that he constantly refers to the building safety Bill leads us to think that it will be substantially legislative. In so far as it is not legislative, these measures could be put in a legislative form, or he could make a categoric statement about when the Government will come forward with a comprehensive scheme.

So far, so good. What happens is that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and his understudy who is here this evening, if I may so describe him—anyway, he seems to be maintaining the line of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans—and other noble Lords then consistently, on now about 10 occasions during the passage of the Bill, have come forward with proposals to put into legislative form what the Government themselves have told us they want to do. What happens, because we are now back in Alice in Wonderland, is that we pass amendments saying that remediation costs should not be passed on to leaseholders which are attributable to the additional costs which have come post Grenfell, and then the Government come along and say, “Ah, but this does not take account of the following five concerns.”

These are the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, just mentioned about small costs, concerns about defining costs, concerns about costs which might be attributable to leases which applied and which tenants willingly engaged in before there were any additional costs put forward—we had a whole list of issues that were raised. What then happens is that the ever-receptive Bishop of St Albans, and other noble Lords change the amendments to take account of the Government’s concerns. Indeed, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, this evening meets most of the concerns that have been raised by Christopher Pincher in the House of Commons and by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, here.

It is worth dwelling on this, because these are hugely important issues potentially affecting millions of people, so we ought to be clear about it. Under the noble Baroness’s amendment, proposed new subsection (1) states:

“The owner of a building may not pass the costs of any remedial work attributable to the provisions of this Act”—

so defining clearly what should and should not apply. Proposed new subsection (2) states that the prohibition on remediation costs being passed on to tenants will have effect

“only until a statutory scheme is in operation which ensures that leaseholders and tenants of dwellings are not required to pay more than £50 per month during the course of the lease”,

but it does not apply to a cost that

“is permitted under a lease or tenancy agreement that was made before this Act is passed, and … does not exceed £500, whether as a one-off cost, or in total across a 12-month period.”

This meets the concerns that the Minister has raised, unless he does not propose to bring forward a scheme that meets his commitments in due course, which is the reason why we go round in circles again.

We then come out of Alice in Wonderland and into the real world. In the real world, we all know what is happening. It is not a secret to those of us who are politicians what arguments have now been happening for two months. Two things are happening. First, a battle royal is going on between the Minister’s department and the Treasury about what costs the Treasury will meet and how narrowly defined they need to be. The Treasury is already concerned about the size of the fire safety fund, the £5.1 billion fund which the Minister referred to, and whether the costs even under that scheme will end up being significantly higher. It certainly does not want more costs to be recognised. The second thing going on of which we are all well aware is that, although the Government say—because huge numbers of people are affected by this, many of them first-time buyers, many of them who have, under Conservative schemes, bought council properties and are leaseholders —that they want to see them fully protected, they do not at the moment either have a plan to fully protect them nor, to be blunt, do they want to protect them any more than they think is politically necessary to get this and subsequent legislation passed, presumably in the run-up to the next election, in a judgment they make on the salience of the issue.

We then come to the role of this House, which is unusual in this case. We had a lecture from the Chief Whip earlier about the supremacy of the House of Commons, which we all recognise, but the supremacy of the House of Commons is in this instance qualified in two respects. The Salisbury convention is clear that the supremacy of the House of Commons applies to all matters which the Government have placed in their manifesto. This House does not seek to cut across clear manifesto commitments which the Government have made when they want to realise them. The Government’s commitment at the election was to sort out this issue; it was not not to sort out this issue. If we take that reading of the role of this House, we will actually be implementing the Salisbury convention this evening if we pass the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. We are seeking to hold the Government to their manifesto commitments to the people, not going against them.

The other reason why we are back in Alice in Wonderland in respect of the role of this House is that, when the Minister and the Chief Whip said this evening that the Bill will fail, it will fail only if, in response to the amendment being carried, the Government choose to let it fail rather than accept an amendment that puts into law the very commitments that they have said that they propose to meet.

We are in a conundrum as to what to do. If we vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, we be voting for something that will indeed send the measure back to the House of Commons and could, if the Government refused to give way, lead to the fall of the Bill. That is entirely in the hands of the Government. However, it is manifestly not the case that we are breaking the Salisbury convention, it is manifestly not the case that we are going against the commitments that the Government themselves have given, and it is manifestly not the case that we would be the cause of the Bill falling. The Government would be the cause of the Bill falling, because they were not prepared to accept the amendment.

We all have judgments to take as to how to vote, and I respect people who take different views on this issue, but it is very clear to me that this is not about the supremacy of the House of Commons. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, in what I have to say is the most impassioned speech I have heard him deliver to the House, this is a matter of the good faith of the Government and whether, when they say something, they mean it. If this House has any role to play, it is to see that high standards of conduct in public life are maintained, that Governments are held to commitments that they give and that the ordinary meaning of words should be taken to apply when they are uttered by Ministers.

Inclusive Society

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 14th April 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I join in the chorus of noble Lords thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for securing this important debate. We have had a truly insightful and wide-ranging debate, and the contributions from across the Committee have been valuable and reflect our strong collective will to provide opportunity to all those who live in this great country. It has also been an opportunity to float some extremely big ideas, and I thank my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, for calling for a magna carta for localism, the decentralisation of power and responsibility and the ability to be financially independent. I strongly support that direction of travel. I also note the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on the inequality of access to power. Unfortunately, I did not go to the school which has yielded so many Prime Ministers.

The pandemic has shone a light on our society. It has shown us where we are strong, where communities have come together and where national and local government have stepped in together to great effect. However, it has also demonstrated areas of concern. There has been an increase in loneliness and isolation among many. Some communities have been more affected than others during this pandemic, and latent inequalities have come to the fore. The Government are aware and are taking action. From this devastating virus we can see that there is an opportunity to forge an even more inclusive society. We are doing this by strengthening our public services and enriching the ties that bind each of us to the other and to our nation. I will use my time to outline a few of the ways in which we are working to do this and, in so doing, will address a number of the points that have been raised.

First, I point to the issue of racial inequality, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and by my noble friend Lord Dobbs, whom I thank for recognising that this country is becoming more inclusive and more tolerant. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that Britain is a fairer society. We will tackle racial and ethnic inequalities where they exist. That is why we established an independent commission on race and ethnic disparities to explore these issues. As my noble friend Lord Farmer pointed out, its evidence-based report builds on the work of the Race Disparity Unit and previous race-related reviews. It goes further to understand why disparities exist, what works and what does not and has presented 24 recommendations for action across government and other public bodies. It is now time for the Government to consider the commission’s independent recommendations in detail and assess the implications for future government policy, including the future provision of family hubs.

With regard to health inequalities, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, new data is beginning to show the adverse impact that Covid-19 has had on life expectancy figures. It has also shone a light on the differences in health outcomes between communities. We remain committed to levelling up health outcomes so that everyone can enjoy a long, healthy life. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, raised health inequalities as they relate to disability. In June 2020, the Prime Minister and Health Secretary asked the Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, to lead cross-government work on the health disparities seen during the pandemic, and she will continue to work on ensuring that we address this. The Government have invested £4.5 million in research to underpin that work.

With regard to equalities, creating the conditions where people are given equal access to opportunity is a fundamental part of the Government’s vision for an inclusive society. We have therefore created an integrated, joined-up Equality Hub in the Cabinet Office, at the heart of government, which will report to Ministers who have other portfolios outside the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities. In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Fox, I will ensure that the Government listen to the issues raised in this debate. The hub will have a key role in driving government priorities on equality and opportunity. It has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers that different people face.

As part of this, the equality data programme will link and analyse government datasets, identifying where individuals have multiple barriers to opportunity and informing policy work in the Equality Hub and across government. This includes statutory protected characteristics but also other aspects of inequality, including socioeconomic and geographic inequality. That gives an opportunity for the Equality Hub to consider the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, on autism and employment and wider issues about access to employment as well as the issues that my noble friend Lady Mobarik raised about widening opportunity and improving the skills agenda and the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, who spoke about the Reset the Debt report—I have not yet read that, but I am sure that the Equality Hub will look into it in great detail. This will also be an opportunity to learn the lessons from the book by the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, The Dignity of Labour, as well as potentially to invoke some of the Bismarckian solutions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jones.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and many other noble Lords raised the Government’s commitment to levelling up. This approach to inclusivity drives up our levelling-up agenda. The UK Government are committed to levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom, between and within areas, to ensure that no community is left behind, particularly as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. We have therefore established a £4.8 billion funding pot for investments in infrastructure to improve everyday life across the UK. This includes regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets. In addition, we are launching a community ownership fund to help ensure that communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can support, and continue benefiting from, the local facilities, community assets and amenities most important to them.

Beyond levelling up, we are also committed to integration and ensuring that people across the UK feel a connection to society and one another. We have developed innovative programmes to address the issue, working closely with local authorities and community partners. The United Kingdom is generally regarded as well integrated; 84% of people report belonging strongly to Britain, and 81% say that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. Of course, there is always more work to be done, and we have forged a partnership approach between national and local government on our integration area programmes, testing a localised approach that supports partners in local areas across England to work together to build more united communities and places.

English language teaching is also a crucial part of promoting inclusivity and integration and, indeed, was a core manifesto commitment. We know that a lack of English presents a clear barrier to social and economic mobility. The Government are proud of their record in this space, which includes our ESOL for Integration Fund, supporting highly localised, community-based English language learning in areas of greatest need.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, also called for an increase in the welfare safety net, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, invoked the spirit of John Stuart Mill. The Government are committed to delivering a modern, fair and affordable welfare system. This is especially important as we come out of the pandemic, which is why we will spend more than £57 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions in 2021-22. That represents around 2.6% of GDP. This is a significant chunk of total welfare spending in Great Britain, which will be £241 billion in 2021-22. That is 23% of total government spending and around 10.7% of GDP.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, raised and highlighted the importance of digital connectivity. The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also highlighted the digital divide that affects marginalised communities. To tackle the digital divide and support connectivity, the Government have worked closely with providers to ensure that social tariffs that provide low-cost landline and broadband services for those on means-tested state benefits are in place. DCMS has launched a £2.5 million Digital Lifeline Fund that will provide devices, data and support to 5,000 adults with learning disabilities. On 10 March, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced 10 technology priorities to support the digital tech sector and drive digitally-enabled growth, both in the context of Covid-19 and into the future.

My noble friend Lady Eaton, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, raised adult social care. The Government are committed to sustainable improvement of the adult social care system and will bring forward plans for reform later this year. Our objectives for adult social care reform are to enable an affordable, high-quality adult social care system that meets people’s needs while supporting health and care to join up services around people.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Tyler, and a number of other noble Lords raised the issue of children. As a Government, we are investing £84 million in the strengthening families, protecting children programme and £17 million in the investing in practice programme. Since 2014, our innovation programme has invested almost £200 million in 98 projects that are enabling local authorities to test new approaches to supporting children in the social care system. We have provided an additional £12.4 million in 2021 to support 14 innovation programme projects to continue delivery and extend their evaluations to capture further learning.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lady Lister, and many others called for a Cabinet member for children. As a humble Minister, I am all for Cabinet inflation, and I will do my best to lobby for my friend—a university contemporary of mine—who is the incumbent Minister for Children and Families to see what we can do about ensuring that there is a Minister of Cabinet rank for children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, raised Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. In October 2019, the Government announced that they would deliver the objective of protecting children online through the online harms regulatory framework instead of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. The online safety Bill will be ready later this year and, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I am sure that we will address the issues of cyberbullying within that context.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, raised the issue of education. Education is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to inclusivity and represents a significant challenge, with schooling so disrupted during the pandemic. To tackle this, the Department for Education recently announced a £700 million package for the expansion of one-to-one and small-group tutoring programmes, as well as supporting the development of disadvantaged children in early years settings and summer provision for those pupils who need it most.

We also recognise the important role of out-of-school settings such as extracurricular clubs, youth organisations and tuition centres, in providing enriching activities, giving children the opportunity to socialise with others and promoting their well-being. This remains a priority for the Government. Therefore, as of 12 April, in line with the commencement of step 2 of the Government’s roadmap, out-of-school settings can offer provision to all children, without restriction on the reasons for which they may attend.

This is all part of the Government’s recognition that levelling up and pursuing socioeconomic equality is a cross-government endeavour. The Social Mobility Commission plays a major part in this and has recently moved to a team in the Cabinet Office, to ensure that this is led from the heart of government.  

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other noble Lords raised the issue of homelessness. We know that this continues to be a scourge on our society. In 2020-21, we put in place a total of over £700 million on homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as an unprecedented level of support to tackle these over 2021-22. This includes £676 million in resource funding, a 60% increase compared to the spending review in 2019. The Government will be spending over £750 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping this year, further demonstrating our commitment to end rough sleeping during this Parliament and to fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, raised the issue of social housing. The Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and are investing over £12 billion in it over five years. That is the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade. This includes £11.5 billion in the affordable homes programme, which will provide up to 180,000 new homes across the country, should economic conditions allow. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, we are still analysing responses to the consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes. I am sure that our response will follow imminently.

Turning to arts and culture, the Government are committed to equal rights for all, and firmly believe that everyone, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity to build a successful career in the creative industries. To this end, we have invested over £2 million in the creative careers programme in partnership with industry, leading to over 113,000 student interactions with over 1,000 creative sector employers. We also recognise the value that apprenticeships play in enabling people of all backgrounds to progress in work, earning as they learn, and the Government are committed to further levy reform.

Last year’s £1.57 billion support package for the culture sector by the Government was unprecedented. To date, £1.2 billion has been allocated from the Culture Recovery Fund, reaching over 5,000 individual organisations and sites. These range from world famous heritage sites such as Canterbury Cathedral to the great Glastonbury festival, and from West End theatres to the Wolverhampton Grand. Museums will continue to play a key community role as places that bring people of all backgrounds together for learning, enjoyment and inspiration, as well as providing a space for civic activities and reflection.

Beyond the important work being undertaken by the Government, I would like to take a few minutes to focus my final remarks on what my department is doing, and what I am doing within my portfolio, to build an inclusive society. We have discussed the many impacts of Covid—not least the disproportionate impacts felt by some groups, which has been a constant theme of the pandemic. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for asking me specifically what steps the Government have taken to listen to marginalised groups who have suffered most during the pandemic.

Through the community champions scheme, the Government are providing almost £24 million for local authorities and voluntary groups to support those who are most at risk from the virus. This includes providing people with targeted public health messaging as well as information on the vaccination programme to allay the fears of those who might be unsure about getting a jab. The communities involved in the community champions scheme are varied and include: black and minority ethnic communities; at-risk young people; Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; groups with disabilities; the elderly; the homeless; asylum seekers; and refugees. We are rightly very proud of this scheme because it represents the best of national and local partnerships.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on the importance of our faith communities. We cannot expect to make progress on fostering an inclusive society without them. They represent fundamental pillars of civil society engagement. Throughout the pandemic, faith communities and places of worship have provided solace to many people, not only for spiritual well-being but also by offering a multitude of support services, often in partnership with local authorities. These are collaborative efforts that I want to see continue in the post-pandemic landscape.

We are working closely with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, highlighted some of the issues faced by Traveller communities in particular. We know that they face challenges in terms of educational, social and health outcomes, which can lead to greater societal exclusion. We have been working to improve these outcomes, but we recognise that we need to go further. We will soon publish a cross-government GRT strategy.

Unfortunately, we know that hate crime continues to undermine efforts across the United Kingdom to make our country a prosperous and inclusive place to live. The latest figures show that hate crimes are increasing. There is an upward trend in these figures, partly fuelled by people’s confidence to step forward to report these crimes. I am appalled at the attacks that Chinese and east and south-east Asian communities have endured during the pandemic. I convey my sympathies to all those who have suffered discrimination and abuse. I could not be more adamant that all forms of hatred, including that based on race, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We have one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry and deal with the perpetrators of hate crime.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to put on record formally that we wholeheartedly welcome Hong Kong British nationals (overseas) into this country. We are delighted that Hong Kongers are choosing to come to this country. Facing restrictions on their freedoms, they have taken up the British Government’s generous offer of providing a pathway to live in the United Kingdom. I am delighted that Hong Kong families coming here on the basis of the Hong Kong BNO visa route will benefit from a dedicated £43-million package of support to help them settle successfully into life in this country. As my right honourable friend the Communities Secretary said recently:

“We are a champion of freedom and democracy and will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, so that these families will come to find the UK a place they can call home.”

I could talk for far longer on the need to build an inclusive society following the pandemic and what the Government will continue to do to ensure that we build on the work already taking place. By ensuring that communities have every opportunity to succeed, there is a clear route to an inclusive society where all citizens can achieve their aspirations, no matter their background. We do not underestimate the scale of the task. Indeed, it is one of the biggest long-term challenges that we will continue to face, but we stand ready to tackle it and we will do all we can to continue to make the United Kingdom an inclusive place to live.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, who initiated this important debate, to bring it to a conclusion.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken, as well as the noble Lord the Minister. I have written a lot of notes but now I cannot read them, so my response may not be as coherent as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Wilcox, both of whom very skilfully summed up what had been said by noble Lords. I will not try to replicate what they did because they did it so well.

I thank the Minister; I feel that he drew the short straw because this is such a difficult debate to respond to, given the breadth of issues covered. However, I could not help but feel that he painted a rather rosy picture of where the Government are at. He did, at the end, acknowledge that there is a lot to do to build an inclusive society. A lot of the time, as is only to be expected, he was there to justify the Government’s position. I will come back to that at the end of my remarks.

Overall, I felt that there was, with one or two exceptions, a shared analysis of the intersecting inequalities and injustices that, as one noble Lord put it, have been “magnified” by the pandemic. Clearly there is a difference in the positions taken on the Sewell report. A number of noble Lords quoted evidence published this week from a couple of sources showing the systemic inequalities faced in particular by black and minority ethnic youth in terms of unemployment. I wonder how that squares with the picture painted in that report and I hope that noble Lords will not dismiss what some colleagues have called the work of zealots—it is hard data.

It was, as I expected, a wide-ranging debate, but a very useful one. A number of the points that I made were enriched by the perspectives that colleagues were able to bring. I was struck by the number of people who drew on the Marmot report and the British Academy review which, together, provide the Government with a compass to help them think about an inclusive society. I do not know whether the Minister has read those reports but, if not, I hope he will and that he will recommend them to his colleagues.

In terms of colleagues strengthening my arguments, a number of people talked about children and made a very strong case for putting children at the heart of building an inclusive society. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will lobby on behalf of the idea of a Cabinet-level Minister for children. This is an idea that is gaining ground—there was once a Minister for Children, but it got relegated to sub-ministerial level. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, warned us that just having a Minister does not make any difference if they are invisible and do not have any resources, which is partly why the demand is for a Minister to be at Cabinet level. If children are to be at the heart of the recovery, there has to be someone at Cabinet level with an understanding of children’s needs across the board. I hope that the Minister will lobby hard on our behalf and perhaps report back at some point to your Lordships’ House as to what the response has been.

I am very pleased that a number of people emphasised the importance of how disabled people have fared during the pandemic and the kinds of policies that we need to make sure that an inclusive society works properly for disabled people.

One of the gaps in my speech—and I am so glad that a number of people addressed those gaps—was housing and homelessness. That relates so closely to poverty, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out. It also links with themes of sustainability raised by a number of people. We need to build sustainable as well as affordable homes.

I am also very pleased that a number of noble Lords raised digital exclusion. The importance of that has been brought home so clearly during the pandemic, and addressing it has to be part of building an inclusive society.

On international perspectives, a couple of noble Lords spoke about the drastic cuts to international aid, but there was also an international flavour to a number of other points made. We cannot be an inclusive society and shut out the rest of the world; we have to think about what we do and the implications that has for the wider world.

Going from the international to the local, again, I did not address the role of local government adequately in my opening remarks, but a number of noble Lords did so very well. Noble Lords also raised the need to devolve more power and resources to local government, and the relationship of local government and national government to the third sector, community groups and so forth. Of course, although the focus of the debate was on the role of local and national government, we must also remember the role played by such groups.

I was disappointed that the Minister did not address what I said about levelling up. I said, and others echoed, that levelling up is not just about investing in physical infrastructure. We have to level up individuals if we are going to create the more equal society that so many noble Lords talked about. That means investing in what the Biden Administration call the “human infrastructure”, as I said. I hope the Minister will take that message back, because it is a very important one.

A number of noble Lords raised questions about democratic inclusion. That is really important because it links to what I and a number of other noble Lords talked about in terms of listening to what people have to say, and particularly listening to marginalised groups. They talked about democratic inclusion in terms of both politics and industrial democracy, and that links with questions about the meaning of good and dignified work. I would argue—and I am sure that it is argued in Jon Cruddas’s book—that part of the good work agenda is listening to workers so that they have a say in what goes on in their workplace. The Minister did say that the Equality Hub and making money available through local authorities to marginalised groups was about listening. Making money available to local and marginalised groups is of course welcome, but it is not the same as listening to those groups and what they have to say about what needs to change. I am not sure that that message got through, but a number of people echoed it—when it comes to service development or whatever, we really need to listen to what those whose voices are not normally heard have to say.

Overall, I feel that a rich tapestry has been woven in today’s debate. So many important points were made, and I really appreciate my colleagues’ knowledge, experience and wisdom. I hope that the Government are listening. Again, I do not think—forgive me if I missed it—that the Minister picked up on my request that key messages from this debate be relayed to his colleagues in other departments; some other people said that as well. I hope that he will consider that because there is no point in us having this debate for the sake of it; we may be more powerful than some of the people I am speaking about, but we want to be heard as well. Noble Lords have put in a lot of work and thought a lot about what they wanted to say today.

My final plea to the Government is to listen to what has been said today. Virtually every department has some role to play in building an inclusive society. As I said in my opening remarks, I hope that this debate will mark the beginning of a conversation rather than the end.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to wipe their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now move to the group beginning with Amendment 66C. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 66C

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Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I shall intervene briefly on Amendments 66C and 71, which I support. I have been involved as a beneficiary all my professional life with legal aid. Its roots go back to the Labour Governments of 1945 and 1951. When I began practising at the Bar in 1959, it was just about being given new life, and what a blessing it has been to people with limited or no means.

My noble friend Lord Kennedy has put down Amendment 71 which, together with the Government’s amendment, is a clear statement that no appropriate health professional may impose a fee for the purposes of obtaining legal aid by an applicant. Health professionals are paid in accordance with the terms of their contracts. My understanding is that on occasion, such as for medical certificates for insurance and travel purposes, they are entitled to charge extra fees. I am grateful for the Minister’s very careful explanation of what they can do.

There is obviously a loophole that needs to be filled. This is confirmed by the very fact of the result of the Government’s work, on which I congratulate them, in moving Amendment 66C. The need to fill in the loophole is confirmed. The Government seem to have covered all contingencies, and it obviously overtakes the Opposition’s amendment. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennedy on the hard work he and others have done; the result is what we see before us today. It confirms the value of this House as a reforming, confirming and improving Chamber. With those few words, I support the Government’s amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who is next on the list, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on resolving the injustice of NHS providers charging for evidence of domestic abuse. It is an object lesson in persistence. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who I was hoping to follow, will meet the same eventual success with her plans on forced marriage. I am also grateful to the Minister for his amendments to ensure that this is properly and legally installed in law.

In my view, it is a scandal that it ever had to come to this. What hard-hearted group of medical practitioners ever made the decision to charge money for evidence that a woman has been subjected to violence as a qualifying condition for legal aid? I suppose that is what happens when you try to marketise the NHS.

The Minister spoke about the role played by the BMA, but according to the BMA this amendment should never have been necessary. It says:

“We believe that legal aid agencies should trust the word of victims without needing to consult with a medical professional, who themselves”

will rely on what the victim tells them and

“may not be best placed to confirm whether domestic abuse has taken place.”

It recommends that the MoJ should remove altogether the unfair requirement for medical forms in the domestic abuse legal process. It seems to me that this requirement is just placing one more obstacle in front of the victim, perhaps to test to destruction her determination to get justice. Will the Minister say why legal aid agencies are requiring these medical certificates in the first place? Should we not be legislating to remove this requirement, full stop?

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to Amendment 67. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 67

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Report stage)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 8th March 2021

(8 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who is next on the list, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support this amendment in the name of noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. I thank her for all the work she has done to try to minimise the amount of involvement in the Bill necessary to make us all aware of this important issue. The amendment is designed to explicitly ensure that parental alienation is properly defined in the Bill. We have, of course, had indications today that it may be in statutory guidance, and that may be sufficient to ensure that the rights of children to see parents when it is appropriate to do so are adhered to. The amendment is not gender biased. It recognises that either parent, mother or father, may deliberately behave in such a way as to damage the relationship between a child and the other parent.

Parental Alienation UK has outlined a range of behaviours from one parent to another and I want to focus on one: when a parent makes false allegations of abuse, fitness to parent, substance abuse or mental health problems. I have worked with people with severe, enduring mental health problems where, when they have been severely ill and psychotic, it has been inappropriate for them to see their children. However, it is absolutely clear that, with modern treatment and access to supervised contact, most parents at some point should be able to see their children. That is not because of the rights of the parents. It is about the child’s right to know that the parent loves them and wants to see them, even if they are not in a position to look after them on a permanent basis. I believe that, as soon as is practicable, supervised access should be organised for children if they want to see the parent—the one they do not live with—if that parent is well enough to see them.

It is important that children know that both their parents want to stay in contact. If this is the case, the child is in a position, when they become an adult, to decide for themselves how much contact to maintain with each parent. I have heard other noble Lords oppose the amendment and I equally believe that no child should be made to see a parent without supervision if the court has decided that this would be inappropriate. I completely agree that we should recognise the vital role of Cafcass in this situation, but it is demeaning if the other parent of your child destroys letters, mementoes and gifts that you have sent, perhaps while you are too ill to see the child. These kinds of behaviour should be deliberately excluded and parents should be encouraged to try to work together through mediation. It should obviously be for the courts to decide and to determine whether parental alienation is occurring and to make decisions for access between a child and a parent, based always on the best interests of the child.

I believe that those who do not agree with this amendment have the same focus as I and others who are supporting it: to try to ensure that children grow up knowing that they have been loved, where this is so, and that they have been able, where it is safe to do so, to be in contact with both parents. I understand that the amendment may be better written within the statutory guidance and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s opinion on this matter.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, who is next on this list, is unable to take part in this debate, so I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to say it is beyond argument that this is an important Bill. In my professional career, I dealt with many cases of child abuse. I practised at the criminal Bar, not the family Bar. Fortunately, sitting as a recorder, I did not have to try or sentence anyone convicted of child abuse.

It is important to get the legislation right. At my first reading, I thought the Bill was sufficiently comprehensive to deal with any wrongdoing. The steps in the ladder are clear: first, the relationship is set out in Clause 1(2); then we go on to the type of relationship, supplemented in subsections (3) and (4); then subsection (5) deals with indirect behaviour. The amendment’s supporters seek to redefine this, by adding words to give an example of behaviour which is reprehensible. I understand the aims of the proposers and their real concerns. We have listened to the passionate speeches made today. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has added his name to the amendment. From long experience, I would listen to his words, and the House always does with very great respect.

My fear is that this amendment is over-prescriptive. Putting this into the Bill might limit the generality of the encompassing nature of subsection (5). At the moment, I have serious doubts about whether the amendment is needed at all, as such particularising may limit the thrust of the subsection so far as other conduct is concerned. In these circumstances, having heard all the arguments, I would recommend its rejection by your Lordships.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

(Committee stage)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 2

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 3. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 3

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 4. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 4

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. Anyone wishing to press this or the other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 5

Operation Midland

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Thursday 11th February 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many officers of the Metropolitan Police have been disciplined in connection with Operation Midland since the publication of the report by Sir Richard Henriques The Independent Review of the Metropolitan Police Service’s handling of nonrecent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence, on 4 October 2019.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, disciplinary action against individual officers is a matter for forces. However, my noble friend will be aware that, following Operation Kentia’s investigation into the five officers referred to it in connection with Operation Midland, the IOPC found organisational failings and issued 16 learning recommendations but found that none of the officers had a case for misconduct.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, who could fail to be moved by the following dignified yet devastating words:

“I’ve always believed that a strong moral compass is essential to every public body and especially to police forces, and above all, to its leadership … However, it just seems to me the Metropolitan Police has preferred its corporate or personal ambitions to a strong moral compass.”

Those are the words of Lady Brittan who, with the husband to whom she was devoted, our former colleague and the former Home Secretary, Lord Brittan, suffered grievously at the hands of policemen who failed to adhere to the law they had sworn to uphold. The House will not have forgotten other distinguished public figures who had their reputations traduced. Almost exactly a year ago I asked in this House:

“Is it not shocking that not a single police officer has been called to account for the catalogue of errors laid bare in Sir Richard Henriques’s report on Operation Midland, while some of those involved have been promoted to high rank?”—[Official Report, 3/2/20; col. 1613.]

I got no answer. I therefore ask the Government that question again today. Do they not understand that it is their duty to act, and act now?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, the IOPC has declined to investigate the matters to which my noble friend refers. With regard to higher rank, I assume he is referring to the commissioner, whose term ends in April 2022. Of course, the decision on appointment following that will be a matter for the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London.

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard))
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, will not get a big head when I again pay tribute to her for highlighting the plight of elderly victims of domestic abuse. She has such experience in this area. These very well-intentioned amendments seek to tackle the scourge of elder abuse. My noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger said that the way we treat our elderly reflects us as a society; I agree.

Local authorities are well equipped to identify, investigate and address suspicions or cases of domestic abuse where the individual has existing care and support needs or is known through other means. There are mechanisms and clear professional responsibilities in place to ensure the safety of suspected or known victims. I am not convinced that these amendments will add value to existing rules and processes or improve outcomes for elderly people experiencing domestic abuse, and I will explain why.

On Amendment 165, local authority employees are expected to undertake safeguarding training to ensure that they are able to identify and act on any concerns about exploitation or abuse in any circumstances, including when carrying out financial assessments for adult social care. Existing mechanisms will be in place to ensure that training is effective and that employees are able to escalate any issues. Escalation may include making a report to the police or making a referral under Section 42 of the Care Act 2014, which places a duty on local authorities to make inquiries, or to ask others to make inquiries, where they reasonably suspect that an adult in their area is at risk of neglect or abuse, including financial abuse.

Turning to Amendment 166, the police have existing powers of entry which ensure the protection of victims of domestic abuse and other instances of exploitation and harm where appropriate. We do not think that social workers require powers of entry separate from those of the police, who already effectively carry out this function. It is appropriate for the police to lead on any steps which may require gaining entry to a home where there is a serious threat from a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Extending this power to social workers risks placing them in dangerous situations which they are not equipped to deal with.

In addition, introducing a power of entry applicable to instances of domestic abuse risks creating a hierarchy of the different categories of exploitation, harm and abuse that are set out in the Care Act 2014. To take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the police, and health and social care professionals, will have local arrangements in place to enable joint working with one another and other partners to investigate all instances where an adult or child must be safeguarded, including instances which may require police to enter a home. It also plays to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made about data protection when information sharing. I think that joint working, certainly in the case of the troubled families programme, gets round those data protection issues.

Where there are concerns that an individual with a mental disorder is being ill-treated or neglected, including through domestic abuse, approved mental health professionals have special powers of entry set out in Section 135 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This allows for the approved mental health professional to present evidence at a magistrates’ court to obtain a warrant authorising the police, an approved mental health professional and a registered medical practitioner to gain entry to the premises, for an assessment to take place there and then or for the person to be removed to a place of safety.

Local authorities have the power to investigate under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if they have cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. These inquiries will determine whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. Furthermore, social workers may make an application under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989 for an emergency protection order. Where an emergency protection order is in place, the court can authorise a police officer to accompany the social worker if they are refused entry to the premises. Where the police have cause to believe that a child is likely to suffer significant harm, under Section 46 of the Children Act the child can be removed to suitable accommodation.

I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that there are practices and procedures in place to identify and tackle domestic abuse where financial assessments are being undertaken for the purposes of adult social care, and that there are existing powers of entry, exercisable by the police and others, that can be used where necessary. Having initiated this important debate, I hope that the noble Baroness is happy to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, whom I now call.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest, as set out in the register, as chair of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. I ask the Minister that any guidance on training that is given to local authorities has added to it that some women may be victims of forced marriage and may therefore need some specialist support.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We now come to Amendment 171. As usual, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Amendment 171

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 173. Again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 173

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we come now to Amendment 175. Again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.

Amendment 175

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to Amendment 177A. Once again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 177A

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard))
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 37. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Clause 12: Advisory Board

Amendment 37

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who is next on the list of speakers, has withdrawn her name, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, I wish to speak on Amendment 39, which is grouped with Amendments 37, 38, 40 and 43. Before I start, I just say how good it was to listen to the contribution that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has just made.

I intend, in effect, to identify some of the issues that have been taken up previously. I am pleased to say that my noble friend Lord Paddick spoke about this matter at Second Reading, and he is backed up by my noble friend Lady Featherstone. At Second Reading, he was able to identify why such a provision in the Bill is necessary. The amendment seeks to ensure that at least one person on the advisory board has experience with regard to the interest of male victims and those in same-sex relationships. My noble friend Lady Featherstone was responsible for equality issues during her time at the Home Office, and her ministerial experience is very useful in contributing on this matter. Of course, I always bow to the knowledge of my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt.

This legislation makes considerable improvements to the way in which we deal with female victims. That must never be underestimated, and rightly so, but we have the opportunity to ensure that male victims of domestic abuse, who, according to ONS statistics, make up 35% of victims, have the same opportunity to pursue their grievances. In any gender-neutral legislation, a programme of public education on this point is vital.

I am surprised that only 1% of funding is allocated to male victims, according to the briefing I have received. I am told that male victims are three times less likely to report their abuse to police. I was engaged in the work of the former Commission for Racial Equality and firmly believe that support should be granted to all victims regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age and ability. Perhaps the Minister could look at this issue. We should not give an impression that the Bill has less focus on male victims. Some of the suggestions I have made clearly point towards this interpretation which should be avoided. I urge the Minister to support a gender-neutral approach in the guidance on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which so far seems to lack such an explanation. I will go further. We need to build the confidence of people who may want to use this legislation to advance their cause by giving them confidence to do so by making sure that gender includes men, so I make that suggestion to the Minister.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. As noble Lords have outlined, these amendments all relate to the composition of the advisory board that will provide the commissioner with advice on the exercise of her functions. The advice could span a range of issues but is expected to contribute towards the development of the commissioner’s strategic plans, at the very least.

It is important that the advisory board contains a broad range of interests and represents a number of key statutory agencies and domestic abuse experts. I could start listing them, but then noble Lords might hold me to my words. But I can give examples. For example, they might have experience in housing or refuges or have medical experience, and so on and so forth. To maximise the effectiveness of the board, it is required to have no fewer than six members and no more than 10. That is to ensure that the board remains focused and provides clear advice to the commissioner.

Amendment 37 seeks to lift the upper limit on the membership of the board. We think that a maximum membership of 10 is appropriate to ensure that the board can operate effectively and efficiently. It does not preclude the commissioner from also seeking advice from other sources, but we need to avoid creating an unwieldy board which cannot then provide effective support to the commissioner.

In relation to Amendment 38, I do not believe there is any real practical difference here. To be able to represent, for example, the providers of health care services, I would expect the relevant member to have experience and expertise in this field. I suggest that we can leave it to the good judgement of the commissioner to appoint suitably qualified individuals.

Amendments 39, 40 and 43 all seek to add to the categories of persons who must be presented on the board. As I have indicated, we risk creating a board that is too unwieldy and therefore cannot effectively discharge its functions and support the commissioner in her role. An advisory board member could represent the interests of more than one group. For example, they could represent the interests of victims of domestic abuse, while also representing the interests of specialist charities. The structure provided for in Clause 12 confers sufficient latitude on the commissioner to include other key areas of expertise, such as in relation to children.

In addition to this board, through her terms and conditions of employment the commissioner will be required to establish a victims and survivors advisory group to ensure that it engages directly with victims and survivors in its work. The commissioner may also establish any other groups as she sees fit. While the appointments are a matter for the commissioner, I expect the membership of the victims and survivors advisory group to be representative of all victims of domestic abuse—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

The advisory board must be able to operate efficiently and effectively. It is important that it has a balanced membership, with expertise in critical areas relating to supporting and protecting all victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. Clause 12 strikes the right balance, setting out minimum and maximum representation but otherwise giving the commissioner the space to appoint the right individuals to the board. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness is content to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to conclude the debate on her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am glad that three of my noble friends spoke about male victims. I do not think we can remind ourselves too often that, whatever the language in the Bill—I am well aware of the lengths to which the Government have gone to express the Bill and supporting documents in gender-neutral language—the Bill is also about awareness. We have a task to make ourselves and others aware that it is not a gendered issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made the point about governance far more clearly than I did. I was indeed thinking about an integrated approach.

The Minister started on a list of those who might be members of the advisory board. I do not know whether she stopped herself because she realised she was making my point for me—that was certainly how I heard it—but she also said we should leave it to the commissioner to find the right individuals to represent these various categories. We should leave it to the commissioner and trust the commissioner to create an effective, efficient advisory board and to achieve the balance to which the Minister referred. I had thought there might be something more about this in the draft framework document, but essentially it repeats what is in the Bill.

I do not think the Minister replied to the point about the term “represent”. Indeed, she used that term herself. I remain really concerned about that, because I do not think that properly describes what the advisory board—as a body made up of a group of individuals, but we should look at it as a body—is really there to achieve.

I rather feel that the Government’s answer to all the amendments in the group is “not invented here, so sorry”. It sounded more like “not invented here” than “not necessary”. However, we will consider whether we pursue some of these points at the next stage, and I hope we do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 44. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make this clear in debate.

Clause 13: Strategic plans

Amendment 44

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The next speaker on the list, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I rise to support this amendment strongly: because this is done in such a patchy way, it needs a complete rethink.

I want to focus my comments on the training of police in domestic abuse. I have mentioned before in your Lordships’ House the organisation SafeLives, which has trained various police forces and found it incredibly effective in making them aware and more empathetic. Arrests and prosecutions rocket because, all of a sudden, police officers understand what is involved.

This week, at the APPG on Policing and Security, I asked Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, who is the NPCC lead for domestic abuse, about the number of police forces that had done this sort of domestic abuse training. The latest figures she had showed that 23 out of 43 forces had done the training, which I think noble Lords will agree is not enough. She made the valid point that it was not just about paying for it—which does hamper some police forces, because they have to pay for it themselves—but about the logistics of taking officers away from their day-to-day duties.

So, it is a postcode lottery. You might live in an area where training has been delivered, or you might not. There has to be blanket provision: this sort of training must be delivered as part of basic training to all police forces and any other public servants who may encounter survivors of domestic abuse. However, it is police officers who are in drastic need of this training. I ask that the Minister take this issue back to the Home Office and make it clear that the police should have this training as a matter of course. It represents the deep, far-reaching approach that all public organisations should be taking against domestic abuse. This is how we win against abusers.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, to conclude the debate on her amendment.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am really grateful to everyone who has contributed and been so positive about the importance of really good trained inquiry from whichever front-line worker a woman or victim is likely to turn up in front of. I will not mention everyone individually, but I need to answer a couple of things.

My noble friend Lord Hunt spoke very eloquently about the importance of employing people with lived experience in many of the services that work directly with those who have been abused—this is very important. I work with organisations that do this. However, he is also right that, if you are going to do it, you have an additional responsibility to make sure that they are well trained and supported. This amendment would help to make sure that that happened.

I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, contributed to the debate. When I was doing the commission, I met a number of women from the black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities and, of course, women with disabilities as well as some of the organisations that worked with them specifically. Too often, they met people who simply did not have the specialism or capacity to support them.

It is really important to understand the distinct and often disproportionate ways in which some minoritised women experience abuse, as well as knowing the right referral pathways. Training must involve the expertise of service providers, run by and for minoritised communities. These are really important things that I encourage the Government to think and talk to a wide group about. I certainly look forward to working with the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, on this agenda.

My noble friend Lord Rooker raised the issue of costs. Agenda has estimated that this would cost about £3.6 million. The Minister also mentioned the duty being a burden, and, as a previous Local Government Minister, I know all about that and want to address it. I would like to work with her officials to go through what some organisations have been doing to deliver this training in a way that enhances their organisation as well as ensuring really good support for the women and other victims who come in front of their front-line workers. I believe that there is merit for the public service rather than it being a burden in relation to doing things in the way that we have talked about this evening.

I hear what the Minister says, and I would love to work with her and her officials to find a way forward because I am afraid that, at the moment, there is plenty of guidance but no means of making sure that it is always translated into action. This is where we need to understand how we make sure that this happens for every victim of abuse who presents to a public authority. As such, there is work to be done, and, in the light of that, I am happy to withdraw my amendment today, with the idea that we will do some more work and perhaps come back later with another amendment on Report.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 11th January 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, not just to resume his speech—we look forward greatly to the rest of it—but, if he would be so kind, to repeat the last few statements he made, because sadly they were inaudible.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB) [V]
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I am grateful, and apologise for what seems to have been something of a crossed line.

I dealt with proposed new paragraph (a) in Amendment 21, so will move on to proposed new paragraph (b). I accept that it may be more problematic to prosecute an authorising officer for the inchoate offences of encouragement, assistance or conspiracy than for misconduct in public office, but that is because, if the conduct of the CHIS is rendered lawful by Section 27, it is certainly arguable that there is no crime capable of being incited or being the object of a conspiracy.

However, I believe that the Government agree with me that the immunity falls away altogether, with the result that the CHIS can be prosecuted for the authorised crime and the authorising officer prosecuted for the associated inchoate offences, if the CCA has first been declared a nullity by a competent court. Depending on the circumstances, that court may be the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the High Court or a criminal court. The Minister and the Bill team have been extremely helpful in explaining their thinking on this; I believe that there is nothing between us on this point. I would be most grateful if she could confirm—this is the third confirmation I am asking for—that this is the Government’s understanding of the law.

Of course, the paper possibility of a prosecution means little if the CPS, Crown Office or PPS in Northern Ireland are not made aware of the circumstances that may make a prosecution appropriate. Important in this respect are the powers vested in judicial commissioners under the Investigatory Powers Act. Section 231 provides for serious error reports, and Section 232(2) provides for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to

“provide advice or information to any public authority or other person in relation to matters for which a Judicial Commissioner is responsible”,

presumably including the CPS. Could the Minister confirm, fourthly, that this is also the Government’s understanding?

I move on, more briefly, to civil recourse for the innocent victim of an authorised crime. I start from the position that some means of compensation should exist for injury or loss caused by a crime committed pursuant to a criminal conduct authorisation, not from the person who was authorised to commit the crime but from the authority which authorised it or from the state more generally. Proposed new paragraph (c) in Amendment 21 seeks confirmation of what I do not believe to be in dispute: that compensation may be obtained from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in a case brought by an innocent victim. That is the fifth thing I ask the Minister to confirm.

That may, however, not be the most practical of remedies. Judicial commissioners have the power to tip someone off that they may have a remedy in the IPT when they consider that to be in the public interest but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and I suggested in Committee, there may be very limited circumstances in which that will be possible; there might well be risks to the operation and to the CHIS if unconnected persons were informed that their injuries were attributable to an undercover operative. The judicial commissioners are likely to have that well in mind, hence the importance of Amendment 22, which in the case of injury to an innocent victim would ensure that an application could be made in the normal way to the criminal injuries compensation scheme. That would have the great advantage of affording compensation to the innocent victim without it being necessary to disclose to the victim the status of the person—the CHIS—who inflicted the injury.

In their response last week to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was published by the Joint Committee at 11 this morning, the Government state that, having considered the question in detail, they have concluded that

“nothing in this Bill would frustrate a victim’s ability to recover compensation for injury or loss through that scheme.”

That is certainly encouraging, but I am afraid that the mouth of this particular gift horse needs a little more inspection. If actions committed pursuant to a valid criminal conduct authorisation are, in the words of Section 27(1), “lawful for all purposes”, can the Minister explain how injuries caused by such acts can be criminal injuries for the purposes of the compensation scheme? That is the sixth and final assurance I request from the Minister.

There is often an argument for making things clear in statute, even if satisfactory assurances can be given. Accordingly, if the Government accept the thrust of these amendments but have difficulties with the drafting, I shall certainly look constructively on any commitment to come back at Third Reading with revised drafts. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says in response. Depending on the content of that response, and if no commitment is given to accept these amendments or come back to them at Third Reading, on Wednesday I may test the opinion of the House on either or both of Amendments 21 and 22.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who is next on the list, has been replaced by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, speaking for the Opposition, we support the essence of this Bill. As noble Lords from all sides of the House have said in earlier debates, this Bill addresses a necessary—if at times uncomfortable—reality, which prevents crime and keeps us safe. We pay tribute to those in our security services and elsewhere for the work they do on our behalf.

There has been much discussion in this House on the detail of what is before us. I very much respect the strongly felt concerns raised by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti. I take what she said, as I do all her contributions, in the constructive spirit in which I know it was intended. However, we have reservations about the effect of the amendments she has tabled. The current status quo is that criminal conduct authorisations are given without formal accountability, and prosecutorial discretion becomes a factor only if a CHIS is caught and arrested for the offence. For the overwhelming majority of cases, prosecutorial discretion never becomes relevant. In the circumstances that a CHIS, having been authorised, is caught carrying out that criminal act, the CPS will be made aware of the authorisation and will not prosecute, on the basis of overriding public interest. The CHIS does not now, and will not under this Bill, have immunity for committing an unauthorised offence.

We therefore believe that the Bill reflects the status quo in practice. We feel that putting this on a statutory footing, with authorisation conferring immunity—with appropriate safeguards—is the best way. We seek to add provisions into the Bill on immunity plus safeguards, including on the function of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, looking at every authorisation and possible prior judicial authorisation—to which my noble friend Lord Dubs referred—which will preserve the use of CHIS criminal conduct authorisations in the national interest while ensuring that there are safeguards for every authorisation.

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Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who speaks with deep personal experience and authority. I listened to the passionate debate on the previous group of amendments, and now on this group. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made his case for Amendment 5 in his usual persuasive manner, but I favour a slightly different approach, not least for the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Hence I will speak to Amendment 16, as introduced so effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.

If the state is to grant advance pardon to individuals to commit serious breaches of the law, this should not be a common occurrence, and it is a decision that should be taken at the highest level. To my mind, that should be at the level of government. I accept that there might be occasions when, for matters of national security, criminal acts will need to be committed, but I have not been convinced of the need for change in the status quo regarding the way these authorisations are given. However, as the charity Justice says, it is inconceivable that the Government should not be accountable for serious criminal offences committed with their approval—but if that approval is delegated to officials, who will be accountable?

I have many qualms about this legislation. As many have remarked, the Government have repeatedly failed to make a convincing case as to why such a drastic abandoning of moral norms should be sanctioned. They have certainly failed to provide convincing arguments as to why such a broad set of agencies should need access to criminal conduct authorisation. What undercover activity does the Food Standards Agency, for instance, envisage having need of? However, while I am not comfortable with aspects of the legislation, I have no doubt of the Government’s determination to press ahead with it. It is therefore down to this House to try to make it more palatable.

As ever, the Government are keen to embrace anything that will show contempt for the European Court of Human Rights, and this obviously presents an opportunity to do that. But it is imperative that we try to stop these powers being used with impunity—and how better than by making government directly accountable? It would clearly be wrong for officials to have the power to grant immunity from prosecution to undercover agents on the basis of what they perceive as necessity without external authorisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, believes that the judiciary could provide that authorisation; the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out the flaws in that. I would prefer it to be the Government: the shift in responsibility from Ministers to officials has become a worrying trend. It seems that senior officials are deemed dispensable these days, but Ministers are not; ministerial resignations are now very rare, although I am sure that most of us have a little list of those that we feel are long overdue. The issuing of these orders is a very serious decision, with potentially enormous effects; it would surely be appropriate for a Minister to take ultimate responsibility.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, appears next on the list by mistake—he has already spoken—so I call the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell.

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB) [V]
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My Lords, in supporting the new clause in Amendment 33 and its consequentials, I am riding pillion to my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich. When I heard his speech at Second Reading, I immediately felt that his approach struck the most practical balance in controlling the activities of intelligence agencies embedded in groups carrying out criminal activities. Following the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I rather suspect that the scale of this is both at a lower level and in a larger quantity than previous speeches have suggested. One has to see the practicality of that in those terms.

My experience, both when I was in government and when I was on the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, leads me to believe that control of these operations requires three things. First, it requires better precision than there has been so far in the definition of how far agents can be authorised to go in participation in criminal activities. That is fair to them, and it is fair to the authorities. Ever since the case of Brian Nelson, the Northern Irish loyalist informer, to which I referred in Committee, I have felt that it is unsatisfactory that judgments on these matters should be left open and to the discretion of prosecuting authorities after the event, although I have no doubt that the decision to prosecute Nelson—indeed, he confessed—was correct.

Secondly, there is a need for close contact and immediacy in the control exercised. These situations in which covert intelligence agents are involved are often fast-moving. Communication between agent and controller may need to be rapid, and control needs to be agile. I do not believe that that can practicably be provided by a judge or a Secretary of State.

Thirdly, independent oversight is needed in as close to real time as possible. Controllers cannot be the judge and jury in these matters—certainly not the sole judge and jury—since there is an obvious temptation to cross lines in the interests of achieving what are often laudable objectives. I am persuaded that oversight is likely to be best achieved by giving the independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner a more active and immediate role. It seems to me that the provision proposed by my noble friend in the proposed new clause achieves these objectives in a practical way, and I am glad to hear that the Minister is inclined to agree that this is a fair and effective way forward.

The Liberal Democrats’ Amendment 17 takes a similar approach and, to that extent, I am sympathetic to it, but I am sceptical about whether the requirement for “prior approval” by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, even with a get-out clause in circumstances of urgency, would meet the requirement for operational agility—so I will stick with my support for my noble friend’s amendment.

Domestic Abuse Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard))
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con) [V]
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My Lords, one of the important ways in which this Bill was enhanced in another place was through the removal of the “rough sex” defence. In successfully making the arguments for this change, Members in the other place cited evidence submitted by Louise Perry of the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This. Ms Perry said:

“We can’t really ignore the porn factor … It’s there at a click of a button and can be accessed at such a young age. And the algorithms push you into a rabbit hole of more and more extreme stuff.”

At that time, I was heartened by the fact that, in addition to removing the “rough sex” defence, the Government would soon be making a key investment to combat domestic violence in the future by delivering on the 2015 Conservative manifesto commitment to

“stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material”

through the online harms Bill.

The negative impacts of exposure to pornography on child development are extensive. In February 2016, the DCMS stated in its important document Child Safety Online:

“Pornography has never been more easily accessible online, and material that would previously have been considered extreme has become part of mainstream online pornography. When young people access this material it risks normalising behaviour that might be harmful to their future emotional and psychological development.”

I quite agree. One of the very negative impacts of exposing children to pornography is the impact it inevitably has in normalising rough sex in their thinking, and in the development of their expectations.

In addition to helping parents protect their children from the wider harms associated with exposure to pornography, the Government’s commitment also provided a key way of helping to prevent the normalisation of rough sex in the thinking and expectations of the next generation. I was therefore very disturbed when the Government announced last month that the online harms Bill will not meet its manifesto commitment and will, instead, only seek to protect children from user-generated pornography.

As the online harms Bill will plainly not be delivering on the earlier manifesto commitment, the obvious way forward would be for the Government to now implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act to give effect to the world-leading legislation that your Lordships’ House has already passed to protect children from accessing pornography and, therein, the normalisation of rough sex on pornographic websites. This House has already passed that legislation; now we just need the Government to implement it.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, like others in this House, I have been involved in seeking reform of the law on domestic abuse since the 1970s. Change has been a long time coming; for too long, our institutions totally failed to understand the nature of such abuse, and while of course it is not experienced exclusively by women, it is usually the product of deeply embedded power relations, which still work largely against women.

In recent years, the toll of violence on the lives of women and girls has been recognised globally, and it is now present in international conventions. Slowly we have learned that it is not just physical violence but psychological torment, control and coercion, all of which destroys lives. As we heard today, it is hell, and not just for the individual sufferer; it carries a huge social cost, which has already been powerfully described, affecting children, the wider community and so on.

It is important to remember that domestic abuse can lead to desperate events, where victims, seeking to defend themselves, end up in the dock accused of a crime. They are often wrongly convicted because of the law’s inadequacy. Sally Challen was a case in point: she was initially convicted of murdering her husband before coercive control was understood by the courts.

We know that a very high percentage of women in prison have experienced domestic abuse, and, of those, a significant proportion will have been coerced into a criminal act by an abusive partner. It is one of the scandals of our prison system that so many women in prison have themselves been the victims of physical, sexual and psychological abuse as children or adults. I will be urging the Government to create two new statutory defences, which I hope will be widely supported across this House. There is a recognition in most of the organisations that campaign for justice for women that these defences are necessary.

Some noble Lords will remember that, a number of years ago, there were debates in this House around the case of a man called Tony Martin. He had been convicted of murder, having shot an intruder on his property, and his use of a firearm was deemed disproportionate —the boy was unarmed. That debate gave rise to a change in the law by the coalition Government which means that, in effect, a householder gets a substantial margin of appreciation of what is “reasonable” self-defence. This is on the basis that an added sense of threat can be expected to come from being intruded upon within the presumptively safe space of your home.

In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, described how the home should be “a place of safety and security”. In just the same way, someone attacked within the presumptively safe space of an intimate emotional relationship should be given the same margin of appreciation. Many of us who practise in the courts and have defended in cases of domestic homicide where there is a history of abuse have long felt that self-defence is in need of modification, to make it accommodate the victims of abuse accused of assault or murder.

The second proposed statutory defence involves a similar read-across. The ground-breaking Modern Slavery Act provides a defence to victims of trafficking who are coerced into the commission of crime. A person is not guilty if they were compelled to commit an offence as a result of their slavery or of being trafficked and controlled by those exploiting them. The bar is not low, but an objective test exists and is applied by asking what it would be “reasonable” to expect of someone in the defendant’s situation, with the same relevant characteristics. Would they have any realistic alternative to committing the crime? In precisely the same way, such a defence should be available to those who are in seriously abusive relationships. Because of its narrow remit, the defence of duress is not providing a defence for such victims who are forced to commit crimes.

Opportunities to change the law do not come along very often, and we can be sure that it will be many years before we can revisit these issues. Moments for change are rare and should be seized. For this reason, I will support many of the additions to the law that have mentioned already, and I will seek to add these two new statutory defences to the Bill. I hope that the Government will come to see that this would create a coherence in law and provide real justice for many victims of domestic abuse.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard))
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(12 months ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We proceed to the group beginning with Amendment 22. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that if Amendment 22 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 23 to 30.

Amendment 22

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Baroness Massey of Darwen Portrait Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 25, I shall put the views expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Chapter 5 of its report on the Bill. I am a member of that committee.

The amendment seeks to limit the use of criminal conduct authorisations to protecting national security and preventing crime. The JCHR report accepts that authorising criminal conduct may, in certain circumstances,

“be necessary and proportionate in the interests of national security or for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime.”

These were the purposes considered by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal when it approved MI5’s policy in the third direction challenge, and are the purposes highlighted by the Home Office in the Explanatory Notes. However, the Bill also permits CCAs to be made for the purpose of preventing disorder and for the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, as was mentioned before. The report says:

“It is difficult to understand why it is necessary to include ‘preventing disorder’ as a potential justification for authorising criminal conduct. Serious disorder would amount to a crime … and therefore be covered by the purpose of ‘preventing crime’. Any non-criminal disorder would not be serious enough to justify the use of criminality to prevent it.”

The NGOs Reprieve, the Pat Finucane Centre, Privacy International, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Rights and Security International and Big Brother Watch raised concerns that the Bill could allow for CCAs to be granted in relation to

“the activities of Trade Unions, anti-racism campaigns and environmental campaigns that have been the site of illegitimate CHIS activity in the past.”

The report concludes:

“The purposes for which criminal conduct can be authorised should be limited to national security and the detection or prevention of crime”

and that

“the power to authorise criminal conduct as contained in the Bill is far too extensive”.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, whose name appears next on the list, has withdrawn, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, unfortunately did not join the debate remotely at the start. I therefore call the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan of Partick.

Baroness Bryan of Partick Portrait Baroness Bryan of Partick (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a real pleasure to take part in this debate. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Dubs will not be joining us, but I am speaking before my noble friend Lord Judd—they have both spent many decades of their lives fighting for civil liberties. They will remember, I am sure, Maria Fyfe, who entered Parliament in 1987 and did so much over the years to champion women’s representation, but who sadly died this morning. I am sure that they and others will join me in sending condolences to her family and comrades in Scotland.

I shall speak specifically to Amendment 22 in the names of my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lord Hain, and moved very able by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, but I also support the other amendments in this group which argue that, should this Bill become law, CCAs could be used only to prevent or deter serious crime. The terms “preventing disorder” and being

“in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”

are so imprecise that almost any campaigning group or trade union could be included. These criteria are potentially political and could be used simply to defend the status quo against anyone who challenges it.

It seems quite odd that this legislation could not wait until the findings of the Undercover Police Inquiry. As the inquiry progresses, it is hearing that police have been used to spy on any number of groups that were deemed to be “anti-establishment”, even when they were humanitarian organisations such as Operation Omega, which tried to provide humanitarian aid to then East Pakistan. One police officer sent into the group has said:

“They weren’t hurting anyone, they weren’t disturbing anyone. Okay, you could argue that we don’t like to see these things posted on our lampposts, you know, stuff like that.”

He was then asked:

“Did you hear them promote or encourage public disorder?”

He replied:

“That’s a difficult one to answer, because a lot of organisations recommend demonstrations and activity that would bring their cause to the attention of the press and thereby to the rest of the population.”

A demonstration is of course a legitimate form of campaigning, but it is unfortunately seen as illegitimate in some quarters.

The undercover work extended into the trade union movement. Trade unions are a legitimate and essential part of our democracy, as guaranteed by the ILO since 1949. Member countries, including the UK, are required to guarantee the existence, autonomy and activities of trade unions, and to refrain from any interference that would restrict this right or impede their lawful exercise. Despite this, the Metropolitan Police Special Branch established the industrial intelligence unit in 1970 to monitor what it saw as growing industrial unrest. There is, we understand, a present day equivalent in the industrial liaison unit of the national domestic extremism and disorder intelligence unit.

I have no idea what justification could possibly have been used to send spies into humanitarian organisations, political parties or trade unions, but I suspect that preventing disorder and it being in the interest of economic well-being of the United Kingdom will have been used. There can be no justification for this and it should be removed from the Bill.

On Monday we heard the Statement in the other place that there would be no inquiry at this time into the murder of Pat Finucane—even though there is no doubt that there was state collusion in his assassination. After 30 years, the Government will still not shine a light on this atrocious event. His death should serve as a reminder that Governments and their agents can lose the capacity for moral judgment when they convince themselves that only they serve the greater good.

We were told on Tuesday that these examples happened a long time ago and that things have changed. But while the Bill continues to cover more than serious crimes and includes subjective actions such as disorder and economic well-being, it is a danger to anyone involved in politics and trade unionism. We should never grant the legal right for covert actions against citizens whose only crime is to disagree with the Government of the day. This amendment would go some way to achieving that.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, who appears next on the list, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater.

Lord King of Bridgwater Portrait Lord King of Bridgwater (Con) [V]
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My Lords, unlike, I think, every other speaker to these amendments so far, I do not support them. I see in them, once again, attempts to impose yet more conditions that may affect the effectiveness of the operation of undercover support and sources doing what I thought was generally agreed to be vital work in the interests of enforcement and the life of people in our country. I say at the start that a number of these things, and the worry about how these powers may be exercised, do not pay respect to the fact of the code of practice, which many have said should be required reading for everybody taking part in these debates. The importance of that code of practice is that it is going to have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. That will be a very important protection, because it is under that code of practice that authorising officers issuing CCAs, and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, will obviously be required to act.

I make no apology for repeating what I said on an earlier amendment in quoting James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security, when he gave the astonishing figures for a single year in London alone. The use of undercover sources resulted in 3,500 arrests, the recovery of more than 100 firearms and 400 other weapons, the seizure of more than 400 kilograms of class A drugs and the recovery of more than £2.5 million in cash. It also enabled, which I did not mention, the National Crime Agency to safeguard several hundred victims of crime, including from child sexual exploitation and abuse. Those figures alone, just from London in one year, surely leave nobody in any doubt of the importance of this vital source of support for preserving an orderly and law-abiding society. I make this point because, under the code of practice, which includes this question, others are seeking to add the word “serious” to “crime”. How does an authorising officer react when an informant comes and says, “There is a group of people who are starting to get together, I am not quite sure what they are up to, but I think there is a real risk that it could turn, later on, into something much nastier”?

When one looks at those figures I quoted from James Brokenshire, how many lives have been saved; how many people’s lives have not been disrupted; how much misery and poverty that might otherwise have entailed has been prevented? For these reasons, I am not persuaded of the need to add “serious” to crime; I think it might inhibit the operation of a properly authorised issuer of a CCA, who obviously has to use his judgment, and has to persuade the IPC as well that his judgment is correct and is in line with the code of practice.

I should also say a word about preventing disorder. We are living in extremely difficult and dangerous times at the moment. We know that the power of social media now makes it possible, in an instant, practically, to organise major demonstrations which may, in fact, be based on that new and horrid ingredient “fake news”. These may disrupt many people’s lives and may cost people’s lives. Although there are many very worthy causes—whether it is Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion—pursuing very understandable and admirable objectives, none the less we also know that around the fringes of those organisations, or in the confusion that some of their demonstrations cause, other sources of crime can easily emerge and it often makes opportunities for gangs to commit many more crimes as well. So I would not delete “preventing disorder”, provided it is properly covered within the code of practice.

The other thing I would just add is about economic well-being. I totally support trade unions—I always have done and, as Secretary of State for Employment, I was obviously closely involved—and legitimate trade union activity. However, we all know that, within our lifetime, we have had one or two instances where that has not been the case. One instance was the miners’ strike, when Mr Arthur Scargill said that one of his objectives was to bring down the Government, and he was not averse, in the process, to accepting money from the Soviet Union in pursuit of that objective. It is to the credit of Neil Kinnock, now the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, if I may say so, that he would not support him at that time, because Mr Scargill had not put the issue to a vote of the whole trade union movement.

I think we have seen here, and I understood at the beginning of this, that virtually all noble Lords recognise the vital importance of undercover source information and for there to be a proper system, a statutory system, under which they would operate. That is what I wish to see. I wish to see a thoroughly effective code of practice, thoroughly trained issuing officers and rapid and close contact with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as they carry out their work.

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Baroness Massey of Darwen Portrait Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 56 on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member. This report was derived from consultations with many knowledgeable and concerned participants. My noble friend Lord Dubs, also a member of that committee, has already contributed significantly to these debates. Unfortunately, he is otherwise engaged this afternoon in unavoidable commitments, but I hope that he will be here to present Amendments 39 and 63.

Amendment 56 establishes a prohibition on the authorisation of serious criminal offences in similar terms to those appearing in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act 1985. The Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern that even the most serious offences, such as rape, murder, sexual abuse of children and torture, which necessarily violated basic human rights, were not excluded on the face of this Bill. Noble Lords today and previously have expressed grave concerns about this issue. The Home Office considered this necessary because it feared it created a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. The Government’s position is that the Human Rights Act provides a guarantee against certain criminal conduct. However, it is noted in paragraph 40 of our report that, if a criminal gang or terrorist group were familiar enough with the relevant legislation to test a CHIS against it, they would presumably be equally able to test them against the guarantees of protections set out in the Human Rights Act. The committee did not consider it appropriate to legislate by providing open-ended powers while relying on the Human Rights Act as a safety net.

The report noted that the Human Rights Act has not prevented previous human rights violations by undercover investigators, or CHIS. For example, the Human Rights Act was in force for much of the period when undercover police officers from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit were engaging in intimate relations with women involved in the group that they had infiltrated. The committee also noted that other countries with similar legislation, including Canada, the US and Australia, had expressly ruled out CCAs ever enabling the most serious offences. I realise that this has been referred to before today. The report therefore concluded:

“There appears to be no good reason why the Bill cannot state clearly that certain offences or categories of offences are incapable of authorisation.”

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The next speaker on the list, the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, has, sadly, withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I was originally not going to be present for this debate, and I left the main thrust of the argument to my noble friend Lady Massey. I simply say that I endorse what the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said, and this has set the pattern for many of the debates this evening. I am fully in support of the arguments put forth by my noble friend Lady Massey.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 39. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate. I should inform the Committee that, if Amendment 39 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 40.

Amendment 39

Windrush Compensation Scheme

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 23rd November 2020

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I totally take that point on board. I agree with the noble Baroness that they might be frightened and that any notion of “state” might be frightening to them. As I have said, we have done quite a lot of outreach through church leaders, faith leaders and community leaders, but I shall certainly take that back. I know we will be reflecting on how far we have got with people coming forward and trying to make that process better, because clearly, more people should be coming forward.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Private Notice Question has now elapsed.

Child Trafficking

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 16th November 2020

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord goes to the heart of the problem: traffickers are at the heart of all these awful crimes, some of which result in the deaths of people crossing the channel and suchlike. Safe and legal routes are at the heart of our philosophy, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has laid out.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.

Asylum: British Overseas Territories and Ferries

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Monday 5th October 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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It is very important that local authorities are not only warned of impending arrivals but consulted with and engage with the people arriving. Criminals should be assessed quickly and expeditiously, and I think that no noble Lord would disagree with criminals who need to be deported being deported quickly.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, all supplementary questions have now been asked.

Asylum System

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Monday 28th September 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Clearly, France is geographically very close to us. We are in constant dialogue with France. We do not seek to replicate Dublin, of course, but in our reaching out to the EU with legal texts to see what happens after the transition period, we remain hopeful that those discussions will be fruitful.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee stage)
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 7th September 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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We come now to the group beginning with Amendment 12. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment, or any other in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Amendment 12

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 12, I shall speak also to Amendments 18, 19 and 83.

There is nothing subversive in Amendment 12—there is no cunning plan. All the amendments in this group are intended to ensure consistency with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. It does what it says on the tin. In the light of Clause 4, which spells out the power to make regulations which “among other things” may modify primary legislation, these amendments seem to us to be necessary.

I was about to refer to the British in Europe group as a campaign group, but it is far more than that: it represents its stakeholders and argues very powerfully for the interests of British citizens in Europe. As the group puts it, the withdrawal agreement is the vital underpinning of rights created in UK law for UK citizens living in the EU and for EU citizens living here. In various debates over the past few months, noble Lords have tended to focus on the latter, because living here means being subject to UK law. But British citizens in the EU are British and must not be prejudiced by anything that is not in accordance with an international treaty.

I say that without having heard much news since this morning because of being, as it were, in the Chamber, but the news this morning was very much about not following through—not complying with—an international treaty. After all, we should all be entitled to rely on an international treaty.

Immigration law is so complex that to allow an inconsistency to slip through unintentionally is a real danger. Amendment 12, therefore, provides in terms that the power to make regulations does not include a power to make a provision inconsistent with the withdrawal agreement.

Amendments 18 and 19 aim to bring the clause into line with the two pieces of legislation that I have mentioned. Section 7(2) of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 provides that, if the Minister considers it appropriate, regulations under subsection (1) may be made so as to apply both to persons to whom the provision in question applies and—this is the relevant point—to persons to whom the provision does not apply but who may be granted leave to enter or remain in the UK by virtue of residence scheme immigration rules and who do not have such leave. Amendment 18 would replicate that.

Amendment 83 deals with Clause 5, and it may be appropriate to come back to it when we debate Clause 5. However, again, its purpose is to ensure that the power created by the clause can be used only in ways which are consistent with our country’s obligations under the withdrawal agreement. “Retained direct EU legislation” is the full gamut of EU legislation on social security co-ordination, and under the withdrawal agreement the UK is committed to applying this legislation to all those who come within the scope of Part 2. Among other things, the legislation covers the aggregation of social security contributions made in different countries, mutual healthcare arrangements, the payment of pensions and pension increases for pensioners living in different countries, and the regulation of other cross-border benefits.

In practical terms, the most important aspect for British citizens covered by the withdrawal agreement is the continued right for them to receive their pension and pension increases. Many noble Lords will recall debates regarding pensions and pension increases for people who have moved away from the UK, outside the EU, and whose pensions have been frozen. Other aspects are the continued right of pensioners to healthcare under the S1 scheme, which enables a pensioner residing in a country not responsible for their pension to receive healthcare in the country of residence at the expense of the country paying the pension contributions. This is a mutual arrangement that also applies to EU pensioners living in the UK. One aspect of this is the continuation of the scheme whereby those who have worked in the UK and one or more EU countries have their contributions aggregated, so that they do not fall foul of the national rules on minimum contribution periods.

One of the very big concerns of people who lose the right of free movement is the impact on their retention of rights and ability to move in the course of work as their careers develop and their jobs take them to different countries. Without this scheme, many people who have contributed for a full working life but have moved several times would end up without a pension at all. Again, we are faced with the possibility of a Government modifying—or worse, perhaps—these provisions by regulation alone.

All the points that have been made this afternoon and this evening about what could happen are relevant here. Social security legislation probably rivals immigration legislation in its complexity, so the point that was made earlier about unwitting breaches of the withdrawal agreement would apply as well. I assume that we will have similar answers to this amendment, but, although the points may be similar and parallel, they are no less important or worthy of being pressed and explored, as I am seeking to do with Amendment 83. However, at the moment, I will formally move Amendment 12.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Flight. Lord Flight? As he is not present, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I have added my name to the amendments in this group. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who moved them clearly and explained the importance of what is being sought by introducing them.

As the noble Baroness mentioned, this seems timely, given some of the recent very troubling reports. Lately, the possibility has arisen that the Government are not satisfied with the withdrawal agreement in some way, having signed it recently in good faith, while working, hopefully, towards an agreed exit after the transition period at the end of this year. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House that there is no intention of trying to override the withdrawal agreement in any way and that our country will not be seen to be trying to renege on an international agreement, especially so soon after having signed it.

I hope that UK citizens living in the EU can be reassured that the measures in the Bill will not be affected deleteriously by future regulations that might change what they thought was already enshrined in this international agreement and that pensions, pension increases, other benefits and health care will be protected, as was intended and implied in the withdrawal agreement. I also hope that the measures in the Bill will remain consistent with the withdrawal agreement and that no powers under the Bill will be used to make provisions inconsistent with that agreement.

I know these are probing amendments and I hope that the reassurances or necessary changes can be made to satisfy the House. I support the intention of these amendments and look forward to my noble friend’s response.

Investigatory Powers (Communications Data) (Relevant Public Authorities and Designated Senior Officers) Regulations 2020

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I have read the papers in front of us this afternoon and should like to highlight a couple of things. I note from paragraph 7.2 that there has been a

“rapid escalation of organised crime”

in recent years of fly-tipping and so on. It seems to me, as one who has been using the tidy tip in Biggleswade in Bedfordshire by appointment, that there is no provision for small businesses or small builders to get rid of their bits and pieces of rubbish. Although it is not absolutely covered by the order, I wonder whether it is not time to look at the fly-tipping challenge that we are facing in this country.

My other point concerns paragraph 7.3 and the Department of Health and Social Care. Am I right in thinking that that is to do with the purchasing done by the department? If not, what else does it cover?

Moving on, I note that 10 departments are now involved. One asks who is co-ordinating those 10 to ensure that they are consistent in their approach to what they think is fraud.

I declare an interest as a trustee of the parliamentary pension fund. We all know that small businesses have, quite rightly, been brought into the national pension scheme since 2012. Why, at this point, eight years on, is it felt for the first time that the Pensions Regulator should be given powers? Previously, it was not given powers, because they were not up to scratch. Any of us who are involved in that world know that it is hugely complicated at the moment; it is not easy, particularly for the millions of small businesses, to keep up to date with the changes that are being made. I am sure that mistakes are made, but I do not think that, at this point in time, this particular edition of the Pensions Regulator is proportionate to the problems in that area.

Moving on to the second order, those of us who have worked with or alongside the United States will be well aware that there are six states, Delaware being the leading one, that do not co-operate with the US Government very much at all in declaring who has moved money in and out of a state. We have had instances in the past on the Public Accounts Committee where it was clear that that particular state—and five others, I think—just does not co-operate. This all sounds fine here, but what will happen in relation to those states that do not co-operate with the US Government as a whole?

Secondly, what is the position of our overseas territories? I declare an interest: I have family in the Cayman Islands. In my judgment and, I think, in that of Her Majesty’s Government, those islands have been highly co-operative in trying to find a modus vivendi in the illegal movement of funds. Other parts of the overseas territories have not been quite so co-operative. It is not clear to me whether this agreement with the US is limited to just the UK and, as far as the States is concerned, probably does not touch those six states—I have mentioned only the leading one. I am not sure whether this measure covers the overseas territories. I do not think that it does, but I would be grateful for elucidation on that point.

Are we in a position to say okay, we have got the States, but there are other countries that we believe we should have a similar agreement with? If that is private and confidential, I do not expect it to be indicated this evening, but it would be helpful for the Committee to know the key parties—that is, countries—that we would like to have agreements with.

Paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum says that

“the Parties shall engage in a review of each Party’s compliance with the terms of this Agreement”.

One wonders how often. I happened to notice that tomorrow we will deal with a separate SI in which reviews will occur every three years. In other places, it is eight years. There does not seem to be too much consistency in government.

Paragraph 7.6 states:

“The IPA is included in this list, but the COPO Act is not, because it did not exist when the IPA was drafted. Consequently, the IPC is currently unable to keep under review any Agreement-related activity exercisable by virtue of the COPO Act, such as the use of OPOs.”

Is this not a loophole? Since we are doing this now—this measure must have been prepared some time ago—what are we doing to close that loophole?

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, Lord Morris? I think we have to move on, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, the Investigatory Powers Act was a landmark piece of repressive legislation passed by this Parliament, granting unprecedented powers to gather information on the public at large. It is so bad that even the Chinese Communist Party has pointed to the UK’s law to justify its own intrusive surveillance of the Chinese people. Many of us who are concerned about state surveillance and government overreach raised the alarm at the time, but Parliament continued regardless.

However, I am happy to see that the Investigatory Powers Act that exists today is a very different beast from the one passed by Parliament only four years ago. The European Court of Justice did not take long to rule that some of the worst parts of the Act, including the Orwellian hoovering up of information about everyone’s internet usage, was plain illegal. A second court case saw the High Court rule, again, that parts of the Act were unlawful and must be replaced. That forced the Government into retreat, with powers now being deployed only against serious crime.

At a time when the Government are seeking to curtail judicial review, we should remember that the courts have acted as a beacon of our freedoms and liberties when Parliament has failed properly to scrutinise the Investigatory Powers Act. That is one example of so many reasons why we must fight against the Government’s attack on the constitutional role of the judiciary to hold the executive power to account. This is an important context which I am happy to have the opportunity to set out, with an unusually long speaking time by recent standards. This context colours the two regulations before your Lordship’s Grand Committee today.

These two regulations are relatively benign precisely because campaigners beat the Government in the court 2-0. The regulations are restricted in their scope and power, applying only to serious crime and with judicial safeguards in place. They are a world apart from the draconian, dystopian legislation dreamed up by the then Home Secretary Theresa May.

I have a specific query for the Minister, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has referred to some of this. The functions of the investigatory powers order implements part of the agreement between the UK and the USA on access to electronic data for the purpose of countering serious crime. Article 12 of that agreement requires a review within 12 months of the agreement coming into force of

“each Party’s compliance with the terms”

of the agreement, and

“a review of … handling of data acquired”

under the agreement. Can the Minister say whether that review has taken place? Am I to understand from her opening remarks that it has not happened yet? When will it take place, and will your Lordships’ House have a copy of that review so that we can see it and discuss it? In particular, I seek assurances that President Trump is not using powers in this agreement against his political enemies in the USA, who seem to be growing in number. He is ruling over what looks like a totalitarian state apparatus purely for his own personal interests, and I very much hope that our Government do not go the same way.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I call again the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and ask him to unmute so that we will be able to hear him. There is still no response, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, may I say that it is a great pleasure to be here in person? For one thing, you do not have the problems that my noble and learned friend Lord Morris is experiencing. However, it was said on the way in that I would not be able to cause as much mischief as I normally do in Grand Committee as we are a bit like battery hens in here. I hope that it does not affect our behaviour in that way.

This is a very important issue. I was a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee for three years between 2007 and 2010, so I have a little inside information about what some of the countries that are not our best friends get up to. This is very important in relation to that, and I will come back to it in a minute.

First, the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee quite rightly points out that the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Environment Agency and the Pensions Regulator were removed and now they are being put back in again. There is a sort of explanation under paragraph 5, but it is not really a very satisfactory one.

I suspect—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is shaking his head; perhaps he can answer on this—that they were taken out by the coalition because of pressure from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, now that they are ruling on their own, have put them back in again. For once, I agree that they should be in and that that is right—let us find out—but it represents yet another U-turn. We have had lots of them in the last few weeks, have we not? Let us add this one to the list—if anyone is keeping one.

Going back to the Intelligence and Security Committee, there was an astonishing U-turn there, mind you. Chris Grayling was so enthusiastic that he wanted to chair the committee; now he finds that he does not have enough time or enough interest even to be a member. Very strange things are going on there, but I do not think that the Minister, however good she is—and she is a good Minister—would be able to answer on that. Once Chris Grayling had dipped his toe in the water, it was not just right for him, as I think Goldilocks said.

The memorandum for the regulations relating to communications data and relevant public authorities states that the regulations

“have been subject to a successful 12-week consultation period with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and the public authorities to which the modifications relate as required by … the IPA.”

However, given the role that the ISC had—as I know very well—in scrutinising the original Investigatory Powers Bill before it became law in 2016 and the critical recommendations it made in the 2016 report, can the Minister tell us whether the ISC itself was consulted on these regulations? If so, what did it say? If not, why not?

Similarly, I would be interested to know what scrutiny, involvement or consultation the ISC has had in the overseas production order regulations relating to UK and US communications data sharing.

Finally, these regulations come after the introduction of temporary powers—so many of them were brought into effect by the Coronavirus Act 2020—enabling the Secretary of State to grant the Investigatory Powers Commissioner powers to appoint temporary commissioners with powers to sign warrants to allow authorities to access communications data. That was in anticipation of staff shortages due to coronavirus. The time limit on seeking retrospective warrants was also expanded. As with all temporary regulations put in place because of the epidemic, can the Minister say how long she intends to keep these temporary powers in place?

I have just two or three questions to which I would like answers. Otherwise, although it might not seem it from some of my demeanour, I support the Motion.

Planning Rules

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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I am aware of the issue raised by noble Baroness and would be happy to meet her as soon as she is able to.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, all supplementary questions have now been asked.

Churches: Reopening of Buildings

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Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Greenhalgh on 26 May (HL4184), what discussions they have had with (1) the Church of England, (2) the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and (3) other Churches, about the reopening of church buildings for private devotional prayer and public worship.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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The Government have worked closely with all major faiths in England through the places of worship task force and regular faith round tables with leaders and representatives. These include Christian representatives from the main denominations. Our engagement has covered a wide variety of issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and plans to reopen places of worship. Individual prayer and communal worship are now both permitted.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, since social distancing could have been arranged so easily from the outset, was it really necessary to lock up all our churches for the first time since Pope Innocent III ordered their closure 800 years ago, with the Church of England going beyond official government guidance initially by banning private prayer in churches and forbidding its clergy to enter them even on their own? Is my noble friend able to tell the House how much financial support the Government have so far provided to assist the survival of our historic places of worship? Salisbury Cathedral, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary this year, was expecting some £2.2 million from visitors; it will be lucky to get £200,000. Finally, may I press my noble friend again on the urgent need for explicit guidance on the safe resumption of choral singing? The great composer John Rutter said recently:

“Some two million people in the UK engage in choral singing, and they are desperately missing this pillar of our national life.”

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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My Lords, the decision to close places of worship was not taken lightly, but it was in response to the fact that the virus is highly contagious, particularly in areas where people gather indoors. In recent months, historic places of worship have been able to apply for grants from Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund of some £55 million, and listed places of worship can get around £200 million for heritage construction projects. I refer to the DCMS guidance on my noble friend’s third point.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard))
Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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Three-minute speeches require one to cut corners, which is always a dangerous thing to do and no more dangerous than when on is talking about immigration, an area where every phrase is liable to misinterpretation.

In the mid-1990s, before the Blair Government opened the gates to and encouraged large-scale immigration, the population of the country was 58.1 million. It is now 66.4 million, some 8 million higher. The ONS projection for the numbers for 2040 is another 6 million on top of that. It means that, in half a century, we will have added a quarter to our population. Today, as I speak, the population is going up by just under 1,100 a day, or just under 400,000 a year, with a third, roughly, from the natural increase—the excess of births over deaths—and roughly two-thirds from immigration.

Members of your Lordships’ House may regard all this with equanimity, but let me tell them that, outside, our fellow citizens do not regard it with equanimity; they are very concerned about it indeed. Recent polling says that no fewer than 74% of those polled believe the Government should introduce policies to deal with the challenges of rapid population growth. Of course, it is important, as my noble friend Lord Lilley said, not to demonise new arrivals; they bring a degree of economic and cultural dynamic without which we would be a much poorer country. But it is about scale, and it is important to recognise that, under the system of the past few years, there have been losers.

Who are the losers? They are the poorest in our society, as the wages for the bottom decile are now 12% lower in real terms than they were in 2008; they are older people, as it is increasingly difficult for people over 50 to get a job, and at a time when we are raising the retirement age from 65 to 68. Another loser is the British economy, whose Achilles heel is a poor productivity record, which is linked to the free availability of labour, meaning that no investment has been made in machinery; it is the developing world, because we, along with the rest of western society seem to see no moral fault in draining the developing world of its scarce trained resources. Lastly, it is our environment and ecology, because of the damage caused by rapid population growth.

In this Bill, we will be resetting the dial on this critical issue. In Committee, I will want to probe my noble friend on the Front Bench to reassure us, first, that those who have lost out in the years so far will not lose out in the next set of years and, secondly, that proper weight will be given to the quality of aspects of population growth, since they will have such an important and vital consequence for the country we leave our children and grandchildren.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. She is not responding. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will concentrate on those parts of the Bill that make provision for social security co-ordination, particularly Clause 5 and Schedules 2 and 3.

We are currently part of the EU system, which is based on four principles: the single state principle that, at any one time, EU citizens are covered by the social security system of just one country and have to pay contributions in only one country; equal treatment, whereby if they are in another member state, they have the same rights as their nationals; aggregation, meaning that periods of insurance, employment or residence in other member states count when determining eligibility for benefits; and exportability, meaning that they can receive benefits from one member state even when they live in another. There is a well-established system of administrative co-operation behind this and these provisions will still apply after the transition period for those within the scope of the withdrawal agreement. The UK has also done a deal with Ireland that broadly replicates the current provisions.

However, the position of other people moving between the UK and the EU after the transition period will depend on whether a future relationship agreement covering social security co-ordination is secured. The augurs are not positive. Last month, a Commons Library brief noted:

“The EU’s Draft Protocol on Social Security Coordination and the UK’s Draft Social Security Coordination Agreement differ significantly in terms of both the matters covered and the persons covered.”

Oh dear.

There is some common ground on state pensions, where both sides want aggregation and for pensions to be able to be exported and uprated annually, but not on disability benefits or healthcare for pensioners living abroad. And there are no co-ordination provisions for benefits other than pensions.

Can the Minister tell us whether there is an agreement in the offing? If not, am I right that this could mean that, without an agreement, workers moving to or posted to an EU country could have to pay national insurance contributions in both countries; people moving between the UK and the EU could find that their contributions paid overseas are ignored if, say, they later fall sick and need to claim benefits; and that there will be no clear rules about which country is responsible for paying someone’s benefits and no mechanism for resolving disputes?

There is deep uncertainty about the future position, but the right response is not a Bill containing Henry VIII powers so broad that they will allow Ministers pretty much to rewrite the social security co-ordination rules at will. Social security co-ordination is an essential prerequisite for labour mobility. But it is also about fairness. These issues affect a lot of people and Parliament deserves more clarity, control and accountability than this Bill currently affords.

Metropolitan Police: Racism

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I can vouch for the fact that the Home Secretary speaks to the police every day because I am on some of those calls. As I said, she is chairing the national policing board today and one item that will be discussed is diversity.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.

Covid-19: Churches and Places of Worship

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Thursday 9th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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I looked at the suggestion of a small business grant fund with my colleague and noble friend Lady Barran, and we have already had a bilateral on this to see how we can move forward. It should be noted that the charity support fund provided by the National Lottery fund is open to places of worship that are registered charities, and that is some £200 million.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Will the guidance to which my noble friend the Minister referred in answer to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur include the safe resumption of choral singing, something for which our choirs, cathedrals, churches and their congregations yearn?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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I thank my noble friend for raising the importance of choral music and choirs to our places of worship. My understanding is that it is included in the guidance, which will be published shortly.

Covid-19: Local Government Finance

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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Social care for children is recognised as a priority service for the Government. I give the assurance that the funding required, as a result of demand pressures from this pandemic, will be looked at and covered.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.

Immigration: Detainee Support

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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People are released from detention for a number of reasons, including appeals that succeed because late information is provided. However, the noble Lord makes a valid point that we should look back on this period of the pandemic to see whether some of the things that we are doing now could be used in future to manage people in the community.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 22nd June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I cannot answer on behalf of my noble friend Lord Agnew but I will certainly get him to respond to the noble Baroness.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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When the Government come to make their promised response to the inquiry’s report on Westminster, published in February, will they ask why it failed to interview Mr Tom Watson about his appalling slurs on innocent people? Will they also ask why the section in that report on Westminster, which dealt with allegations about a paedophile ring said to have been based in Dolphin Square in the mid-1990s—allegations in which I happened to be implicated—failed to mention that the allegations were shown to be a pack of lies and the magazine in which they appeared was closed down? How can we trust fully an inquiry that fails to show proper balance in carrying out its responsibilities?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My noble friend is absolutely right that the Westminster strand did not find evidence of a paedophile ring, but it did find deference by the police, prosecutors and political parties towards public figures. It found differences in treatment accorded to well-connected people, as opposed to those without networks and influence, and a failure by almost every institution to put the needs of children first. They are shocking findings; they should give us all pause for thought.

Operation Midland

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Wednesday 18th March 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, published on 13 March, which concluded that the Metropolitan Police Service has made slow progress in learning the lessons that arose from Operation Midland.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, the HMICFRS report commissioned by the Home Secretary is an important step in ensuring that lessons are being learned from the failures of Operation Midland. She recognises the critical importance of public confidence on this. Both HMICFRS and the IOPC recognise that the Metropolitan Police Service has responded positively since the publication of the Operation Kentia report in October 2019. The Home Secretary will continue to seek assurance from the Metropolitan Police Service that it is acting on the inspectorate’s findings.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the Home Secretary for ordering this very important review. But how can it have been that two Metropolitan Police Commissioners were asleep on their watch, largely unconcerned, it seems, by the misdeeds and malpractices of officers during Operation Midland and, presumably, content that lessons that ought to have been learned swiftly were ignored for so long? Can my noble friend give the House three or four specific examples of the lessons that have now been apparently and belatedly learned? Finally, I return to one aspect of these police scandals that concerns me particularly as a political historian. Will the Government now stop blocking an independent inquiry into Operation Conifer, which left an unwarranted slur on the historical reputation of Sir Edward Heath? I put it to the Government that they have not given the House reasons for vetoing the inquiry but the opinions of a number of recent Home Secretaries, none of whom is a lawyer.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, there is quite a lot in my noble friend’s follow-up question. I join him in paying tribute to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who took very swift action in dealing with this. It is regrettable that there was no plan in place to deliver sustained improvements after Sir Richard’s review. Both HMICFRS and the IOPC have now found that the MPS has delivered significant improvements but, with respect to keeping track of those improvements, the Home Secretary will continue to seek assurances from the MPS that those improvements are being embedded across the force. On whether we will launch an inquiry into Operation Conifer, Operation Conifer and Operation Midland were quite different investigations. Operation Conifer has been subject to significant scrutiny. As Wiltshire Police has made clear, Operation Conifer did not pursue further inquiries into Carl Beech’s allegations after deciding that there was undermining evidence.

Metropolitan Police: Live Facial Recognition

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 16th March 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, I understand that the Met has stated that the images on the watchlist are drawn from its own database of images taken on arrest, or other images of suspects.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Why is the Metropolitan Police so slow to improve its performance in this and some other respects?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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That sounds like a warm-up to our Question on Wednesday.

Operation Midland

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Monday 3rd February 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect the review of Operation Midland by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary to be completed.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, HMICFRS is not reviewing Operation Midland. On 3 October last year, the Home Secretary directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to undertake an inspection to determine the extent to which the Metropolitan Police service had learned the lessons of Operation Midland. Fieldwork has now been completed and the report is expected to be finalised and published by the end of March.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Is it not shocking that not a single police officer has been called to account for the catalogue of errors laid bare in Sir Richard Henriques’s report on Operation Midland, while some of those involved have been promoted to high rank? Why do the Government persist in rejecting the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner’s calls for an inquiry into Operation Conifer, the botched investigation of allegations against Sir Edward Heath—largely financed by the Home Office—whose shortcomings so closely resemble those of Operation Midland?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, Operation Conifer has been scrutinised and it followed absolutely the procedures it would have been required to undertake. Its outcome, while not satisfactory at all to some of Sir Edward Heath’s friends and family, has certainly been fully and rigorously tested.

Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019

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Tuesday 5th November 2019

(2 years ago)

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Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, it appears that on the issue of equality, we are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I do not want to hold back these regulations, because they are not just a step but a huge leap forward for opposite-sex couples’ equality. However, I despair a little that the Government have not been able at this point to bring about true equality.

I wear this lanyard, as others do, not because I am proud to be LGBT or an LGBT ally, but because I believe in fundamental equality before the law and in human rights. I have spoken in this House before about not being able to marry in a religious institution, which is a form of discrimination. I would not want somebody who is part of an opposite-sex couple to feel that sense of joy being deflated by not being able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage. There is no legal reason why that cannot happen but just a bureaucratic one, based on “some consultation is taking place”.

I know the Minister and her personal passion for equality, which is beyond doubt. However, she kept saying “short term”. How short is short term? The one thing she cannot give is any certainty. We are going into a general election, so short term may be longer than the noble Baroness feels. In addition, it may be short term to the Government, but for somebody who is in an opposite-sex civil partnership and wants to convert, it may take much longer than the short term, particularly if that person has a terminal illness. People make decisions because of life-changing events, so we may be denying somebody the equality that they want based on where they are in their life.

I therefore ask the Minister and the whole House, to ensure that, whoever is returned after the general election, short term must mean a matter of weeks or months. This cannot go on for years because of some bureaucratic government view about consultation.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I have listened to important comments from the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Cashman and Lord Scriven, with whom I agree so much on matters relating to civil partnerships and same-sex marriage. However, I would like to return briefly to a deep injustice which the extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples has made even more glaring.

Civil partnerships were introduced for the express purpose of conferring legal rights on couples who were ineligible to marry. Through these regulations, civil partnerships will be extended to all couples who now possess the right to marry. They will be withheld from people who cannot marry—in defiance of the very principle on which they were established in the first place.

I have brought up on a number of occasions in this House the question of why the Government feel it is acceptable to continue to withhold from long-term cohabiting siblings who choose to live together for companionship and mutual support all the legal rights and fiscal safeguards they offer, through civil partnerships, to couples they presume to be in sexual relationships.

Do the Government think that two siblings who live together in mutually supportive and financially independent relationships are less in need of the legal protection and fiscal safeguards afforded by civil partnerships than sexual couples? If not, why do they continue to reject both the argument that they should extend civil partnerships to long-term cohabiting couples and the suggestion that they should address that discrimination through other means—for a start, by reforming the rules governing inheritance tax so that bereaved survivors of a sibling couple are at least spared losing the joint home to inheritance tax on the death of the first sibling? I am in touch with a large number of elderly siblings who have lived together, often all their lives, in committed and caring relationships. They simply cannot understand why the Government refuse to recognise them as a single legal unit or give them any help whatever by other means.

Take Beatrice and Mary, sisters whose mother was widowed in their teens and whom they looked after throughout their adult lives in their jointly owned home until her death at the age of 100. The sisters are now 91 and 87. When one of them dies, the survivor will face an inheritance tax bill so hefty on her sister’s share of the estate that there will be nothing left of their joint savings for her own care. If they were civil partners who had known each other for just a few weeks, they would be spared.

A responsible Conservative Government must recognise the value of arrangements such as that of Beatrice and Mary, bring an end to this injustice and finally put the family, in all its manifestations, back where it belongs: at the heart of Conservative social policy. The regulations advance the principle of equality in human affairs—although perhaps not as fully as many would wish—and that is very important, but Conservatives should be no less concerned with the welfare of families in all their forms.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I am very pleased that, on the last day of this Session, we are returning to this business. Like other noble Lords including the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Collins, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, for all the work she did to get us to this point.

I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House for so long that I can remember all the rather tortuous path that we have been down, from when we started off, back in 2004, with a Civil Partnership Bill that was wrecked in this House and very nearly fell, but was then rescued and came back, through to where we are today. It is a tortuous path for two reasons. One is that, at every step of the way, the Government have felt that they have to pick their way round strong religious sensitivities. The second is that there is a fundamental flaw in all the reasoning as a result. We were told, way back when we were looking at civil partnerships, in definite terms by evangelical Christians and all the rest, that civil partnerships would undermine marriage. They do not.

In this House, from listening to officials at the time, I understand that at every stage we had to give in to the idea that civil partnerships were somehow a threat. I have never thought that they were for a very simple reason. My father married a lot of people. On Saturday afternoons, my dad would go out, perform a wedding, come back and we would say, “And what was the bride wearing?” Dad would say, “A white dress”. Because my dad was a nonconformist minister long before the Church of England saw the light on matters such as divorce, he was marrying a lot of people. He always had the right not to agree to marry someone. It was a right that he exercised very rarely—only in one or two instances when people came before him and he believed that one of them was under duress to do something that they did not want to. However, he quietly confided that he often officiated at marriage ceremonies where he felt that the people were getting married because that was all there was, and that if there had been an opportunity for them to have their relationship recognised in a different way, that would have been a more honest thing to do. If the Church had recognised that a long time ago, we would not have had to go through much of the difficulty that we now do.

Many people have shouted out their congratulations; mine go to Lynne Featherstone—my noble friend Lady Featherstone. No matter what anybody says, we would not have same-sex marriage were it not for her determination. For these regulations, I also want to give a shout-out to somebody else: Peter Tatchell. As one would expect, he has always single-mindedly stood up for full equality. Therefore, he has always been in favour of opposite-sex civil partnerships. So, we have got to where we are today. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is right: the Government know that we on this side of the House do not want to stop the regulations. We are keen for people who have waited for such a long time to have their opportunity.

I want to ask about the territorial extent of this issue. I see that we are legislating for England and Wales. Speaking as a Scot, I feel that it might have other things to do on Hogmanay, but perhaps the Minister can explain the likely timetable for the Scottish Parliament to consider this matter.

I also want to talk about Northern Ireland. It is important that we get legislation of this type in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible, for the reason alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I know several people in committed relationships who have been brought up in a faith that means so much to them that they cannot bring themselves to offend their families and that faith, but want to secure their relationship in legal terms. For others, civil partnership is about equality; as the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, said, other people have experienced difficult and violent marriages and want never to return to that situation, but are in partnerships to which they are committed. What is the envisaged timetable for introducing this in Northern Ireland?

My understanding of this legislation is that, just as happened with the abortion legislation for Northern Ireland, there will be a read-across from existing legislation. Therefore, I think I am right that the aspects of the regulations that deal with the GRA are a read-across from the GRA as it relates to same-sex marriage. The Minister will know that I and other people think that that legislation is flawed, and that the same flaw therefore appears in these regulations. I accept that this issue should be addressed through primary legislation and amendment to the same-sex marriage Act in so far as it affects the GRA but, when the time comes, this issue should be addressed for both same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnership, for example through my Private Member’s Bill or perhaps through some forthcoming government legislation. I wish that she would understand that.

Operation Midland

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 7th October 2019

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The noble Lord points to the need for an institutional overview in the body of the HMICFRS to look into this. Clearly, the Government will look into its findings. We received the IOPC report this morning and will be looking at it with great interest. He is right that the warrants are the most contentious issue in the Henriques report. Was the district judge misled into signing off warrants to search the homes of Lord Brittan, Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor? He is clear that the IPCC—now the IOPC—should investigate this issue.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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In view of the immense public concern created by Operation Midland, with the delay in producing the full report, the further report published today, is it not important that the chief inspector’s work proceeds thoroughly but as swiftly as possible? Should he not extend his inquiry to include grave police misconduct during Operation Conifer, when some of the evil fabrications of Carl Beech seemed to have helped besmirch the reputation of Sir Edward Heath? Have the Government noted the resolution I tabled for debate last December, calling on them to establish an independent inquiry? I have been denied a debate, but I have no doubt that the House would have supported the resolution overwhelmingly. Let the inspector of constabulary examine Operation Conifer.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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To answer my noble friend’s question, Operation Conifer has been subject to considerable external scrutiny and although Carl Beech was one of those who made allegations against Sir Edward, Wiltshire police has made it clear that they were discounted by Operation Conifer. Beech’s conviction is not therefore relevant to the seven unresolved allegations from the investigation and the Government do not consider that there are grounds to intervene. On my noble friend’s point about swift action, I know that the HMICFRS is keen to proceed swiftly.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Thursday 4th July 2019

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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Perhaps it would be helpful if I went over what I said yesterday. The College of Policing’s authorised professional practice guidance on relationships with the media makes it clear that suspects’ names should be released to the media prior to charge only in exceptional circumstances if there is a legitimate policing purpose to doing so—for example, where there is a threat to the public or for the prevention and detection of crime. This approach recognises that there is a risk of unfair damage to the reputations of those arrested, particularly if they are never charged. The noble Lord asks whether we support this approach. Yes, we do; as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, we have every evidence that the police are sticking to that guidance.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Does the new guidance mean that never again will a police officer pronounce, having talked to a complainant, that his evidence was credible and true?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The issue of Operation Conifer allowed the police to look at the guidance and make sure that it is as clear as it can be. As I said, there is no evidence that the police are flouting that guidance. I hope that that situation will continue.

Sexual Offences: Anonymity

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Wednesday 3rd July 2019

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the petition calling for anonymity for those accused of sexual offences until charged.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government believe that there should in general be a right to anonymity before the point of charge in respect of all offences, but there will be exceptional circumstances where there are legitimate policing reasons for naming a suspect.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, does not this petition bring home to us all the misery and distress endured not just by well-known figures but by scores of innocent men and women up and down our country, whose lives have been ruined because police officers decided that allegations of child sex abuse should always be believed and divulged their names before charges were laid? In one notorious case, the police went further. Who can forget the truly shocking spectacle of a senior police officer standing outside Sir Edward Heath’s house in Salisbury and appealing for evidence through which his reputation could be destroyed? It is an injustice which continues to cry out for the independent inquiry which the Government have shamefully denied him, in defiance of the wishes of this House. Surely action should now be considered in response to the petition to strengthen protection for that precious fundamental right: the presumption of innocence.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My noble friend will know that once a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, the Government can consider it for debate—I know I do not need to tell him that. He will also know that the release of suspects’ names by the police is governed by the College of Policing’s guidance on relationships with the media. Although I absolutely recognise the points made by my noble friend about some high-profile cases, we are not aware of any recent evidence to suggest that the police are not adhering to the guidance.

Homophobic Attacks

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Wednesday 26th June 2019

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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So we are both right: that is good; I was convinced it was about the same age as me—49, obviously. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I am proud that this is such a tolerant country, a country so committed to equality. You will not find a finer example of tolerance and equality around the world than the UK.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, do the courts need any stronger powers in punishing homophobic crimes?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The Law Commission has been commissioned to look into hate crime and whether there are any gaps in the law. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, touched on this when he spoke about equality across sentencing. The Law Commission is due to report to us next year.

Asylum Seekers

Lord Lexden Excerpts
Monday 10th June 2019

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, it is important to consider that, for all people claiming asylum, if that claim is not granted, they are sent back to their country of origin. I understand the vulnerabilities of LGBT people in some countries. For that reason, we provide support in this country when people return to their country of origin. We give them various types of support, including long-term accommodation, legal and medical support, and family tracing, which is incredibly important for someone returning to their own country.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Have the Government not committed to publishing annual data on the number of asylum claims based on sexual orientation? If they have, when will annual publication begin?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The Government collate data of asylum claims based on sexual orientation. I understand that almost 6,000 asylum applications lodged between 2015 and 2017 stated sexual orientation as the basis of their claim, although my noble friend will be aware that sexual orientation might not be the first basis for a claim.

Police: Recruitment Criteria

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Tuesday 2nd April 2019

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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It is important to have a wide range of entry routes for people who wish to join the police, which all conform to very high standards. I cannot comment on the cost that the noble Lord outlined, but it is really important that people should not have to have a degree to enter the police. There is no requirement for that, but the standard is set for degree-level qualification at the end of the training process.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, will these reforms mean that, in future, only men and women of the very highest ability are appointed to the post of chief constable, unlike Mr Mike Veale, whose disastrous Operation Conifer has inflicted such dreadful and unfair damage on Sir Edward Heath?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I have to admire my noble friend for managing to weave in something that is so important to him. To make a very serious point, the whole aim of this is to have the highest standards of policing in our forces.

Independent Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry

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Monday 25th March 2019

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, I reiterate that the inquiry is not looking into whether Lord Janner or anyone else—the noble Lord mentioned a number of people—was guilty of any crimes, but at how institutions such as the police, which the noble Lord mentioned, responded to the allegations made against these people. The inquiry’s focus is deliberately on the conduct of institutions and how the allegations were dealt with. As noble Lords will know, the police guidance has been updated to make it clear that people should not be named before they are charged unless there is a public interest reason to do so.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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Has not enough unfair damage been done to the reputations of the distinguished people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred? Should it not be our overriding duty to expunge it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I totally understand my noble friend’s point, and I know the feelings there are in this House about this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has a Private Member’s Bill going through the House; on some of its substance, HMICFRS will undertake a review, and the Government want to wait until the outcome of that before taking any further action.

Children: Covert Human Intelligence Sources

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Monday 18th March 2019

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The noble Lord brings forward an important point: someone recruited as a covert human intelligence source might be the child of someone who is already involved in criminal activity. Anybody under the age of 16 cannot be involved in anything to do with their parents.