Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, on his excellent maiden speech. I have known the noble Lord for very many years, and it is a pleasure to be with him in this House. I look forward to working with him, particularly on access to justice.
The noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer, Lord Judge and Lord Garnier, my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lord Beith and many others have attacked the size of the Bill. The Constitution Committee’s report was damning. Paragraph 5 stated:
“Bills of this size and complexity impede proper legislative scrutiny in Parliament. This is not the first time the House has encountered this problem. It should not be repeated.”
The fact that we are spending seven hours at Second Reading, with 66-odd speakers, time limited, debating such a raft of disparate measures makes the point. Each of the first 12 parts of the Bill would have justified a Bill of its own.
My noble friend Lord Paddick pointed out that the Long Title brings within scope amendments to cover the whole gamut of criminal justice topics, and so we can expect many. We will need a great deal of time in Committee and on Report to do this justice. This Bill arrogates power to the Executive, effectively sidelining Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, laid bare the way this Bill usurps the role of Parliament with wide and unacceptable regulation-making powers.
There is, of course, much that we welcome: the earlier rehabilitation of offenders, long worked for by my noble friend Lord Dholakia, and the police covenant, on which my noble friend Lady Harris spoke so knowledgably, to make sure officers and retired officers get the support they deserve. In principle, we welcome the regulation of the intrusion of extraction of information from mobile phones, but innocent victims of offences must be protected and not deterred from pursuing prosecutions by the fear of losing their devices and having their private information trawled through by strangers. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, highlighted the difficulties.
However, this Bill seriously threatens fundamental liberties. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, denied any such threat. We disagree. The right to peaceful assembly and protest is fundamental in a democracy and it is axiomatic, as so many have said, that protests are noisy and often unruly. Yes, they may cause disruption, inconvenience and nuisance, but that is all part of dissent being permissible and being heard. My noble friend Lord Oates and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, passionately argued this case in relation to climate change. Certainly, Greta Thunberg’s original solo school demonstrations were not noisy, but Extinction Rebellion, and no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, are squarely in the Government’s sights.
The “Today” programme this morning reported on the anxiety of young people about climate change—on the reluctance to have children, on the feeling that the world is doomed. This is not our world now, but theirs. Are the under-35s represented in Parliament? No. Do we, the over-50s, understand their concerns? At an intellectual level, yes. But as a personal threat? Bluntly, no. As one summed it up, “For us, it is personal.” How are they to be heard? Through protests. Will they be noisy? Yes. Offensive? Probably. May they
“result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation”,
using the words of the Bill? What about demonstrations outside company meetings or political meetings? The Constitution Committee rightly concluded that the noise trigger provisions offend against Article 10 convention rights to freedom of assembly. And who makes the regulations to define “serious disruption”? Why, the Secretary of State, of course—no matter their age, nor how authoritarian or illiberal their attitudes. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Chakrabarti, my noble friend Lady Miller, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others made these points graphically.
The sentencing provisions in the Bill are overwhelmingly retrograde, pandering to the tabloid view that longer sentences reduce crime. But all the evidence is to the contrary, as my noble friend Lord Beith pointed out—granted that locking up people for longer affords the public the temporary protection of keeping some offenders in custody. But the price of that protection far outweighs any benefit. We pay the cost of imprisoning more people than any other nation in western Europe, but we also institutionalise offenders; we break up families; we make offenders less employable and therefore more dependent on the state; we overcrowd our prisons, which have become violent academies of crime; and so we increase reoffending and the human, social and financial cost of divided and criminalised communities. Yet the Bill establishes more minimum sentences; restricts the discretion to depart from some in cases where there are exceptional circumstances; increases many terms to be served from half to two-thirds of notionally determinate sentences; and ends automatic release at the halfway point for many sentences.
On community sentences, we see increased curfew hours and periods, but nothing about increasing help for offenders to turn their lives around. There is provision for recall to custody for breach of community orders, with short custodial penalties, in the face of all the evidence that these do not work and have a disproportionate effect on women and minorities and an adverse effect on families—points persuasively made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.
We need fewer offenders in prison and more looked after in the community. We must address the personal issues that caused their offending: mental ill-health; histories of physical and sexual abuse; drug and alcohol addiction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said; homelessness; and missed educational opportunities. None of this is new. But it is desperately sad that a Bill said to be directed at overhauling our criminal justice system is misguidedly focused on imprisoning more people for longer, on reducing judicial discretion and on abandoning important principles that have long underpinned our justice system. We will support the attempt of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to increase the use of restorative justice, for all the reasons she gave.
We agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, that we must now end the utter scandal of detaining IPP prisoners indefinitely, way beyond their tariff term. We will support the Children’s Society-backed amendments to ensure that serious violence reduction strategies prioritise protecting children and young people. We will oppose groundless stop and search for persons who have been once convicted of any offensive weapons offence, even on a joint enterprise basis. That is an unjust and racially divisive proposal.
On encampments, we see no reason for criminalising trespass with intent to reside, for the reasons explained by my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Brinton, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. The proposal is unnecessary; there is already a wide range of eviction powers in existence. The proposed new powers rely far too much on the subjective judgment of the police. This proposal is discriminatory; it is also one-sided. If encampments are to be restricted, we need adequate local authority provision of safe and approved sites for the Traveller community.
On sentencing for assaults on emergency workers, we agree—but why not include retail workers, transport workers and public service staff? This provision needs rethinking to extend it to protect those providing a public service.
On remote hearings, we agree with the proposals for more—and more efficient—such hearings in appropriate cases beyond the pandemic. But we also agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that such cases do not include jury trials. Jury trials depend, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, on working relationships between judges and juries; but they also depend, crucially, on discussion and debate among jurors, which cannot be properly achieved on Zoom or Teams. For my part, I have long said that I would like to see more public broadcasting of proceedings—at the discretion of judges, certainly—for the purpose of improving open justice, but that is a different matter.
Finally, noble Lords have spoken of the missed opportunity to add more protections for women and girls. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, argued for an amendment to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which we will support, extending the upskirting legislation to cover photography without consent of women while breastfeeding. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others that serious violence should explicitly include domestic and sexual abuse. We also agree with my noble friend Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and others who will propose amendments to increase the surveillance of offenders and introduce further measures on domestic violence.
There is much to debate in the Bill and much of it is not good.