All 6 Lord Stewart of Dirleton debates involving the Home Office

Mon 4th Apr 2022
Nationality and Borders Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Thu 10th Feb 2022
Tue 1st Dec 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 11th Nov 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Nationality and Borders Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 11, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 11A.

11A: Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate for there to be a statutory requirement on the minimum number of refugees to be resettled in the UK each year.
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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 22, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 22A.

22A: Because the Commons consider that the additional requirements for age assessments, as set out in the new clause, are either inappropriate or unnecessary.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motions P, Q, R and S. Let me begin with Amendment 22, which inserts a new clause relating to age assessment. I reiterate to the House that assessments are and will only be used when necessary. There is no appetite to use them when there is no doubt of an asylum seeker’s age. As we have discussed in previous debates, failure to ensure proper assessments are conducted on individuals whose age is doubted creates obvious safeguarding concerns. It can also create a plethora of risks to the most vulnerable, to children in our schools and care systems and to asylum seekers themselves.

The problem with this amendment is that it creates numerous restrictions on our ability to use age assessments and risks, perpetuating the very real challenges within the current system. First, this amendment would mean that only local authority social workers would be able to undertake age assessments under the Bill. This would curtail our ability to support overburdened local authorities in this difficult task, given that there is significant variation between local authorities in experience, capacity and resource to undertake age assessments. It is the Government’s intention to establish a national age assessment board with qualified expert social workers employed by the Home Office, specialising in age assessments, to improve the quality and consistency of decision-making and to relieve the burden on local authorities where local authorities choose to refer a case. It is not our intention to increase the percentage of age assessments conducted, and local authorities will retain the ability to conduct these assessments themselves if they wish to do so.

Secondly, the amendment would mean that scientific methods of age assessment are specified in regulations only if they are

“ethical and accurate beyond reasonable doubt”

as approved by relevant professional bodies. The UK is one of very few European countries that does not currently employ scientific methods of age assessment. We have already set up an independent interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee to advise on the accuracy and associated ethical considerations of scientific methods. No one method of age assessment is entirely accurate, so this amendment sets an unreasonable expectation for what scientific methods could achieve, especially when they will be used in tandem with other evidence from social workers and others as part of an holistic approach.

In addition, I stress that although there are questions about the accuracy of scientific methods, we simply do not know how accurate or reliable the current approach of the Merton-compliant age assessment is. We are aware of cases where individuals have been assessed to be of vastly different ages when assessed independently by different social workers in different local authorities. Genuine children whose ages are in doubt will therefore benefit from more informed decision-making as a result of supplementing the current age assessment process with scientific methods with known accuracy—or a known margin of doubt, I perhaps might more accurately say—and reducing the risk that children may be misidentified as adults and vice versa.

We also contest the idea that professional bodies should be required to approve scientific methods, because any scientific method proposed will be considered by the independent Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee. The committee, formed by the Home Office chief scientific adviser, will comprise representatives of the relevant professions and will consider the scientific, ethical and contextual issues and provide advice to the Home Office, via its chief scientific adviser, on appropriate methods.

Finally, the amendment would lower the current standard of proof for social worker age assessments from the “balance of probabilities”, which is long established in case law, to a “reasonable degree of likelihood”. Lowering this standard would require social workers to accept as children individuals whom, on balance, they believe to be adults. On this basis, I put it that we cannot accept this amendment, to which the other place disagrees for its Reason 22A.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has tabled further amendments on age assessment—Amendments 22B to 22F. Although I recognise the intent behind them, I cannot support their inclusion for a number of reasons. First, I reassure the noble Baroness that social workers conducting age assessments for the national age assessment board will of course be able to refer to comprehensive guidance that, in line with standard practice, will be published and accessible on GOV.UK.

Although the vast majority of age assessments are expected to take place following referral from a local authority, the legislation provides the flexibility to enable other public authorities to refer cases in the event that this becomes necessary for the delivery of their official functions. The specification of any additional public authorities through regulation would of course occur following consultation with them and is therefore not considered to be controversial.

Secondly, we have already commissioned the independent interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee to advise on both scientific and ethical aspects of scientific age assessment. In line with the noble Baroness’s proposals, this committee in fact comprises expertise from the relevant disciplines, and the Home Secretary will seek advice from it via the Home Office chief scientific adviser before specifying a method in regulations. On this basis I ask the noble Baroness not to move her Motion.

I now bring back to the House’s attention Amendments 23 and 24, to which the other place has disagreed because of its Reasons 23A and 24A. These amendments remove provisions from the Bill relating to late compliance with a slavery or trafficking information notice—or STIN. The Government are determined to deliver the right outcomes for victims while focusing resources where they are needed. This will ensure that potential victims of modern slavery are proactively identified as early as possible.

However, we have listened to the concerns raised by your Lordships’ House and appreciate that there may be particular vulnerabilities for children, which is why the vulnerability of children will be included in our “good reasons” guidance. This is why the Government have now tabled their Amendment 24B, to exempt from the Bill’s credibility provisions those who were under 18 when the most recent STIN was served. Therefore, if an individual were under 18 on the date of service of the most recent STIN, these provisions would not apply and there would be no obligation on decision-makers to find the individual’s credibility to be damaged. I hope that this reassures the House that the needs of children are being taken into account by this Government when identifying victims of modern slavery. I commend this Motion to the House.

Amendments 25 and 25B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, replace the original provision for disqualification from modern slavery protections where an individual is a threat to public order, or has claimed to be a victim in bad faith, with a new clause. Unfortunately, however, Amendment 25 does not provide a definition for “public order” at all, and Amendment 25B defines “public order” as coming into play only when an individual has been convicted of a terrorist offence—and even then, only in exceptional circumstances.

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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Make it short.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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With that exhortation from behind me ringing in my ears, I step forward to address the points made by noble Lords from across the House in a further interesting and wide-ranging debate. I will touch first on age assessment.

It is important to stress at the outset that the purpose of setting up a scientific advisory committee is that the Government should receive guidance from it. The consideration of what scientific methods of age assessment should be used, if any, is at the preliminary stage. The Government propose to be guided by the body which has been set up on an interim basis to provide them with advice. The Government are not seeking to compel any member of any profession to take part in any practice which offends that person’s ethical sensibilities, whether individually or as a member of a scientific or professional body. No compulsion can be contemplated as a means of obliging anyone to carry out a particular step.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, raised the issue of the identity of personnel carrying out particular steps, and I assure him from the Dispatch Box that only an appropriately qualified person would be asked to carry out the sort of testing that he discussed which, reflecting his specific area of expertise, related to dentistry.

I do not at this stage give any undertaking as to the constituent members of the committee which, as your Lordships have heard, is set up at the moment on an interim basis. However, it is very much in the way in which such bodies of learned people carry out their work that they will call for additional evidence and support from people skilled in specific disciplines where they feel there is any gap in their expertise which might properly be filled.

Reference was made by two noble Baronesses who participated in this debate to the meeting, in which I participated, with the noble Baroness, Lady Black, the interim head of the interim committee which has been set up. I invite the House to reflect on a number of aspects of the discussion we had with the noble Baroness which, for the benefit of Members who were not present at that electronic discussion, I will now précis. There are anxious discussions being carried out by professionals and academics within the committee, who compass this wide range of academic and professional disciplines, about what may be appropriate to carry out as—I gratefully adopt the phrase used by noble Baroness, Lady Black—a triangulation of methodologies in relation to the critical assessment of the age of a young person, where that is contested or where there is reasonable ground to believe that the age offered is inaccurate.

I interrupt myself to answer a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. Yes, the parameters within which a decision will be taken are those set out at that meeting. There is no attempt to say that any one method can arrive with any degree of certainty at a specific age, whether expressed in years or months. As the noble Baroness suggested to the House, the matter is whether the scientific expertise can place a person so that the claimed age is possible. I am happy to assure the noble Baroness on that basis.

Noble Lords will also recollect that, in the context of that discussion, the noble Baroness, Lady Black, brought out certain matters which we have discussed in this House at earlier stages. I stress that she pointed out that the very prolongation of testing and interviews under the current regime—perhaps “testing” is the wrong word; “assessment” might be better when referring to Merton-compliant procedures, which your Lordships may well recollect from previous stages and which relate to a series of interviews—and repeated rehearsal of information that might be of a sensitive character and might oblige the person to relate traumatic events, is itself a source of harm. The scientific methodology that the Government have tasked this interim committee to look into is anticipated as serving two functions: to provide for that triangulation of methodologies, and to provide—as I have said on previous occasions to your Lordships—additional information to assist in that difficult process which currently falls exclusively upon the shoulders of social workers. It is not, and has never been argued as being, a means by which some value or accuracy can be ascribed to scientific testing, which we acknowledge it does not have.

None the less, as I have said, these methodologies are used in other places in Europe. Their use is widespread, and the United Kingdom is unusual in not using them. Given the nature of the problems that we face and the nature of the trauma from which people may be escaping—and which may be caused by the mere fact of having to rehearse events earlier in their lives—we consider it incumbent upon us to do what we can to shorten that process, at all times acknowledging the overriding importance of fairness to the persons involved.

I am not in a position to commit to there being a member of any specific profession on the committee, whether in its interim iteration or later on. However, as I said earlier, in the way of these things, it will be for the committee to call for additional expertise to support its working and to allow it to provide conclusions—

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I think that we are going backwards because, in the Commons, the Minister said that he would take away this point and look into it, but now the noble and learned Lord seems to be saying that it is enough to be able to call on expertise from outside. Can he take this away and think a bit further about the membership of the committee, including dentists?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness and was not aware of the remarks to which she referred. If the Minister in the other place has given an undertaking that he will go away and think about it, I will certainly row back from what I said—that it would be more of a matter of leaving it to the committee to say. If an undertaking has been given to revisit the matter, I am happy to depart from what I have said already.

We recognise the strength of feeling in the House about these matters. In particular, we recognise the strength of feeling about the ethical questions that arise out of the application of scientific techniques from which no therapeutic value flows directly—as was said at earlier stages in the debate. However, I repeat that our intention is to be guided by the views of the scientific committee which has been established. For that reason, at this stage, we cannot support the amendments, and we stand by the clauses which we have already tabled for the reasons I have set out.

On the matter of modern slavery, I will consider together Motions P, Q, R and S. I begin by commending to your Lordships’ House the government amendment that will exempt the credibility provisions in this part of the Bill from people who were under 18 at the time when they were most recently served with a slavery or trafficking information notice. But I say again that we cannot accept amendments to other clauses in this part. It is vital, I submit, that we are able to withhold the protections afforded by the national referral mechanism from dangerous individuals. I will not rehearse what I said in my opening submission about the manner in which the amendment as framed restricts too narrowly our scope for investigation. I consider it is not appropriate for me to make any concession to the noble Lord on this point, recognising though I do the principled basis upon which he has addressed the House, at this stage and previously in our deliberations.

With the utmost respect to my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich, we consider that the provision of a minimum of 12 months’ appropriate, tailored support to all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of specific support is appropriate; it is “tailored” in the sense that it is directed to the individual facts and circumstances of the person in question. We do not think his amendment, as with that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is necessary.

On the verge of resuming my seat, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for doing us the courtesy of contacting us by email and submitting a list of questions, which she went over in the course of her speech. I am greatly obliged to her for taking that step, which has enabled me to curtail my submissions at this stage still further.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, with regard to the questions around age assessment, and particularly the role of a dentist in all of this, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said it is remarkable that these concerns have to be raised. I would say it is remarkable that they have had to be raised again. There was the exchange in the Commons—I will come to that in a moment—and after the Commons debate on the Lords amendments, I asked about this, not on the Floor of the House; I have not heard.

In the debate in the Commons, in reply to a question about whether the process would include a practising dentist, the Minister, Tom Pursglove, said:

“I know that he has discussed this issue with the Home Secretary separately”—


I had forgotten that. He continued:

“I am not in a position to give … a firm undertaking today, but we will certainly take away and consider that particular point, and perhaps we could remain in contact on it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/22; cols. 264-65.]


As we have not heard any sort of assurance, I assume that this has not progressed any further.

The noble and learned Lord the Minister made the point that the Government do not appoint a body, interim or otherwise, of such illustrious people without listening to it. Government advisers have been known to have their advice ignored or dismissed. However, very reluctantly, I will not press this, so I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 23 and 24, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 23A and 24A, but do propose Amendment 24B in lieu—

23A: Because it is consequential on Lords Amendment 24 to which the Commons disagree
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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 25, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 25A.

25A: Because the Commons consider that the clause proposed by the Lords Amendment provides an unworkable regime for operating the public order and improper claim exemptions to Article 13 of the Trafficking Convention.
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Moved by
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 26, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 26A.

26A: Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
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Motion S
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 27, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 27A.

27A: Because the Commons consider that the clause inserted by the Lords Amendment makes provision in relation to persons under the age of 18 that is not necessary, or not practically workable, or not appropriate.
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Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, in view of the lateness of the night, I do not intend to burden the House by insisting on a vote on this issue, but I ask the Minister to liaise with his counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office to see whether a compromise can be reached on an issue that is extremely important, not just for the people of Northern Ireland but with regard to relations with the Irish Government. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his observations. I was not present in the Chamber but I listened to his submission to your Lordships via the TV link earlier and will make sure that the points he raised are taken up by the Bill team and passed on, as he proposes.

Motion T1 withdrawn.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Tuesday 8th March 2022

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 64A in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Hamwee, my noble friend Lady Lister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I will not repeat all the concerns, but clearly there are safeguarding issues that a number of noble Lords have raised. I give one quote from the British Association of Social Workers, which warns that

“any age assessment proposals must recognise that although there is a risk when adults are wrongly assessed and treated as a child, there is a much greater risk when a child has been wrongly assessed and treated as an adult. It is predominately children who are wrongly sent and dispersed as adults, sometimes to unsafe accommodation and detention”.

As a last comment on Amendment 64A, it does not seem to me that there is any dispute about the need for age assessment, but the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, has set out that, if we are to have age assessment, which is clearly needed at times, let us do it on the basis of science and not of subjective judgments, whoever is making them.

I quickly mention the amendment I put down, Amendment 84D, which has not been mentioned yet. It would provide that the age assessment provisions apply to England only, and is clearly a probing amendment. The Minister will know that, while we would rather these provisions did not apply anywhere, this amendment is to reflect the concerns raised by the Welsh and Scottish Governments that clauses in Part 4 require legislative consent.

Welsh Ministers and three separate cross-party Senedd committees have advised that the age assessment provisions are within the legislative competence of the Senedd. When put to a vote, the Senedd voted to withhold consent from the UK Government’s intention to legislate on these matters. Its concerns were that the Bill creates a method of assessing age that is in “direct opposition” to existing practice in Wales; that the Bill

“does not recognise the devolved context of Wales”

and provides the Secretary of State with powers to impose conditions on Welsh local authorities; and, finally, that all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are recognised as looked-after children in Wales. This will leave local authorities trying to navigate two “statutory but conflicting” approaches.

This is an important probing amendment about what engagement the Government have had with the devolved Administrations and the grounds on which they are disputing that legislative consent is necessary. What are the Government saying to the Welsh and Scottish Governments about this?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all contributors to this important debate. I acknowledge at the outset the feeling around the House as to the importance of these matters, so powerfully put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, just a moment ago.

The first amendment that your Lordships have had to consider is Amendment 64, so I will start with that. It is important to note that immigration officials already conduct initial age assessment on individuals whose age is doubted. This amendment seeks to lower the current threshold so that a more straightforward assessment of whether someone is under or over 18 is made, based on appearance. I will return to the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, as to the different rates at which people age, depending on their ethnicity and the social factors to which they have been exposed. We must acknowledge the difficulty in assessing age through a visual assessment of physical appearance and demeanour. Clear safeguarding issues arise if a child is treated inadvertently as an adult, but equally if an adult is wrongly accepted as a child.

Our current threshold, specifically deeming an individual to be adult where their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are significantly over 18, strikes the right balance. It has been tested in the Supreme Court in the case of BF (Eritrea), to which the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, made reference, and has been found comprehensively to be lawful. Given that judgment, and the fact that immigration officials already execute this function under guidance, the value of legislating to bring this into primary legislation is unclear. That said, I acknowledge the value of the work that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, has carried out, to which my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe referred, into the ingathering of data in such a way as to provide a basis on which our deliberations can proceed. However, in the light of what I said, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 64A. Again, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger, Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lady Hamwee, for their amendment. I make it clear to the House that there is no appetite to start conducting comprehensive age assessments of all, most or even many people who come before the system, because in most cases it will be possible to resolve doubts as to someone’s claimed age without any such investigation. Indeed, the courts have made it clear that they are against any judicialisation of the procedure, and have overturned judicial reviews based on the idea that age assessments were carried out wrongly in circumstances where two social workers conducting the Merton assessment—which these measures seek only to augment, not replace—considered persons patently above the age of 18 who claimed to have been younger. The courts have supported the social workers in those assessments. To provide that there should be wider use of scientific age assessments would serve no purpose and take away significant resource from the main task of seeking to establish the age of those individuals whose age is in doubt.

Subsections (2), (3) and (4) of Amendment 64A are unnecessary additions. Our intention is that the statutory national age assessment board will consist predominantly of qualified social workers, who will be expected to follow existing case law in carrying out these holistic age assessments. The matter of scientific age assessment has quite properly concerned your Lordships. Clause 51 already contains safeguards for those who are asked to undergo a scientific method of age assessment, and in answer to the specific point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, I say that where a good reason emerges for declining to participate in age assessment there will be no adverse impact on credibility.

I reiterate the point made at the earlier stage. It is not considered that any of these scientific methods should replace the tried and tested method of assessment by social workers, known as the Merton assessment. The intention is merely to broaden the availability of evidence that might assist to provide more data, on which these professionals can carry out these exceptionally important tasks.

Decisions on this issue also have broad implications for the exercise of immigration functions and the provision of children’s services to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Decision-making as to where and how such scientific methods should be used must, we say, remain within government, taking into account independent scientific advice. I reiterate that this measure does not provide that these scientific methods of age assessment will take place. It provides that the Government will be able to consult an expert board on what is suitable. The intention is not to undermine the role of social workers in carrying out these assessments, merely to provide additional data with which they might work.

We agree that the independent professionalism that such persons bring to bear is of the utmost importance. However, we question whether the amendment has value when it provides that scientific age assessments may take place only where their ethical approach and accuracy has been established beyond reasonable doubt: first, because that is to import the highest test of assessment of evidence from the criminal courts into an inappropriate category; and secondly, because we fully appreciate that these assessments are not of themselves accurate, as I sought to make clear at the earlier stage. They are intended not to replace but merely to augment, where thought desirable, the data available to social workers carrying out these assessments.

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Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests in this matter in the register. In the event of the Government’s having advice that they proceed with this, whom do they envisage will carry out these dental X-rays? If they are doing so without the consent of the person concerned, will that be a breach of the ethical guidelines? If they are being carried out by non-qualified people, is that not also an offence for those carrying out those X-rays?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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If I may, I will revert to the noble Lord’s point in the course of my submission; the specific questions that he raised will need some detail, which I do not have to hand but hope to be supplied with before I sit down.

I was talking about the use of ionising radiation in these matters. As I have said previously, the use of ionising radiation in the United Kingdom is highly regulated, and we will ensure that methods used comply with all regulatory requirements and standards. The Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee will have been asked to advise on the ethical considerations for the use of medical imaging techniques. As I have said, the Home Office is exploring a number of potential methods that do not involve ionising radiation, but these may require further research and development to support their technical and commercial viability in assessing the ages of age-disputed persons.

It is important to recognise that techniques develop. In the forensic context, for example, it has been the practice when considering child pornography to employ professional persons—paediatricians and others—to make an assessment of the appearance of the unfortunate people recorded in these images, and to assess from appearance alone what age they were, for forensic purposes, in order that the appropriate criminal charges might be brought.

Also in the forensic context, we recognise that scientific techniques move on. When I was called to the Bar and started to look at criminal work, there was no DNA analysis. Blood testing was available, as was blood group analysis, to assist in drawing certain conclusions. It was not nearly as accurate as DNA testing, but it was available and could in some circumstances exclude a person from suspicion or bring a person into suspicion. Thus, although it did not purport to be able to answer questions with the degree of precision and accuracy that DNA analysis has, it was none the less a valuable technique. It may perhaps be useful for your Lordships to look at what the Government propose ultimately in that context, not as something that will provide a comprehensive answer to exclude all others but, rather, as an additional source of information, which might—I repeat, might—assist, or might be considered to have no value.

Amendment 64A calls for the establishment of a committee independent of the Home Office to consider these matters. It is, however, standard practice for the Home Office to convene its own scientific advisory committees as a forum for policy-making. The Home Office has announced the direct appointment of an interim committee of nine independent members, including the chair, to review the scientific methods of age assessment. The interim chair and committee members were appointed by the Home Office’s chief scientific adviser for a period of not more than 12 months. I return to this point—it may be that I will not need to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but the current interim committee includes experts involved in medical statistics, children’s social work, anthropology, psychiatry, paediatrics and radiology. The intention is that, from this broad range of disciplines, a holistic view of the issues involved in age assessment can be arrived at.

A submission was made, I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, about the different appearances of persons coming for assessment. We acknowledge the contributing factors of ethnicity, diet and life experience that may have an effect on things like bone development, and therefore on the results of a scientific age assessment. We will be in a position to take into account all these factors, and I stress once again that the intention is not to present these scientific age assessments as a means of determining the question once and for all but rather, potentially, as available evidence, depending on the views of a committee.

It was my noble friend Lady Shackleton, I think, who questioned the fitness of the Home Office to assess such claims. The figures that I have been given are that the Home Office grants refugee status on humanitarian or humanitarian protection grounds in 90% of cases of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

The Government are embarking on this process so that more data is available to assist in what is, necessarily, a difficult area, and one where—as I pointed out to the House on a previous occasion—the Merton assessments undertaken by skilled and experienced social workers may throw up radically different conclusions from examinations of the very same persons. Anything that can be done to assist in that process, by providing additional data, ought to be welcome.

I turn briefly but gratefully to—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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No!

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry: by “briefly” I did not intend to suggest that I was about to sit down, however welcome that may be to the House. I am, however, grateful to noble Lords for assisting me on the matter of the time allowed.

I am reminded that the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Durham, raised points about the manner in which assessments are carried out, and I again emphasise that the persons carrying them out are trained social workers, and it is not anticipated that that will change.

Amendment 84D, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, deals with the manner in which these matters will be considered across the United Kingdom. The noble Lord wanted to know why it was being done on a national basis as opposed to within the devolved Administrations. We cannot do that, because these matters are reserved to the United Kingdom Government and apply across the UK. These age assessment measures will apply exclusively to those subject to immigration control, and immigration is a reserved matter. The overriding objective of the age assessment measures in the Bill is to ensure that there are appropriate arrangements in place to determine the ages of people coming to this country without evidence—usually in documentary form—of their claimed age. That is why it is the Government’s view that these measures relate entirely to immigration and are therefore reserved to the UK Parliament.

The comprehensive reforms we are making to the age assessment system are designed to help and support the local authorities that will carry out these tasks. For example, the new age assessment board will carry out an age assessment where a local authority makes a referral. It is not quite all-imposing upon the local authorities, but rather, makes available something to assist should they consider it desirable.

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None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I propose to conclude by merely echoing the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, opposite. She says that it is above all important that there should be confidence in the means by which these decisions are taken, and it is to augment that confidence that we propose these measures. On that basis, I respectfully invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, given the hour and the address by the President of Ukraine, I beg to move that the debate on Amendment 65 be now adjourned, and that further consideration on Report be adjourned until 5.15 pm.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, there may well be a Division on the second of the amendments in the group. In which case, can we take it that the House will not resume until we have had the opportunity to come back to your Lordships’ House, even if it is a bit after 5.15 pm?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, there was no attempt on my part to forestall any Division, and I apologise if ignorance of procedure perhaps led to the suggestion otherwise. [Interruption.] I am grateful to my noble friend for indicating that that was not his position.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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I can assure noble Lords that it is about the timing of the address by President Zelensky, rather than anything else. All business continues.

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Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I will briefly say that, like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I agree with most of what many noble Lords have said. The need for accurate immigration data is absolutely fundamental to any discussion on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, made this point: one of the things that is important is to distinguish clearly between immigration, asylum and migration. All that gets conflated into one, which is not helpful to the debate or the discussion, and it simply confuses people. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister the Government’s position on data. Irrespective of the debate that we will have about policy, if we are going to build trust, that data basis is essential not only for the public but for us to understand the policy prescriptions that we will debate between ourselves.

This is in line with Amendment 81 of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe: on trust, whatever the rights and wrongs, the decision of the Government to abandon the daily figures for migrants crossing the channel was a disaster in public relations terms, because people knew that the Government were failing on it. It was going up and up, and the Government were making prescription after prescription, in terms of policy, to try to deal with it. In the end, they brought the MoD in, in a confused way where we are still not sure how that is meant to work, and they are going to quarterly figures. What people say to me, and what I think—to be perfectly blunt, although I am not a cynic—is that the Government would not have acted as quickly as that if the numbers were going in the right direction; that is what people think. If people think you hide figures when they are bad, and publish them only when they are good or meet your policy objectives, it is no wonder there is distrust among the public about official statistics.

The amendments before us are absolutely essential. They ensure that we have data which is accurate, objective, allows us to make decent policy decisions, and is a basis for our debates. Can the Minister say something about what the Government’s policy is on data? Also, what is happening with respect to the migrants crossing the channel? What is the figure today, compared to what it was a couple of weeks ago? When can we expect the next figure? When the Government are seeking to build trust in passing the Bill—controversial in its own right—why on earth have they taken the decision, which is hard to comprehend, to produce figures on a quarterly basis? It simply looks as though they are hiding bad news.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their amendments and their participation in this debate. I note that their interest lies in ensuring that the Secretary of State publishes regular data on a range of areas on immigration. I acknowledge the importance which my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe attaches to statistics, and I acknowledge the important work which the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, has carried out over many years, which serves to inform debates not only in the public sphere but in this place.

I assure the House that the Home Office provides a wide range of immigration data on a regular basis and has done for many years. This includes information on many parts of the immigration system, including the asylum and resettlement systems, returns and detention, and other areas such as visas and citizenship. All this demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the public have the information they need to understand migration trends, and that the approach to small boat arrivals is in line with these other statistics on the immigration system.

The Home Office reviews the statistics that it publishes as a department, in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics. Where it is clearly in the public interest to do so, it will publish new statistics and amend existing statistics to ensure they continue to provide transparency around key government policies. However, we must weigh up the need for more statistics against other considerations. This includes the practicalities and costs of producing resilient, assured data derived from operational systems, presenting that data in such a way as to enhance the public’s understanding of key issues, and putting the data into appropriate context, as well as recognising the need to prioritise the department’s resources.

Amendment 80 would require reviewing and updating the International Passenger Survey by the Office for National Statistics. I emphasise that the ONS is a statistical agency, which is independent of government, and whose work is overseen by the UK Statistics Authority. While the Home Office publishes statistics in relation to the operation of the immigration system, the ONS is responsible for the national migration and population estimates. It would be inappropriate, I submit, for politicians to interfere with or seek to direct the National Statistician in his statistical duties.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, referred to the International Passenger Survey, as did my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots. Prior to April 2020, the Office for National Statistics used this to measure migration but it is important to note that, as your Lordships have heard, it is no longer used for that. While the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, calls in effect for the reinstatement of the IPS, I have to advise the House that it was the ONS that concluded that the IPS had failed to meet changing user needs. It did not tell us what we needed to know about migrant patterns or give us enough detail to get a robust understanding of migration. I happily adopt the useful points made in this regard by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

As acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, the IPS was paused during the pandemic. The Office for National Statistics is instead working on producing statistics that will tell us more about migrant patterns. This is a work in progress but it should better meet the needs of policymakers. It is experimental statistical work, and we do not yet know whether it will provide robust answers, but the Home Office is committed to supporting ONS statisticians in exploring every avenue. We need to ensure, as I think the House agrees, that we have a clear understanding of such issues and their implications for the data before we publish anything or we risk doing precisely what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, said we risked: misleading the public and undermining faith in statistics, rather than enhancing the public’s understanding of such important matters.

In relation to Amendment 81, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, from the Opposition Front Bench and others have pressed us on the alteration or the presentation of small boat statistics. Following advice from the independent UK Statistics Authority on making sure statistics on small boat crossings are published in an orderly way, the Home Office published a new statistics report on irregular migration to the United Kingdom. The report, which includes statistics on those arriving across the channel in small boats, was published for the first time on 24 February, covering data up to December 2021. We will update on a quarterly basis.

The decision to publish small boats figures in a quarterly report ensures regular statistics are released in an orderly, transparent way that is accessible to everyone, meeting the principles set out in the code of practice for statistics. The approach has been particularly important in allowing us to present small boats data in the wider context of longer-term trends, other methods of irregular entry and the immigration system more widely, and hence to provide statistics on a more sound basis. Where it is clearly in the public interest to have more frequent releases of information, we will consider this, as we have done with the EU settlement scheme, on which we publish statistics monthly.

In the case of small boats, publishing frequent updates will not provide sufficient time to collate the data collected in the field by operational staff and integrate that with the information from the asylum applications. Nor will it allow us to perform the robust assurance processes we undertake for our wider published statistics. This increases the risk of incomplete or incorrect data being put into the public domain.

The motivation for these changes is not to obfuscate or conceal. It is an attempt to provide more useful statistics —not to hide figures but to provide more assured data. Given that assurance, I ask the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses to withdraw their amendment.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comments, although I have to confess a sense of disappointment. Cutting resources and costs devoted to immigration data, whether by the ONS or the Home Office, may prove to be a false economy, and I am not convinced of the case for moving to quarterly reporting on small boats. It feels a little bit like hiding the story.

However, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their welcome support. I think we are all agreed on the need for accurate and reliable data on asylum and immigration, and on small boats and both directions of travel. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, we should respect the principle that sunlight is a powerful disinfectant. It should help to build trust but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 80.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 172B, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and concerning Clause 67, disapplies the EU trafficking directive so far as it is incompatible with provisions in the Bill. This means that any provisions in the directive that continue to have effect—I stress that we do not think that any do—and remain compatible with the Bill will be unaffected by this clause. Clause 67 provides an important point of legal clarity to ensure that victims can understand their entitlements, that we are clear on the rights that we are providing and that these are in line with our international obligations. I appreciate that this is a probing amendment, but what it proposes is unnecessary. In future, should it be required and parliamentary time allows, we will consider whether further legislation is needed to clarify other elements of the EU trafficking directive. Here, we seek to provide clarity on the specific measures in the Bill.

In speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, took the opportunity afforded by this short debate to land some side swipes at Brexit and its consequences, a topic I would be happy to debate with her all night. However, not to take up the Committee’s time, I simply stress that we are not removing any entitlements from victims. I can confirm that this will not have an impact on victim identification, protection or support.

Turning to Amendment 174A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I take the opportunity to reassure the Committee that there are already robust mechanisms in place across government, the police and the criminal justice system for gathering, recording and publishing victim data. There are measures in place for collecting and publishing data on the areas in which the noble Lord is interested and to which he referred in Committee. The Home Office publishes data on potential child victims of modern slavery referred through the national referral mechanism. Anticipating my answer in greater detail to the noble Lord’s point about the need to collate statistics on the incidence of trafficking of British children, the Home Office also publishes the nationality of recorded potential victims, based on information provided by the first responder on arrival. The noble Lord is shaking his head; I suspect he knows these things better than I do but, for the benefit of the Committee, that information may be updated by the competent authority staff as further information is gathered.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister say what the contemporary definition of slavery is? We all know what slavery meant 400 years ago, but I find the word used in a way that makes it difficult to assess what it means.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Williams here: the short answer is to look at the Modern Slavery Act. It can involve coercion, which can be occasioned by way of threats to others or by threat to the individual. It can come in many different forms; it can be emotional or psychological as well as physical. It is a pernicious practice that exists among nationals of this country as much as it does overseas. Perhaps, therefore, it gives an insight into the universal failings of the human character. The short answer—I have detained the Committee for too long—is the advice that I gave, for which I was the conduit for my noble friend Lady Williams.

I was about to expand on the fact that data concerning criminal gangs is operational and held by each police force. Adding reporting requirements for this data would, we submit, require a significant change in the way the Home Office collates and publishes data on crime. Changing this reporting approach would be unnecessary since we already publish data on county lines NRM referrals through the NRM statistics publication.

I hope that goes some way to answering the noble Lord’s important concern over how we identify, go to the defence of and offer protection to children—nationals of this country who are the victims of these gangs. Modern slavery offences committed against children are, as I say, recorded and published by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice. The Crown Prosecution Service maintains a central record of the number of offences in which a prosecution commenced, including offences charged by way of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. All modern slavery offences committed against children are identified through the child abuse monitoring flag. The Crown Prosecution Service definition of child abuse covers any case where the victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the offence.

I reassure the Committee and the noble Lord that a child’s welfare and best interests are the primary considerations in any decision-making—in this Bill and any other. Local authorities are responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, including child victims of modern slavery. In addition to this statutory support, the Government have rolled out independent child trafficking guardians, who are an additional source of advice and support for potentially trafficked children. These have been rolled out in two-thirds of local authorities across England and Wales. The Government remain committed to rolling them out on a national basis.

Given all this, I respectfully request that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment at this stage.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his answer. It was a short debate but an important one. There are couple of things that the noble Lord said in his answer about the EU directive that I think are helpful. It is something I might suggest with respect to the other amendment on county lines.

I think the people who read our debates will be pleased to hear the Minister say that no entitlement will be removed on victim support, protection or identification. I think I have that quote right. That will be helpful because, in the sector certainly, that is what a lot of people have been worried about: that the disapplication of the directive will impact on those aspects. The Minister’s reassurance will be welcome, although, as with everything, we will see how it works out in practice.

It was also interesting that the Minister said that other legislation may be needed to clarify the disapplication of the EU directive in due course—a fabulous phrase. As we move forward, we will see how it goes. Like Clause 67, this is very important. Sometimes, Governments fail to spell out how the disapplication works and what the practical consequences are. So, short debates like this are important.

On county lines and the report, I think that, despite the information being available, the British public have no idea that 34% of the referrals to the national referral mechanism—the body set up to deal specifically with this—are British children. I do not think that people have any idea that it is that high—that is an astonishing figure. Given that 47% of referrals to the NRM are children, this means that a very high proportion of all the people who are referred are British children. So that is the purpose of this.

It is not that the Government are not doing anything. If I had been the Minister, I would have mentioned the co-ordination centre that the Government set up in 2018, which is actually about all of the things that I am talking about: the need for more data, greater co-ordination, greater prioritisation of this work and greater identification of this as a new crime that people have not taken as seriously as they should; the fact that children are moving across county boundaries without being tracked or followed; the lack of statistical sharing between police forces, social services and children’s services; and children ending up on the south coast and coming back to London. All of those sorts of things are what the co-ordination centre was set up to deal with.

All I would say is that the Government, through the Home Office, need to keep their foot on the pedal on this because it is a growing problem. What is happening in our country is an absolute disgrace. Some of the children involved are not even teenagers; they are not even 17 and a half—I was admonished earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for mentioning 12 and 13 year-olds rather than 17 and a half year-olds, which is what he wanted me to say. Some of these children are seven, eight and nine years old. It is a disgrace, which is why I make no apology for bringing this forward in that context. British children are being enslaved and trafficked within our shores. I know that this is a priority for the Government and for all of us, and this has given me the opportunity to raise it, so that the people of this country can hear how bad the situation is and what we are seeking to do to try to address it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Wednesday 24th November 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the clarity with which she has put this forward. The driving force behind this amendment is Marie McCourt whose daughter Helen McCourt was murdered by Ian Simms, and the body was never found. Ian Simms never indicated where the body was, refused to acknowledge what had happened, and was eventually released on parole. Prior to him being released on parole, Marie had campaigned successfully for a change in the law, which said in effect that if you did not indicate where the body was, parole should normally be refused.

Now, very effectively and with great understanding, Marie McCourt has pressed for a change in the law to make sure that there is, in effect, a crime of desecrating the body of somebody you have murdered. This is a greater problem than previously. In recent times, 54 murder trials have taken place without a body. We on this side of the Committee strongly support this offence. It might be asked whether this matters if you are being charged with murder. It matters to the victims’ families and therefore it should matter to the law. That is why we support this amendment.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, I will address the two amendments in reverse order, starting with Amendment 292L. This creates a new offence of concealment of a body and repeals the existing offence of obstructing a coroner. As it stands, to obstruct or prevent a coroner’s investigation of any body found, when there is a duty to hold one, is to commit an offence. That offence is a common-law one, triable only on indictment, and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The common-law offence is therefore wide-ranging. Proof of the offence does not require a person to conceal or attempt to conceal a body, or proof of a specific intent to obstruct a coroner—only that the coroner’s inquest is obstructed or prevented.

Amendment 292L replaces that wide-ranging offence that covers several ways in which a coroner is obstructed with a more narrowly defined offence which relates to obstruction by concealing a body or to facilitate another criminal offence. The specific offence proposed by the amendment also has a maximum penalty of three years—less than the life sentence that can be imposed under the current law. This approach, in our view, creates gaps in the coverage of the law compared with the existing common law and reduces the ability of the court to sentence for the full range of the offences.

We agree that concealing a body in this context should always be recognised by the law, and it already is in several ways. First, in the circumstances where an offender is responsible for a homicide, the fact that they concealed or mutilated a body is a clear aggravating factor in sentencing. As a result, the sentence will be increased to reflect the additional harm caused. Noting what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said about the increasing number of trials that take place without a body, we acknowledge that as forensic techniques have improved, so has the determination or ingenuity of the criminal to try to erase traces.

Secondly, where the concealment of a body is part of a course of action that includes the killing, the sentence for murder—or for manslaughter, I imagine—will include that aggravating factor in deciding on the starting point from which the sentence should be imposed.

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The last royal commission on the justice system, the Runciman commission, was established in 1991 and reported in 1993. Over the last 30 years, much has changed in the justice system. We need a root and branch review. This amendment puts the need for a deeper understanding of our sentencing policy, the factors which influence it and the consequences which result from it firmly back on the agenda, and I commend it.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, just at the very moment when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was admonishing the Government for wagging their finger at this Committee of your Lordships’ House for seeking to impose upon it that it should finish this evening, a message popped up on my phone saying that there is to be no dinner break tonight. Lest that be taken as a sign of this Government’s authoritarian tendencies in action, I assure the Committee that I am told that that has been agreed via the usual channels.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for introducing this interesting debate and all noble Lords for their contributions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord German, addressed themselves to the fiendishly complex nature of sentencing. As is appreciated across the House, I think, the business of sentencing is in many respects a collaborative project, involving not only this Parliament but the Bench as well as the profession. On the topic of sentence inflation, referred to again by the noble Lord, Lord German, as well as by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, I have noted at least in the neighbouring jurisdiction that, as we monitor or study sentencing patterns, we see that, as some sentences over time appear to have extended, sentences in other areas appear to have diminished. I go back to the notion that it is not simply Parliament that sets these trends but the judges independently of Parliament—albeit I accept the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that there must necessarily be some degree of influence on the Bench coming from this place and the devolved Administrations.

In his thoughtful contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Beith, described an incoherent approach, and made the point that there was too much emphasis on the retribution side of sentencing as opposed to the rehabilitative. In that regard, I note that the principles of sentencing as set out in statute are fivefold; as well as rehabilitation and the reduction of crime, they also include punishment, reparation and public protection.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, setting sail for Utopia, in a compassionate contribution, proposed or floated before your Lordships the possibility of an additional service dealing with the mentally ill, whose difficulties, problems and tortures are so often seen by the medical profession, hospital staff and the emergency services. I regret that I am not in a position to address that thoughtful contribution tonight. Perhaps a royal commission is needed.

None Portrait A noble Lord
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Hear, hear!

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord German, also referred the Committee to the lack of progress on the royal commission on criminal justice. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, chided the Government for having been discourteous to Her Majesty by having her make in this place a commitment on behalf of the Government which the Government had no intention of fulfilling. As I understand it, with the onset of the Covid pandemic and with resources being limited, a decision was taken to slow the work in that regard. There certainly has been no departure from the manifesto commitment.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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In answer to a question—I cannot remember whether it was asked by me or by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—I was told that all the staff who had been allocated to the royal commission had been reallocated to other duties. Rather than slowing it down, it has been stopped, surely.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a useful point. I did not have the fact, to which he referred your Lordships’ Committee, that all staff had been reallocated, but, as I do not have that fact, with the noble Lord’s leave, I will make inquiries and commit myself or my colleagues to write to him.

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his commitment in relation to these important and difficult issues, expressed today as they have been on many other occasions in the past, but I offer the Committee the assurance that the Government are already pursuing a range of programmes and reforms in these areas and therefore consider a royal commission unnecessary.

A sentencing White Paper published last year set out the Government’s proposals for reform of the sentencing and release framework. Work is under way on the non-legislative commitments made there, and legislative proposals are being delivered by the body of the Bill. The White Paper was clear that the most serious sexual and violent offenders should serve sentences that reflect the severity of their offending behaviour—that, of course, is nothing more than the object of all sentencing exercises.

In answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, about minimum sentences, we consider that there is room for minimum sentences in the overall statutory framework. I note that proposed new subsection (2)(h) acknowledges this, in that it seeks to review

“some mandatory or minimum prison sentences”

but not the overall principle by which Parliament dictates that some sentences will be mandatory. Minimum sentences have a place in the sentencing framework, particularly to deal with persistent behaviour that blights communities. These sentences are not technically mandatory; they are a mandatory consideration that the court must make before passing a sentence, and it is important to note that the court retains the discretion to ensure that individual sentences are commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. Clearly, there are appellate procedures relating to sentences which do not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offence.

However, the White Paper also makes it clear that properly robust, effective and trusted community-based sentencing options are equally as vital to protecting the public and to supporting confidence across the system and are a way of breaking a cycle of reoffending, which often will lie with these community solutions. It sets out a number of community sentencing measures to support rehabilitation, and it is made clear that this was a fundamental aim of its more targeted approach to sentencing, diverting low-level offenders away from criminality, whether this be with treatment for mental health issues, drug or alcohol misuse, more effective use of electronic monitoring, or problem-solving approaches to address offending behaviour. This work will also be supported by our recent reform of probation services, bringing together the management of offenders of all levels of risk into one organisation and delivering a stronger, more stable probation system that will reduce reoffending, support victims of crime and help keep the public safe, while helping offenders make positive changes to their lives.

The royal commission that the amendment sets out would look to address the particular needs of young people and women in custody. I again recognise the noble Lord’s laudable intention with regard to these cohorts of offender, and I commend him for this. I reassure the Committee that we are already taking action to support these vulnerable offender groups.

The youth justice sentencing framework already makes it clear that custody should be used as a last resort for children, and measures in this Bill make more rigorous community sentences available with the intention that those sentencing should have more confidence to give community- rather than custody-based disposals, where appropriate. We are also continuing to reform youth custody so that children are safer and better able to lead positive, constructive lives on their release from the penal system.

The aims of our female offender strategy are to have fewer women coming into the criminal justice system and fewer women in custody, with more female offenders managed in the community and better conditions for those in custody supporting effective rehabilitation. Publication of the strategy was the start of a new and significant programme of work intended to deliver better outcomes for female offenders, and we are making good progress.

The noble Lord’s amendment also seeks to address the overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system. The Government recognise that this is a deep-rooted issue and that the reasons behind these disparities in the representation of different ethnic groups in prison are complex. We have a broad programme, intended to draw together the wide discourse on disparities, such as the findings of the Lammy review, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report and the inspectorate’s race-thematic reports. We are clear that we wish address race disparity wherever it appears.

Finally, as to the state of prisons, illustrated by the noble Lord by reference to the Berwyn prison but intended generally, the royal commission proposed would also make recommendations to reduce the prison population, overcrowding and prison violence. In one of the largest prison-build programmes since the Victorian era, we are delivering an additional 20,000 prison places by the middle of this decade through the use of around £4 billion of funding. We will continue to monitor the need for prison places over the coming years to ensure that there is capacity to meet demand.

In relation to the important matter of prison violence, to which the noble Lord made reference, we have increased staffing levels in prisons and are improving how staff identify and manage the risk of violence. We will continue to deliver our £100 million investment in security to reduce crime in prison, seeking to clamp down on the weapons, drugs and phones that fuel prison violence.

In July, we also announced our intention to publish a prisons White Paper. It will set out our ambitions for prisons, considering information learned during the pandemic and setting out a longer-term vision for a prison system that fulfils its objectives of being safe and secure and cutting crime.

I regret that the specific matters of recruitment of prison staff to which the noble Lord referred are outwith my ability to answer at this stage. However, as with other noble Lords, if he will permit, I will have the relevant department write to him on the topic. I hope that the Committee is assured of the Government’s work and commitment on these areas. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
321: Schedule 20, page 297, line 6, at end insert—
“2A_ In the table in section 122(1) (standard scale of fines for summary offences)—(a) in the heading of the second column, for “1 October 1992” substitute “1 May 1984”;(b) between the second and third columns, insert—

“Offence committed on or after 1 May 1984 and before 1 October 1992

£50

£100

£400

£1,000

£2,000””

Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes a minor amendment to the Sentencing Act 2020 to correct an omission from that Act in relation to the standard scale of fines for historical summary offences.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, as an unacceptable substitute for my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and in the light of the hour, I will simply move the amendment formally.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Sorry, can I just ask a question? Does this change make any difference? The only reason I ask is because my noble friend Lord Kennedy and I—we are very good friends—looked at this and did not understand it properly, in particular, where it said

“in the heading of the second column, for ‘1 October 1992’ substitute ‘1 May 1984’”.

Given that that is eight years earlier, does that make any difference if you were fined during that period? Will you now get a fine in the post, or will something happen to you? Is it retrospective or does it not make a difference? I just worry that, because of the lateness of the hour, we pass something and then in a month or two—or even three or four months—we find that lots of people start moaning and complaining, quite rightly, that they have suddenly had a letter in the post. Can the noble and learned Lord just explain that to us?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think that I can assist: the provision is not truly retrospective. The Sentencing Act 2020 makes it clear that the repeal of relevant provisions by the Act for the purpose of consolidating sentencing law into the Sentencing Code should not change how the law operates. I hear the noble Lord’s concerns, including that this matter is coming out so late. I will raise it with my noble friend in the Ministry of Justice and he will communicate with the noble Lord in order that these matters can hopefully be clarified to the noble Lord’s satisfaction.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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That is very helpful. I thank the noble and learned Lord.

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Moved by
322: Schedule 20, page 297, line 29, at end insert—
“(2A) In paragraph 34, in the opening words, for “omit” substitute “in”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment corrects an error in paragraph 34 of Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020, which refers to the omission of subsection (4) of section 257 of that Act rather than providing for the amendment of that subsection.
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Moved by
324: Clause 175, page 194, line 14, at end insert—
“(ca) section (Expedited procedure for initial regulations about remote observation of proceedings);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the new Clause after Clause 170 in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar to extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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Moved by
325: Clause 175, page 194, line 29, at end insert—
“(6A) Sections 167 and 168 extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for Clauses 167 and 168 to extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (in consequence of their expanded scope as brought about by the amendments in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 187, line 17 and page 190, lines 27 and 28).
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Moved by
329: Clause 176, page 195, line 39, leave out paragraph (u) and insert—
“(u) sections 167 and 168;(ua) section (Expedited procedure for initial regulations about remote observation of proceedings);”Member’s explanatory statement
This provides for Clauses 167 and 168, and the new Clause after Clause 170 in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, to come into force on Royal Assent.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I have looked carefully at the amendments in this group. Amendment 16 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and consequential Amendments 18 and 20, all seek to remove the reference to “belief” in relation to a criminal conduct authorisation to make clear that it must be necessary and proportionate. I understand the point that she is making, including on consistency in the Bill and accompanying guidance; I know what she is seeking to do and have sympathy with it. However, I looked carefully also at Amendment 17 from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, which seeks to insert “reasonably”. I concluded that that is probably a better way to achieve what the noble Baroness seeks.

These are matters of judgment at the end of the day, and we have all been careful in our consideration. However, in this case, I found the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, more persuasive and likely to find more favour with the Government, if, as they say they are—and I have no reason to doubt them—they are seeking to reach agreement with the Committee on these very difficult issues and ways in which we can all improve the Bill. For me, reasonable belief would be a belief that an ordinary and prudent person would hold in the circumstances, judging the situation in the light of the law and the information before them. That is the right way forward.

Amendment 19 in the names of my noble friend Lord Rosser, myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, simply seeks to place in the Bill the proposals advised in the code of practice, including determination of proportionality. It is important to provide that certainty in order to allay concerns raised across the Committee. I take on board the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on this matter but they are covered in the guidance, and placing those matters in the Bill is the right way to go. I hope that that provides the reassurance noble Lords are looking for. We would be interested to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, where he thinks he can go on these issues if he cannot accept the amendments in their present form.

In his response, will the noble and learned Lord address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the motivation and experience of those authorising such activity? There has been some suggestion that although it may be very senior officers, in some cases, in the heat of the moment, those involved perhaps would not be so experienced. That is a fair point and we need to address who is authorising this conduct.

Amendments 32 and 33 from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have been tabled to ensure that the necessity and proportionality tests are not weakened. I understand the points being made, and we deserve a full explanation from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart.

It was good to hear from my old and dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mann, who made some very effective points about trade unions, following his work in the trade union movement, to which I can attest. He referred to the nonsense of infiltrating groups that are no threat to the national security of our country but are a bit of a nuisance. There are plenty of those about, but they are not a threat to national security and, frankly, are probably more a threat to themselves than anyone else. They can be a bit of a nuisance around the factory gate or power station gate, but investing time and money on these people is a complete and utter waste of time. Who would authorise activity in relation to those groups? That is worrying. Some senior people have authorised others to waste their time going into those organisations.

On the other side of the coin are the appalling and disgraceful abuses that have taken place. Equally, we need to ensure that that will never happen again. We need reassurance on those matters. The inquiry will have to consider how we deal with them in the future.

My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked the important question of where people go to when their rights have been abused. We of course hope that that never happens again, but where would people go if it did? We need to know that people will be protected when they find themselves in a situation that has gone wrong. If there has been proper authorisation but an offence has been carried out, how do people seek redress?

I look forward to the Minister answering those points and others raised in the debate.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, perhaps I may begin by discussing the question of the test of necessity and proportionality. That test is well recognised and understood in investigatory powers legislation. The drafting in the Bill is consistent with the existing legal framework within which it will be incorporated. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, for his amendment which seeks to add a requirement for the authorising officer’s belief in the necessity of proportionality for an authorisation to be a reasonable one.

New Section 29B, which provides for criminal conduct authorisations, has been drafted to align with the existing Section 29 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which provides the underlying authorisation for the use and conduct of a covert human intelligence source. In setting out that a belief must be reasonable only for criminal conduct authorisations, the amendment would risk creating inconsistency and cast doubt on the test to be applied for other authorisations. I refer your Lordships to section 3.10 of the updated CHIS code of practice, which sets out that the person granting the authorisation should hold a reasonable belief that it is necessary and proportionate.

Amendment 16 from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to change the test set out in the Bill for considering whether conduct is necessary and proportionate. Again, the drafting of the Bill is in keeping with the rest of RIPA, where the test for authorisation is that the person granting it holds the belief that the activity is both necessary and proportionate. To remove the reference to “belief” risks introducing inconsistency and casting doubt as to how other provisions should be interpreted.

It would also be wrong if the necessity and proportionality test were not based on the belief of the authorising officer. A number of contributions have been made in the debate today, and on the previous occasion when we discussed this matter, regarding these decisions being taken in the context of live environments, affecting real people, often in dangerous situations. Decisions will need to be taken based around the particular and specific facts of a case at a particular time, and the specific environment in which covert human intelligence sources find themselves. I seek to reassure the Committee that the authorisation process is intended to be, and has been designed to be, robust—I appreciate that the adjective “robust” has come in for some scrutiny in your Lordships’ House today—and to support those involved in the decision-making process in making the right assessment.

Your Lordships were concerned with the level of training of CHIS handlers. They and their authorising officers are experienced and must be highly trained. I defer to the personal experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. However, to anticipate what I will say shortly, it is important to bear in mind that we are taking matters forward from today, as opposed to dwelling on the failings of the past. CHIS handlers and authorising officers will have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation for criminal conduct. The test for necessity and proportionality is well documented and understood by authorising officers. In addition, the material setting out the rationale of the authorising officer will also be available to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as part of his oversight function.

I turn to Amendment 32. The Bill sets out that, in deciding whether an authorisation is both necessary for a defined purpose and proportionate to what it seeks to achieve, the authorising officer must consider whether the intended outcome could be achieved by some other non-criminal conduct. The amendment seeks to ensure that this does not undermine the requirements of the necessity and proportionality test contained in the Bill. It does not. In fact, it enhances the rigour with which the proportionality test will be applied by specifying a factor that must be taken into consideration when proportionality is assessed.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his supplementary question. I apologise for having omitted to answer specifically the detailed point that he made in the course of his submission earlier—something I have been guilty of in the past in my appearances in your Lordships’ House.

Amendments 17 and 72 would insert a requirement for the authorising officer to hold a reasonable belief that conduct is both necessary and proportionate. As the noble Lord has identified, the position is that the amendment cannot be accepted as the Bill has been drafted in line with the requirements of the rest of RIPA, including that for the underlying Section 29 use and conduct authorisation. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, identifies a conflict between the terms of the code of practice that I quoted, at 3.10, and the terms of the Bill, and, more to the point, I think, identifies a potential conflict in what was said in the other place in debating these subjects. In those circumstances, I would be very happy to engage with the noble Lord and write to him on the matter.

I am being reminded just now that we have already included wording in the updated code of practice to set out that it is expected that the belief should be a reasonable one, and that the Security Minister confirmed this during the debate in the Commons.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I am not sure we want exchanges in this manner. Minister, are you complete or are you continuing?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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With your leave, I was about to indicate that I think it better in the circumstances—and where there has been an exchange across the floor of the House—if I were to clarify my remarks in writing to the noble Lord

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I want to make just a couple of points. I do not accept the noble and learned Lord’s point that, if you put things in the Bill, you risk leaving things out. It is possible to craft an amendment, to go on the face of the Bill, that covers those eventualities. There is always a concern that, when things are left to guidance and codes, sometimes they do not have the certainty and force of legislation. I think that an amendment can be crafted that covers both: you get the certainty of the main things but leave the door open, accepting that things can change. Both can be done, and that is a better way forward rather than leaving it all to guidance.

The noble and learned Lord also made the point that we should be looking forward and not back. I get the point of looking forward, and I accept it, but, equally, in looking forward, we are informed by what has happened previously. It is important that we take that on board as well. We need to ensure that the Bill is doing the job it needs to do, and that is addressing issues that happened in the past; not just the issues mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mann—which were, frankly, ridiculous—but, more importantly, the real issues of wrong-doing, abuse and great hurt that have taken place. We need to ensure that the Bill stops that in the future.

The other point that we will keep coming back to is the whole issue of what will happen if the CHIS has immunity and someone has something wrong done to them. Where do they get redress? That is a fundamental issue: how do they get redress if the person who has done something wrong has immunity? That is a question we need to answer in the next few days.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am obliged to the noble Lord for that final submission. We do, I acknowledge, need to address these matters over the next period of time, as the Bill moves forward. I acknowledge to the noble Lord, and others who have contributed, that mistakes were made in the past around blacklisting and the penetration of bodies that need never have been penetrated, or of bodies that were engaging in legitimate activities. Acceptance of that will inform the manner in which we proceed further.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My noble friend Lord Paddick has been using his experience of the past—experience is, by definition, the past—to inform and improve the future. That was rather what my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford was talking about, with his reference to the range of organisations from which authorisations for criminal conduct may come. He mentioned people entitled to give authorisations who will not have the same experience as those in the police and intelligence services.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not refer to every contribution that has been made, though I am grateful for all of them. However, I want to pick up the point about considering the position if things go wrong. That is a very large part of our task in this House, in scrutinising legislation, and it will necessarily mean positing hypotheticals. I will certainly want to pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, when we come to consider the term “economic well-being”.

I remain concerned about Section 29B(6). We have the test of necessity; you cannot really strengthen necessity but you could weaken it. If subsection (6) is to have any meaning, then I am worried that it must weaken it.

To go to the heart of all this, the argument from the noble and learned Lord is that we should be consistent with Section 29 of RIPA, which is about the authorisation of covert human intelligence sources. New Section 29B is about criminal conduct authorisations. I would regard that, as other noble Lords have said during the Bill’s passage, as much more serious than what is covered by the current provisions of RIPA in terms of covert intelligence and intrusive investigation as well. Yes, it will be a fast-moving, live environment, but I do not think that that is an excuse not to act reasonably. I really feel that we have to get the Bill right, and that means importing objectivity.

I have still not understood the points made in response to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about why we should not have the term on the face of the Bill. I think that the noble and learned Lord said that it would not be appropriate, but I might not have noted that down correctly. He did say that it would not be efficient. I hoped that he might develop that point, but we will have to pursue that after this afternoon’s debate. We are clearly gathering round Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I think that Amendment 72 is its Scottish equivalent. My noble friend and I are very happy to cede the ground to those amendments; we went a bit far, but I cannot conceive of an answer to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. We have not heard one so far, so would be delighted to support him if he pursues the matter at the next stage of the Bill, which we very much hope that he will. It will soon be 5 pm, so I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 16.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the amendments in this group would variously remove the power for the Secretary of State to impose requirements restricting when a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted, require the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as are appropriate before imposing requirements, and require regulations in which the Secretary of State imposes additional requirements that must be satisfied before a criminal conduct authorisation is granted to be subject to the affirmative procedure. There is also an amendment in this group which would restrict the power of the Secretary of State to bring different provisions of the Bill into force at different times and in different areas, to ensure that all the safeguards provided in the Bill always apply.

We will await with interest more detail from the Government in their response as to the nature, extent, purpose, reasons for and frequency of the requirements that the Secretary of State might wish to impose by order before a criminal conduct authorisation can be granted, and why it would not have been possible to include this greater detail on the face of the Bill to reduce the possibility of this power being exercised at any time in the future in an inappropriate manner. We also want to hear the Government’s response to the concern about safeguards always being applicable, which has led to the amendment restricting the power to bring different provisions into force at different times.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, turning first to the order-making powers, addressed first by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the ability of Parliament to scrutinise statutory instruments is a broader topic than this debate permits me to go into. As to the order-making powers in this Bill, these powers allow for additional requirements to be imposed before a criminal conduct authorisation may be granted, or for the authorisation of certain conduct to be prohibited. I assure the Committee that they can only be used to further strengthen the safeguards that are attached to the use of criminal conduct authorisations. They could not be used to remove any of the existing safeguards. I particularly seek to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on that point. The requirements that can be imposed under these powers concern matters of practicality and detail, and therefore it is appropriate that they be contained in secondary legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether there was a precedent for such powers to be subject to the negative procedure. The equivalent powers in Section 29 of RIPA are both subject to the negative procedure. Taking similar powers in respect of criminal conduct authorisations to those already contained in Section 29 will allow the Secretary of State to make equivalent provision for Section 29 authorisations and criminal conduct authorisations, where appropriate, so that similar arrangements are in place for both. There is a high degree of interrelationship between the two provisions. While the Government do not have any particular safeguards or limits in mind, such requirements may arise in the future that will need to be legislated for.

An example of the past use of the Section 29 powers is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Matters Subject to Legal Privilege) Order 2010, which imposes specific additional requirements that must be met regarding the authorisation of a CHIS in connection with material subject to legal professional privilege. Were any changes proposed in the future, the relevant persons would of course be consulted prior to those changes being made. Amendments 21 and 58 are therefore not considered necessary.

Turning to Amendment 81, the Bill contains provision to commence the Act for different areas on different days, to allow time to make any necessary secondary legislation, issue guidance, undertake appropriate training and put the necessary systems and procedures in place, as appropriate. I assure the Committee that this power will not be used to delay commencing those sections relating to safeguards. The power could not lawfully be used to frustrate the will of Parliament in this way.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, even those who did not agree with me. It was lovely and very heart-warming to hear the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, agree with a Lib Dem Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for her support, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her sympathy and exposition of the whole group, which I perhaps should have done myself. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made an extremely good point in asking why there should not be greater detail in the Bill now.

The Minister made a very nice and emollient response, but there is always the problem, not in distrusting the Ministers we have here, in your Lordships’ House—we trust them to have good will and be ethical—but in distrusting the Government, as many of us do. I imagine that possibly a majority in the country distrust the Government at the moment. So I do not feel completely reassured, and will think about bringing this back on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to open this debate. I am struck by the importance of the legislation on which I will make my first contribution to the House.

Before commencing, I wish to express my thanks to the House for the warm welcome I have received since taking up my appointment. I owe particular debts to my supporters, my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lord McInnes, for their good humour and encouragement; to Black Rod, Garter and the clerks of Parliament for their patience and tolerance; and to my noble friend Lord Courtown for his wise guidance in the customs and practices of this place. Your Lordships will, I hope, realise that, should I offend against these, the cause lies in my obtuseness rather than in my noble friend’s instruction.

I recognise that I am filling the place of my noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie. I am too new in this place to speak of his reputation here, but I can say that his high standing in our profession is a consequence not only of his matchless forensic skills but of the kindness and courtesy that he shows to all and the care with which he led the Scottish Bar as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

I hope I will not trespass further on the patience of the House if I take the opportunity given by my maiden speech to make some reference to myself and to the place from which I have taken my title: the village of Dirleton, in East Lothian. It is a place of great beauty. Moreover, there are aspects of its history and geography which may provide your Lordships with matter for reflection.

I know that many of your Lordships are familiar with the area. Some of your Lordships may have tested your skills against the famous golf courses which lie round about. There are other diversions too: yachting and skiff rowing from North Berwick around the islands just off the coast, which fired the imagination of the young Robert Louis Stevenson. The islands may be viewed from the fine beaches, looking across to the Kingdom of Fife at magnificent and ever-changing vistas of sea and sky.

All sorts of sporting clubs and associations of other sorts flourish. At the recreation ground and elsewhere in North Berwick, I played bowls, hockey, football, rugby, highland games, tennis and, not least, cricket—a sport which suffers in East Lothian not so much from want of enthusiasm among its players but from the shortness of the season and the unpredictability of the weather.

Dirleton lies in an area of rich, fertile soil, and we can anticipate that our farmers may soon be able to take advantage of new opportunities arising out of the implementation by this Government of their popular mandate. We can anticipate, too, that more boats may set out along the waters of the Firth of Forth to work fisheries which will be richer, better managed and replenished by the more directed and more sustainable management policies which the policy of this Government will allow to be established.

The village of Dirleton features the castle—set in beautifully landscaped grounds—a village green, a primary school and two hotels, where visitors may regain their strength ahead of more sightseeing. The parish church in Dirleton dates from the 17th century. Inside is a list of the names of those of the parish who fell in two world wars. The church is set in surroundings of especial beauty, north of the village green and north of another smaller green, on which stands the war memorial where, again, the names of those who fell are inscribed.

This 11th day of the 11th month brings to mind those names on the war memorial, so familiar to me from their being called over at Remembrance Sundays. Some are the names of families who flourish in East Lothian to this day. But today calls to mind also those others who lie in the churchyard and the cemetery on the way out of the village—names from the rest of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and allied countries. Those graves remind us of service and sacrifice in a common cause to preserve our institutions and to keep alive our common hope for a brighter future. We will remember that the sacrifice in that common cause continued after those great wars were brought to an end, and continues today—sacrifice of life, of mental health and of emotional well-being.

Watching the business of the House and the range of expertise and experience your Lordships bring to the scrutiny of that business, I am conscious of the honour done to me by admission to your number. I am conscious, too, that I have no family history of service in this place, as do some of your Lordships, and that I have been appointed to my place, whereas many of your Lordships come here after having sought and won popular mandates from electors, whether in local or devolved government or in the other place. But I seek to assure your Lordships that in my role as law officer, I will seek not only to uphold the law but to try to maintain the spirit and traditions of your Lordships’ House.

The legislation we bring forward is a necessary piece of legislation; it will ensure that our intelligence agencies, law enforcement bodies and those public authorities that also have vital investigative functions are able to continue to deploy tools they need to keep us safe from harm and to prevent serious crime. The recent incidents in Nice and Vienna, and the increase in the threat level here in the UK, show that the need for robust tools with which to tackle terrorism remains as important as ever.

Covert human intelligence sources—I will use the convenient, if inelegant, acronym, CHIS—are agents: undercover officers who help to secure prosecutions by infiltrating criminal and terrorist groups. This technique has been used to disrupt terrorist plots, including one by Zakariyah Rahman against the then Prime Minister in 2017; drugs offences, including enabling the largest ever seizure of heroin destined for the United Kingdom in 2019; and child sexual exploitation and abuse, including attempts by individuals to take indecent images of children.

It is appropriate to reflect today on the role that our intelligence agencies play in war and conflict. A notable success of the intelligence agencies was the discovery and arrest of German spies in the United Kingdom at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914—a success built on the effective use of what we now call CHIS, alongside other techniques. The courage and ingenuity of the double-cross network, a CHIS network which did much to protect allied lives in the Second World War, often at grave cost, comes to mind also as we pause to remember today.

In order to build credibility and the trust of those under investigation, there are occasions where CHIS may need to participate in criminality themselves. This is an inescapable feature of CHIS use. Without this, it would not be possible to utilise CHIS as an intelligence tactic. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill seeks to ensure that there is a clear and consistent statutory basis to authorise participation in conduct which could otherwise be criminal, where this is necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. Let me say at the outset that the purpose of this Bill is not to extend the range of activity which public authorities are able to authorise—the Bill does not do this.

The Bill amends the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to provide an express power to authorise CHIS to participate in conduct that, but for the authorisation, could be criminal. This is known as a criminal conduct authorisation. The effect of an authorisation is to make the conduct lawful for all purposes. I recognise that this is a departure from the existing approach, whereby authorised criminality can still be considered for prosecution by the prosecution services. This approach is a deliberate policy decision. It aligns with other investigatory powers and the approach taken elsewhere in RIPA, including other CHIS authorisations. It also provides greater certainty for CHIS that they will not be prosecuted for activity the state has asked them to commit. We think it is right and fair to provide this certainty, and it may also help to recruit and retain CHIS in the future and maximise the intelligence we can gather through this technique.

Of course, this is not a blanket immunity from any criminal prosecution. Criminal conduct authorisations are tightly bound with strict parameters which are clearly communicated to the CHIS. A CHIS will never be given authority to participate in all or any criminality and were they to engage in criminality beyond their authorisation they could be prosecuted in the usual way.

While it is right to provide this certainty to CHIS and to their handlers, it is of course important—vital—that this is subject to robust and independent safeguards. Let me briefly set out how the Bill ensures this.

All authorisations are granted by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, who will ensure that the authorisation has strict parameters and is clearly communicated to the CHIS. Authorising officers have clear and detailed guidance that they must follow in deciding whether to grant an authorisation. We have published draft updates to the code of practice alongside this Bill that sets out some of that detail. I encourage all noble Lords to read that. The updates to the code will be subject to a full consultation and debate in both Houses in due course.

Authorisations are then subject to robust, independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—the IPC—who conducts regular and thorough inspections of all public authorities and published an annual report of his findings. The IPC sets the frequency of these inspections himself, and public authorities must provide unfettered access to documents and information. The IPC will report on the use of criminal conduct authorisations in his annual report, and this will identify any errors, provide statistics on the use of the tactic and may identify whether there are any training needs. Public authorities must take steps to implement recommendations given by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—IPCO—with progress assessed at the next inspection. The IPC also has powers to provide independent remedy; for instance, to inform a person if they have been the subject of a serious error, or to refer a matter to the independent Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

I know that some will think that we need to enhance the role of the IPC in this process. The Government are committed to ensuring that there is robust oversight of criminal conduct authorisations, but that this is not at the expense of ensuring that the tactic remains operationally workable and reflects the live and complex human elements of CHIS, which we do not see in our other investigatory powers. For this reason, we do not think that prior judicial approval is appropriate for this tactic and believe that the authorising role best sits with the highly trained authorising officer within the public authority, as it does at present. The authorising officer will be able to consider the necessity and proportionality of the conduct, but will also consider the safety of the CHIS and the human element of the specific situation. The IPC then provides an important retrospective oversight function, which I have set out.

I want also to draw attention to the additional safeguards in place for vulnerable individuals and juveniles. These safeguards are clearly set out in the CHIS code of practice. It makes clear, for example, that juveniles or those who are vulnerable are authorised as CHIS only in exceptional circumstances. However, there may be occasions when these individuals are able to provide intelligence to disrupt criminal groups. I know that might sound uncomfortable, but it might be necessary to stop criminal groups continuing to exploit those individuals and prevent anyone else being drawn into them. In these instances, significant additional safeguards are in place to ensure that the best interests of the juvenile are a primary consideration in all operations. Those are set out in detail in the code of practice, which has legal force and includes a requirement for an appropriate adult to be present at all meetings where a CHIS is under the age of 16 and to be considered for 16 and 17 year-olds, and the rationale documented if an appropriate adult is not present.

I turn briefly to the upper limits of conduct that can be authorised. These are contained in the Human Rights Act 1998. It is unlawful for any public authority to act in a way incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and the legislation makes clear that nothing in the Bill detracts from a public authority’s obligations under the Human Rights Act. We have not drawn up a list of specific crimes that may be authorised or prohibited as to do so would place into the hands of criminals, terrorists and hostile states a means of identifying a CHIS, creating a checklist for suspected CHIS to be tested against. That would threaten the future of CHIS capability and result in an increased threat to the public. We have taken this approach in response to a detailed assessment of the specific threats we face in this country. No two countries face the same threat picture or, indeed, have identical legal systems. In particular, we must consider the specific counterterrorist effort in Northern Ireland. However, through the safeguards and the independent oversight that sits alongside an authorisation, there are checks in place to ensure that no activity is authorised that is in breach of human rights obligations or, indeed, activity that is not necessary or proportionate.

Let me, finally, just pause on the list public authorities that can authorise this activity. The number of public authorities able to authorise this conduct has been restricted from those that can authorise the use and conduct of CHIS generally. We expect wider public authorities to be low-volume users of this power because an authorisation can be granted only where it is necessary and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved. However, there will be occasions where CHIS play a critical role in providing the intelligence needed for these wider public authorities to identify and prevent criminal activity. These authorisations will be subject to the same safeguards and independent oversight I have already outlined, including by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. We have published case studies that give examples of the use of this tactic by wider public authorities. I give the example of where the Food Standards Agency may authorise a CHIS to participate in criminal conduct. This may relate to the relabelling of produce to misrepresent its quality and fitness for consumption. Those are criminal offences, but by authorising a CHIS to participate in this activity the Food Standards Agency might be able to gather intelligence to seize unfit produce and identify those responsible for the fraudulent activity.

It has been a pleasure to make my maiden remarks on this issue. I am of the strong view that this Bill is both necessary to ensure that our operational agencies are able to keep us safe, and welcome in that it provides legal clarity through an express power and sets out the robust safeguards to ensure that an authorisation is tightly bound, necessary and proportionate. CHIS do a difficult and important job in providing intelligence that other investigatory tools cannot access. This Bill provides certainty that operational agencies can continue to utilise this tactic and that they are able to best ensure that they keep us all safe. I beg to move.