Debates between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 13th Feb 2024
Wed 14th Jun 2023
Illegal Migration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 17th May 2023
Wed 26th Apr 2023
Tue 7th Feb 2023
Tue 13th Dec 2022
Wed 16th Nov 2022
Public Order Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 16th Nov 2022
Public Order Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Thu 30th Jun 2022
Tue 1st Feb 2022
Nationality and Borders Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Asylum Seekers: Rwanda

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 21st March 2024

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what are the reasons for their new policy of paying failed asylum seekers to travel to Rwanda; how this policy will deliver (1) justice, and (2) deterrence; and how they expect it will work alongside their policy of seeking to forcibly transport illegal migrants to that country.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, voluntary relocations to Rwanda support efforts to remove individuals with no right to be here. This will be offered to failed asylum seekers, those without leave to remain and those who have put in a claim to the UK’s asylum system that was unsuccessful. Once the Bill and the treaty are in place, we will look to enforce the removal of individuals entering illegally, so that their asylum claims can be processed in Rwanda.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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As always, I am grateful to the Minister, particularly this morning. Can he help me a little with the following logic? As I understand the Government’s own case, in pursuit of deterrence some genuine refugees who have come by irregular routes will be forcibly transported to Rwanda, while failed asylum seekers, including some who have made fraudulent claims, will be given the £3,000 golden goodbye.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, yes. The fact is that people who have paid £5,000 to £10,000 to a murderous criminal gang to get to the UK—let us not forget that they have been sold a lie and will not be able to stay here—are unlikely to be attracted by an offer of £3,000. I do not believe that it will have any effect on the deterrence principle.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I did not entirely overlook them; I thought they were redundant, on the basis that there is no chief inspector—he has been sacked—so, no, we have not asked the chief inspector to look at the matter. As and when an interim is appointed, I am sure that will be part of his remit.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, as always, I am grateful to all noble Lords, not only those who have spoken in this group, which is supposed to be about commencement of the Act, but also to those who participated in this important Report stage where 10 very important amendments—all of which improve rather than wreck the Bill—have been passed.

However, there is an alpha and an omega, and I remind noble Lords and Ministers opposite that, right at the beginning of the Bill, we are told in Clause 1(2)(b) that

“this Act gives effect to the judgement of Parliament”—

not the judgment of the Government or the Prime Minister, or the Home Secretary of the day, but the judgment of Parliament—

“that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country”.

Amendment 45 is about giving Parliament a role in commencement of the Bill, because ratification of the Rwanda treaty is obviously an Executive act, not a parliamentary one, in the current terms. That is all; that is not wrecking—it is improvement. Many noble Lords have made that point.

In earlier debates, noble Lords, including noble and learned Lords, and Ministers have spoken about decrees. But this is Britain in the first quarter of the 21st century and we do not rule by decree; we govern by consent, democracy and accountability built on the rule of law. Commencement of this very controversial legislation should be by parliamentary judgment, as the Bill provides in Clause 1, and not by Executive decree, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, mentioned earlier, and certainly not by just simple treaty ratification, which is an Executive act.

I am not going to press this amendment, but before this Bill returns, much amended, to the other place, I ask the noble Lords and Ministers to consider—because their whole argument is based on accountability and parliamentary sovereignty—whether Parliament, rather than Ministers or the Executive alone, should have a role in determining whether Rwanda is actually safe and continually safe, and whether this Bill, which may become an Act, should be brought into force. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Protest Measures

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 13th February 2024

(2 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I take my noble friend’s point, though I must admit that I did not realise that he had quite such a colourful past. I am afraid that, on this, the Government disagree, and think that this is a proportionate measure.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, not for the first time in the last 24 hours, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. Why was this announcement made by vague press release on a Wednesday evening, rather than in the House of Commons? While I am grateful to the Minister, as always, for that lengthy answer, I do not quite understand the gaps in the present law. We have all these stop and search powers, for example, including specific and blanket powers in relation to protest. Why do we need additional face covering removal powers—are they not a form of stop and search? I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, on the huge relevance of facial recognition technology to why people are concerned about uncovering their faces. At the moment, it is for the police, totally unregulated by statute, to decide who goes on the watchlist, what kind of technology is used, and the trigger for stop and search on the basis of being on this watchlist. The noble Baroness is quite right: if we are going down this path in relation to face coverings, we should be regulating the use of facial recognition technology as well.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I do not entirely disagree with the noble Baroness, but I do not think this is the particular forum for that discussion. It is clearly a philosophical discussion, as much as a legal and operational one, that is required around the appropriate extent of facial recognition technology. I am sure that is a debate we will return to. These particular powers are very specific and can happen only under certain circumstances, so in this context they are proportionate.

Immigration Detention: Brook House Inquiry

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the Government’s view is that a time limit on immigration detention would significantly impair our ability to remove those who have breached our immigration laws and refused to leave the UK voluntarily. It is likely to encourage and reward abuse, allowing those who wish to guarantee their release to frustrate the removal process until the time limit is reached. It would encourage late and opportunistic claims to be made simply to push a person over the time limit, regardless of the circumstances of their case. That would undermine our ability to maintain effective immigration control and would potentially place the public at higher risk, in particular through the release of foreign national offenders into the community.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister talks about abuse, but the abuse found in the Brook House inquiry report was by G4S staff, with terrible abuse perpetrated against some of the most vulnerable people. We believe in custody time limits in this society. Even suspected terrorists can be held for no more than 14 days. Why should these desperate people be held without limit of time?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the supplier has changed; as of 2020, Serco now looks after this particular situation. I would also say that the vast majority of people are in fact detained for less than 28 days: 65% are detained for 28 days or less and 23% are detained for seven days or less.

Refugees: Homelessness

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 13th December 2023

(4 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I will take that up with DWP colleagues, as it sounds very much like it is for their department. I cannot answer the question.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, in the spirit of Christmas, will the Minister reflect on his answer to the right reverend Prelate that 28 days is “more than enough” for a recognised refugee about to be evicted, whose knowledge of English may be minimal, who may have children and who might have suffered trauma back home?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, I think so, because the refugee will have been processed under a legacy asylum case and will therefore have been in that accommodation for a very long time—over a year. They would have had ample time to learn English and embed themselves to some extent into British society. An extra month is perfectly generous.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 4th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government how they propose to prioritise reducing violence against women and girls both domestically and internationally.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, we are absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls at home and abroad. We passed our landmark Domestic Abuse Act and are delivering the Tackling Violence against Women & Girls strategy and the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan to help keep women and girls safe. Internationally, we are making progress through our flagship “What works to prevent violence” programme and pioneering work to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister. He will recognise that this Question was tabled in recognition of White Ribbon Day, which was just over a week ago. What additional resources have the Government deployed since last year’s White Ribbon Day to give greater support to victims of sexualised violence in our domestic criminal justice and asylum systems? What support have they given to international mechanisms charged with investigating and prosecuting sexualised violence as a weapon of war?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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On noble Baroness’s second question, the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative is a key focus for the UK. We are a global leader on this. We have committed £60 million since the launch of this programme in 2012. In November 2022, the UK hosted an international PSVI conference with over 1,000 attendees. A political declaration came out of that, which was endorsed by 53 countries. It sends a clear message that these types of crimes must end and sets out steps on how to achieve that. We have also launched the PSVI strategy, which sets out how the UK will work to drive global action to prevent and respond to CRSV—conflict-related sexual violence—and that includes sanctions. I refer noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Ahmad’s comments on that in June. Regarding the domestic picture, significant amounts of money and resource have been committed. I am sure I will be answering more questions on that shortly.

Asylum Seekers: Deportation from France

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 4th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have seen those reports, and I certainly have seen nothing of the sort from any civil servants.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent decision of the Supreme Court is a decision of a domestic court, not a foreign one? Does he also agree that its rationale was predominantly based on not the European convention but the refugee convention and various domestic statutes?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, I agree with both those comments.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Safe Routes

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I will certainly confirm that France is a safe country. How the French asylum system works is, I am afraid, well beyond my knowledge.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Returning to the issue of children in hotels, last summer, the High Court found Home Office practice in relation to housing vulnerable unaccompanied children in hotels to be derelict. Can the Minister inform the House what the response is to that High Court decision?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have tried to by saying how we are working with the councils that are specifically involved in those decisions. If I can get any more details together, I will definitely come back to the noble Baroness on that.

Illegal Immigration

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 20th November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend, regarding the Supreme Court’s decision, that as of 14 June 2022 it did indeed regard it as a fact that there was a risk of refoulement. However, that is a fairly narrow interpretation of the rest of the system that is currently set up in Rwanda. Again, I will not speculate on how things may change. I also note that the Supreme Court specifically acknowledged that there were cases where it could see the situation changing in the fullness of time. I expect that this is the area we are looking to explore.

As regards my noble friend’s suggestion of an affirmative SI, I am happy to take that back and enter that into the conversation that is taking place.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it is of course quite right that when the facts change or, to put it better, are emphatically revealed by the Supreme Court, wise people change their minds. They do not attempt to legislate to change the facts. Will the Minister acknowledge that, contrary to various statements that have been made in this House by Benches opposite, the Supreme Court acknowledged the special role and expertise of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in evaluating the facts—that is, the safety of countries?

As for treaties, does the Minister agree that, whatever new treaty comes, there is a treaty in this area. It is a very well-established treaty called the refugee convention. It is so well established that aspects of it are arguably now part of customary international law. I know that the Minister cares about the rule of law. If the Government are going to disapply or abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights, will he encourage his colleagues to counsel what effects there might be on the behaviour of the Russian Federation and others—and those currently in jeopardy, including Ukrainian prisoners who are relying on interim orders for their lives and protection from the Strasbourg court?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Of course, I agree with the noble Baroness. The Supreme Court did acknowledge that the UN has a role to play in this; indeed, it was heavily referenced in the Supreme Court’s judgment. I also accept that a treaty already exists regarding refugees; that is incontestable. As regards what might happen regarding the ECHR, I have already said that that was not part of any of the discussions around this particular decision. This was a domestic court’s decision. I think it is a few steps away to discuss the ECHR, and the noble Baroness is well aware of my views on the subject.

Support for Migrant Victims

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 12th July 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, I can. The experts have given evidence from within the sector, and we have also looked at evidence from police representatives and a variety of others. As I say, I cannot answer the question as to why it has taken so long, but it is good that the evidence is being considered in full and, as I say, I shall follow up with a full report as soon as we have a response to publish.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, which aspect of Article 59 do the Government have a concern about? Noble Lords will remember that this is about migrant women who are victims of violence, but it is not carte blanche to give them all residence; it is very carefully caveated. I remind noble Lords that it is where the competent authority considers that it is necessary in order to get them to co-operate with law enforcement. Can the noble Lord help me a little with what the problem is?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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In response to the noble Baroness’s question, it is important to note that we are far from alone in this. As noble Lords will be aware, the majority of countries that have ratified the Istanbul convention have reservations on one or more of the 81 clauses. In the case of Article 59, I think there are 12 other countries that still have reservations. We have made it very clear that our compliance position on Article 59 is under review, pending the support for migrant victims scheme evaluation. Our reservation is without prejudice to the policy conclusions that we reach in the light of this evaluation. I cannot really go further than that at the moment, but I will come back to the noble Baroness and the rest of the House as soon as I possibly can.

Illegal Migration Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am sorry to upset the noble Lord opposite, but that is the best I can do.

Amendment 138, again put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is similar to his earlier amendment on returns agreements. It anticipates the debate we will come to later today about action to tackle people smuggling. As I do not want to pre-empt my noble and learned friend’s response to later amendments, I will keep my remarks brief at this stage. Suffice it to say that I support the broad intent of this amendment—namely, the need to strengthen the cross-border law enforcement response to modern slavery and people trafficking—but you do not advance such co-operation by setting out in a public document the UK’s negotiating strategy to agree co-operation agreements with other countries.

Moreover, there are also existing established channels which the NCA and others use when working with their counterparts to tackle human trafficking. Where new bilaterals or multilaterals are needed, we will pursue these, but, as I have said, there are well-established mechanisms which already support cross-border co-operation in this area.

In answer to the noble Lord’s questions about specific figures, I am afraid that I do not have those to hand; I will make those available to him later.

Amendment 135, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, looks to the Government to publish an assessment of the likely impacts of the Bill on the use of contingency asylum accommodation and the costs associated with any necessary increase in the use of contingency asylum accommodation. The Home Office is committed to ending the expensive use of hotels for asylum seekers, costing nearly £7 million a day. We recognise the need to take urgent action and will look at all available options for looking at reducing the use of hotels, including alternative sites and vessels. Asylum seekers will be in basic, safe and secure accommodation appropriate for this purpose, while providing value for money for the taxpayer. We are working closely to listen to the local communities’ views and to reduce the impact of these sites, including through providing on-site security and financial support.

Amendment 139, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, effectively seeks to transfer responsibility for the UK asylum system—the national referral mechanism, which considers and provides safe and legal routes and other similar functions—to the FCDO. She acknowledged that this is a probing amendment and put her case. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, gave a rather better explanation than I will give, but I will attempt to explain the status quo. The Home Office is responsible for all aspects of control of the UK border. Managing and controlling legal and illegal migration into the UK, including processing asylum claims and the designation and operation of safe and legal routes, are part and parcel of this strategic function. Different parts of the system cannot, and should not, be considered and managed in isolation.

To take one example, as we have previously debated, our capacity to admit people to the UK through safe and legal routes is impacted by the level of illegal migration, so hiving off aspects of immigration policy and operations to a separate department is a recipe for confusion, disjointed policy-making and ineffective operations. The migration and borders system is highly complicated and this change would serve only to add unnecessary complexity. However, I assure the noble Baroness that the Home Office already works closely with other government departments, including the FCDO, on all cross-cutting matters to ensure that relative interests are considered accordingly during the development and implementation of immigration and asylum policy, and it will continue to do so.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister. He was quite right about this being a probing amendment to demonstrate the importance of the joined-upness of this being over here and that over there. I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is doing his old department a great service in dodging that particular bullet. The Minister talked about respective competencies and so on, so the Foreign Office should keep doing foreign affairs, including negotiating treaties, for example. Why did the Home Secretary and the Home Department negotiate the Rwanda pact, as opposed to leaving treaty negotiation to the Foreign Office? That came into my mind because the Minister mentioned the Rwanda agreement in the context of the impact assessment. Just to help him, I suggest that the impact assessment should be provided on the basis that the Government believe they will succeed in the litigation, so the impact assessment could be produced without delay on the predication that the Government are confident that their litigation will succeed.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I will certainly ensure that the noble Baroness’s points are noted in the department.

Finally, Amendment 139FD would place a duty on the Home Secretary to publish quarterly statistics on the Bill’s operation after it is enacted. Again, I have no issue with the basic premise underpinning the amendment. We already publish a raft of immigration statistics on a quarterly basis and I have no doubt that these regular publications will be augmented to report on what is happening under this Bill once it is commenced. We will consider carefully what data it is appropriate to record and publish as part of our implementation planning. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and his Front-Bench colleagues in the other place will not be slow to press the Government for the kind of data referenced in the amendment.

I and my ministerial colleagues, in particularly my indefatigable noble friend Lord Murray, have heard loud and clear the calls from around the Committee that the economic impact assessment for the Bill should be available to your Lordships before the start of Report. My noble friend has committed to updating the House before the first day of Report and I have already read out the Home Secretary’s comments from this morning. However, having had this opportunity to debate the issue again, together with the other issues addressed in these amendments, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Vagrancy Act 1824

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 17th May 2023

(11 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I cannot give that assurance but, as I said, last year we consulted on options for replacement legislation, along with other stakeholder engagement, and we are considering those complex issues carefully. The Government will publish responses to the Vagrancy Act consultation in due course. As soon as parliamentary time allows, that legislation will appear in front of your Lordships.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, what is the Government’s approach to commencement orders more generally? There was an engagement in your Lordships’ House last week about the non-commencement of journalists’ protection in the Public Order Act. Do the Minister and the Government understand that to delay commencement indefinitely, and thus to thwart the will of Parliament, is an unlawful abuse of power?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Of course, commencement is not really within the spirit of the Question, but I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from. There was no suggestion that commencement would be delayed indefinitely under the circumstances to which she refers.

Coronation: Policing

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 11th May 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I failed to answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on when this part of the Act will commence. I can give her a better answer today. It is on 2 July this year. However, I can also say that this gentleman was not arrested under the Public Order Act. He was arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. I cannot go further in commenting on the specifics of the case.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, why did the Government not bring in the protection at the same time that they brought in the new powers?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I cannot answer that, I am afraid. I do not know.

Police Uplift Programme

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend makes some solid points. It is undeniable that some of the incidents which have been seen over the past few years, and which are coming to light now, are a consequence of a failure of leadership. I am pleased that the leadership of the country’s main police force is in very good hands, and I support Sir Mark Rowley of the Metropolitan Police in the work he has to do. My noble friend also makes some very good points about leadership more generally. I believe—and I will be asking about this more frequently—that the College of Policing is working on the reinstatement of a national police college to ensure rigorous, nationally consistent standards.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it is no fault of the Minister, but metaphors about passing batons and crossing finishing lines will be seen to be complacent and even insensitive by many victims of sexual and violent crime in particular. I share the concerns expressed repeatedly on all sides of your Lordships’ House that, when reversing drastic police cuts in a hurry, there will be issues with the quality of recruitment, vetting, training and discipline, as we have heard. So, rather than constantly batting this off to the College of Policing, will the Government take responsibility and propose a clear timeline for a legislative framework of standards across the nation for all those vital matters?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness will be aware that a number of ongoing reviews on matters such as dismissals are due to conclude very shortly. She makes some very good points about victims, and we are committed to delivering justice for victims and putting some of the vile offenders referred to behind bars for longer, but there is obviously still a long way to go. We have previously discussed at the Dispatch Box some of the factors the noble Baroness mentioned and, while I will not go into them in detail again, I note that programmes such as Operation Soteria are delivering meaningful results.

Corruption

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 26th April 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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It is a most disturbing figure. Public sector integrity is certainly a feature of the Transparency International downgrade of the UK, but that is being dealt with, as noble Lords will be aware.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been well over a year, as many of us remember, since the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, resigned in this House from that Dispatch Box. Noble Lords will remember that he did it over a government decision to write off £4.3 billion in fraudulent Covid loans. He went on to accuse the Government

“of arrogance, indolence and ignorance”—[Official Report, 24/1/22; col. 21.]

in dealing with fraud. What has improved since then?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the publication of the new fraud strategy is imminent. As I referred to in my earlier Answer, the second iteration of the anti-corruption strategy is also being worked through at this moment. There will be a lot more to say on that in the very near future.

Black and Minority-ethnic Children: Police Strip-searches

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 27th March 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Any child subject to strip-search under PACE should be accompanied by an appropriate adult unless there is an urgent risk of serious harm or where the child specifically requests otherwise and the appropriate adult agrees. Such searches must be carried out by an officer of the same sex as the child. The Children Act 2004 encourages agencies to share early concerns about the safety and welfare of children and young persons and to take preventive action. The Act requires local policing bodies and chief officers to co-operate with arrangements to improve the well-being of children in the authorities’ area. It is too early for me to comment on what sort of disciplinary processes and so on might be implemented in cases where there are failures of these things. As I said, we are awaiting the report from the IOPC and will make the appropriate response in due course.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it seems that every week there are more devastating revelations for trust in policing in our country, and yet the Public Order Bill is still moving between the two Houses—it will come back to us tomorrow. The Bill contains, among other things, stop and search powers, including without suspicion. At the very least, those provisions in the Public Order Bill should be paused by the Government until they can assess what police regulation we need, as opposed to just endless extra police power.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, as I have said from this Dispatch Box before, stop and search makes a serious difference to crime prevention. In 2021-22, stop and search removed around 14,900 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in almost 67,000 arrests. The noble Baroness made good points about trust in the police, and the Home Secretary has been clear that policing needs to address all of the causes of poor, and in some cases toxic, cultures. That will be a key focus of part 2 of the independent Angiolini inquiry, which will consider issues in policing such as vetting, recruitment and culture, as well as the safety of women in public places.

Baroness Casey Review

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 21st March 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the spirit of bipartisanship, on such a dark day for the capital and the country, nobody should double down against the central finding of institutional prejudice? This does not mean that everybody is prejudiced; it just means that there are systemic problems that need to be addressed if we are to tackle these deep-seated problems in the institution.

Secondly, does the Minister agree that it is not just for the mayor or the Government and that Parliament has a role in this, going forward? Some of the many findings in the very difficult but excellent, robust report perhaps require primary legislation—pension forfeiture, robust disciplinary and vetting systems and so on. Is this something that we can continue to discuss together at this terrible time for policing and the rule of law?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Baroness’s latter point. During my response I omitted to mention the review into police dismissals. Obviously, that is ongoing. It started on 17 January and is expected to last four months and conclude at the end of next month. I cannot imagine for a moment that it will not address many of the more pertinent points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. I quite expect that I will be up here discussing the findings of that review in due course.

As regards the institutional racism and so on, like Sir Mark Rowley I probably would not use that description because it can be misused and risks making it harder for officers to win the trust of communities, but I of course acknowledge the noble Baroness’s point.

Public Order Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble and learned friend makes a very fair point, but the College of Policing and the National Union of Journalists awareness training is a little more recent than the 40 year-old PACE codes.

The College of Policing’s initial learning curriculum includes a package of content on effectively dealing with the media in a policing context. In addition, the authorised professional practice for public order contains a section on the interaction of the police with members of the media. This includes the recognition of press identification. It should also be noted that it is entirely legitimate for a police officer to inquire why an individual may be recording at the scene of a criminal offence if they deem it appropriate. We do not want to suggest that this is unlawful.

In light of those factors, while I completely understand the direction and purpose of the amendment, we do not support it because we do not deem it to be necessary. These defences are already covered in law.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short but vital debate. Once more to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who I am not sure has read the amendment—

Hillsborough Families Report: National Police Response

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 2nd February 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend asks a very good question, and I am happy to say that some of the initiatives that have been taken support the sorts of things he is talking about—for example, the removal of means testing for exceptional case funding to cover legal support for families at an inquest. That broadens the scope and access for families. We have also refreshed the Guide to Coroner Services for Bereaved People. I hope that goes some way to answering my noble friend’s question.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it goes some way but, sadly, not far enough. It should not be a matter of exceptional case funding, should it? If public authorities are funding themselves and the police are funded, why should the bereaved families, in any situation and in any inquest, not be funded at a matched level?

Rape: Operation Soteria

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 23rd January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what are the most recent rape (1) reporting, (2) prosecution, and (3) conviction, rates in England and Wales; and how many forces have rolled out Operation Soteria.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the most recent statistics show that 70,600 rape incidents were recorded by the police in the year to June 2022; there were 2,326 prosecutions for rape and 1,019 convictions. Nineteen police forces and nine CPS areas are participating in Operation Soteria and informing the development of new national operating models for the investigation and prosecution of rape. These models will be available to all forces and CPS areas from June 2023.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but recent Home Office research, including under Soteria, revealed a dismal picture of police attitudes towards rape complainants and whether they are at fault for the crimes committed against them. British women are reeling from Couzens and Carrick. Is it not time that the Government took this problem out of the long grass and legislated for police vetting, training and disciplinary reform?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I spoke from the Dispatch Box last week on the review into dismissal processes. We talked a lot then about vetting and the various changes that have been made to both the vetting processes and the vetting verification processes, which are being advanced. Operation Soteria pioneered a new model which will effectively put the needs of victims above those of suspects. The initial evidence is that it is working. Avon and Somerset Police was one of the pioneering forces; it has reported an increase in its adult rape charge rate from 3% to over 10%. I do not think that is good news but it is progress.

Police: Employment and Discipline

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 9th January 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I said earlier that this is under active discussion. I am not part of those active discussions, but I cannot imagine a set of circumstances where they would not be considering the speed of the process.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, why has it taken from October to January just to come up with basic terms of reference? How long will it be before this review, whenever it actually begins, concludes, given the concern throughout the country and certainly across your Lordships’ House?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I do not know why it has taken a couple of months to get to this stage, and I do not know how long the review will take, but I imagine that will be dealt with in the terms of reference.

Public Order Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down, and with my real thanks for the sentiment that he expressed, does he concede that public order powers in general are cast in broad terms? Charlotte Lynch was arrested for the offence of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance—a fairly broad concept—and a number of broad police powers and offences in the Bill are triggered by an undefined concept of serious disruption.

Does the Minister also concede that senior voices in policing have said that journalists who give the oxygen of publicity to protests are part of the problem? By giving publicity, they are feeding the fuel of serious disruption. I know that the Minister disagrees with that proposition but, given that there has been so much performative legislation, and that there is apparently disagreement in the policing world about what is and is not feeding a serious disruption, why would the Government not take this modest step to ensure that no one should be arrested for the primary purpose of preventing their reporting of protest?

As a point of clarification, the difference between Amendments 117 and 127A is not the class of people they cover; it is the class of activity that is being reported on. Amendment 127A is an improvement on my poorer drafting of Amendment 117 because it refers to reporting protests themselves and not just the policing.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness that I do not agree with the proposition she just outlined from senior police officers. Having said that, I have not read those particular comments and cannot comment on the specifics. I go back to what I was saying earlier: it is not lawful to detain journalists simply there monitoring protests; it is against the law. The police made mistakes in these cases. As I said earlier, we agree it was completely wrong.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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What I hope I said is that our expectation is that the provisions in the Bill will improve the ability of the police to “remove and deter protesters”, thereby alleviating some pressure on the police.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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That is very helpful. I agree with the Minister that police officers—we have a fine one in this Committee—and police forces should not be treated with a broad brush, but, and noble Lords will perhaps forgive me if I say it, nor should peaceful protesters. Hence, the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and hence the bulk of criticism of this entire draft legislation in this Committee. It is an unhappy privilege to be perhaps the last speaker in this Committee; I think I was the first. I am grateful to the Minister for his fortitude and courtesy. He wants to rise again.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I just want to clarify that I mean criminal protesters.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister but, of course, if the Government are able to keep expanding the definition of criminality, that does not give much cause for comfort about protecting peaceful dissent. I am none the less grateful to the Minister for his fortitude and courtesy throughout this three-session Committee. I hope that he and his colleagues will understand that what he has heard over these days and hours is very serious cross-party concern about these measures, reflected in vast sections of the country. I have no doubt that, after a good break and, I hope, a happy Christmas of reflection, colleagues will be back and some of these matters will definitely be put to the vote. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Violence against Women and Domestic Violence

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 1st December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I can tell the House that if we had not introduced the reservation, it would have taken even longer. As to why it took so long, no, I do not know the answer.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister has said that the Government are considering removing the reservation, but can he explain a little about what the problem is? He will know, of course, that Article 59 does not give blanket residence to any class of women. It just says that a competent authority should consider their circumstances and, where necessary, give this vital protection to them.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Again, as I think I have explained, the Government are assessing the evidence that is coming back from the migrant victims scheme pilot programme.

Independent Cultural Review of London Fire Brigade

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 29th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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That is very clear; there is fairly evidently a failure of leadership. However, as I mentioned, I commend the leadership of Andy Roe, who commissioned a report into his own brigade. That was courageous and, as I say, he has committed to acting on all the recommendations.

There were two recommendations on getting rid of people. One is for a historical review of complaints, which will obviously investigate potential historical injustices. I imagine that will have some sort of component to do with removing people.

I am happy to confirm that the Mayor of London has operational responsibility for this, along with his deputy. That is on the website, and he claims it for himself. This is not blaming; it is merely stating a fact.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. He knows that I am always happy to examine issues of governance and new legislation where that is required, be it for the fire brigade or the police, which we will discuss in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on Thursday. But what is happening in our country? What is happening to the culture of kindness, decency and mutual respect among our fellow citizens and, it seems, I am sorry to say, particularly some men in our country? We now have these allegations—more than allegations; we have case after case in the Metropolitan Police, these new revelations about our much-needed and respected fire service and allegations of bullying in the Palace of Westminster, even at senior Cabinet level. The Deputy Prime Minister is now being investigated for bullying. Will we hear from the Minister for Equalities or from the Prime Minister—the first non-white Prime Minister—who has small daughters for whom he no doubt cares and is concerned? Will we hear some leadership on the culture of dignity and decency in our country?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I cannot speculate about what the Prime Minister might say so I shall speak for myself. I agree with the noble Baroness: I am disturbed by many of these reports that I have to stand here and talk about.

Investigatory Powers Commissioner (Oversight Functions) Regulations 2022

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 24th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee consider the draft Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources and Interception: Codes of Practice) Regulations 2022, laid before the House on 19 October 2022, and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner (Oversight Functions) Regulations 2022, laid on 18 October 2022.

Protecting our national security and keeping the public safe remains a top priority for the Government, as does ensuring that public trust and confidence in the exercise of investigatory powers are maintained. These two sets of regulations are concerned with the exercise of investigatory powers, and in particular with the important safeguards and oversight. The investigatory powers with which they are concerned are set out in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which I will henceforth refer to as RIPA.

We are concerned with three key measures today. First, I will turn to amendments to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Code of Practice. Throughout this debate I will refer to covert human intelligence sources as CHIS, and the code of practice itself as the CHIS code.

The CHIS code sets out the processes and safeguards governing the use of CHIS by public authorities and provides detailed guidance on how CHIS powers should be exercised and duties performed, including examples of best practice. The draft regulations before the Committee today will bring into force changes to the CHIS code. These changes have been made following amendments made to RIPA by the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021, which I will refer to as the CHIS Act throughout today’s debate.

The amendments made to Part II of RIPA by the CHIS Act ensure that there is a clear and consistent statutory basis to authorise CHIS to engage in conduct that could otherwise be criminal, where it is necessary and proportionate to do so, having regard to the Human Rights Act and the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The draft revised CHIS code enhances the protection for children and vulnerable adults where they are to be authorised as CHIS in exceptional circumstances. There has been substantial consultation with charities and interest groups, and we have given due consideration to the valuable feedback they have provided on the changes we have made to the CHIS code.

The investigatory powers regulations will also make necessary changes to the Interception of Communications Code of Practice, which I will now refer to throughout the debate as the interception code. The draft revised interception code provides further guidance on the use of interception by public authorities that exercise such powers, also known as intercepting authorities.

The amendments to the draft revised interception code will reflect the Government’s long-standing position on serving interception warrants on cloud service providers and the enterprise services they provide to customers. These changes will provide much-needed clarity to relevant UK and US companies impacted by enterprise service issues. By enterprises, we mean companies, academic institutions, not-for-profit organisations, government agencies and similar entities that pay cloud service providers to store and/or process their organisations’ electronic communications and other records. When a cloud service provider is providing such services to an enterprise, the enterprise is responsible for providing accounts to its users and determining the reasons for which data is retained and processed.

A public consultation on the proposed changes was carried out between July and October. After further cross-governmental engagement on the draft revised interception code, three additional changes to the proposed revisions were made to provide further examples of the circumstances under which a warrant may be served on a cloud service provider instead of an enterprise customer, and to outline the obligations imposed by the Investigatory Powers Act regarding unauthorised disclosure to help protect national security.

Finally, I turn to the changes to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s oversight functions, as proposed in the Investigatory Powers Commissioner regulations. I will refer to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner as the IPC throughout.

These regulations place two areas on a statutory footing: first, the IPC’s oversight of the GCHQ equities process; and, secondly, compliance by members and civilian staff of SO15 at the Metropolitan Police Service and officers of the National Crime Agency with the guidance referred to as the Principles Relating to the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas. These areas have previously been overseen by the IPC and his office on a non-statutory basis.

The IPC has made it clear, and the Government agree, that he considers formalising his oversight responsibilities as being in the best interests of transparency and robust oversight. As a statutory authority, the parameters of the IPC’s remit are set by Parliament. These changes will provide greater public accountability and enable the effective discharge of the IPC’s responsibilities.

These regulations are vital for keeping the public safe by providing clarity and transparency around the use and oversight of powers. I hope the Committee will be able to support these measures and their objectives. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise for coming in when the Minister was already on his feet. I declare an interest as a council member of Justice, the all-party law reform group that took a significant interest in the CHIS Bill when it was going through the House. It was a very strange time: it was during lockdown when we had Zoom Parliament and so on, as the Minister will recall.

All noble Lords will appreciate that the legislation was—and remains—controversial. Whatever the arguments for and against its necessity, it is controversial to grant advance immunity from prosecution not only to police officers or direct officials and agents of the state but to those whom they run in the community, including in criminal fraternities. We have had the arguments in relation to the legislation itself. None the less, we all need to recognise the dangers that exist with that kind of advance immunity from criminal prosecution, including for quite serious crimes.

During the passage of the legislation the Government said that the Human Rights Act would be a safeguard, and the Minister has repeated that. But we are constantly told that the Human Rights Act is in jeopardy and, with the return of Mr Raab to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and as Justice Secretary, that remains in the balance. That needs to be on our minds when we consider these powers and the codes of practice made thereunder.

I will make one further point, about the consultation around the CHIS codes of practice. Justice informs me and other noble Lords that the consultation took place between 13 December 2021 and 6 February 2022—an eight-week period that included Christmas and serious restrictions because of the rise of the omicron variant. That was of concern not only to Justice but to other charities and NGOs that had concerns about the legislation and about victims’ rights in particular. One of their substantive concerns is that there is not enough in the current codes of practice to encourage victims to seek compensation in the event that they are harmed as a result of advance criminal immunity being given to CHIS.

Christmas is a problem for people who work in the sector in any event, because staff are on holiday and so on, but lockdown made it harder still. What Justice says about that is if the Home Office had compensated for the short festive period by going out proactively to consult potential interested parties, that consultation deficit could have been met. But that, I am told, did not happen. As a result, both Justice and the Centre for Women’s Justice, which of course had been very involved in supporting the female victims of the spy cops scandal, made their views known to the Home Office. That has not been a satisfactory engagement.

I know there is a limit to what can be done about this at this point but I intervene today to put this to the Minister. He perhaps was not the Minister responsible at the time of the consultation but might, none the less, keep this under review and possibly open up a line of ongoing communication with Justice and the Centre for Women’s Justice. Although these regulations are of course going to pass, these codes of practice need to be kept under review, as does the operation of this legislation with the codes of practice. I know from my dealings with him that the Minister is a reasonable person. After the regulations pass, I hope that he will perhaps meet these people to keep that conversation going and ensure that the operation of these provisions and vital codes of practice is monitored, and that the monitoring from the Home Office actively encourages involvement from those who work on victims’ rights and in the sector.

Public Order Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate this evening. It has been a very lively and thoughtful discussion generally. I look forward—I think—to continuing to discuss these important issues next week. I first reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that I do not think she is rude. I may not agree, but I think the position she is coming from is highly principled. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that I do not think we have failed when it comes to definitions. We have committed to take that matter away and it is ongoing work.

The amendments in this final group take issue with the some of the offences listed in Clauses 1 to 8. Clause 1 is a key part of the Government’s plan to protect the public from the dangerous and disruptive protest tactic of locking on. Recent protests have seen selfish individuals seek to cause maximum disruption by locking themselves to roads, buildings, objects and other people. This has seen traffic disrupted, public transport delayed and the transport of fuel from terminals grind to a halt—to name just a few examples. Such tactics cause misery to the public, with people unable to access their place of work or their schools, or to attend vital hospital appointments.

I turn next to Clause 2, which is inextricably linked to Clause 1. During fast-moving protest situations, the police must be able to take necessary proactive action to prevent lock-ons occurring. Along with the associated stop and search powers, which the Committee will scrutinise later, this new offence will allow the police to prevent lock-ons before they occur and deter others from considering doing so.

Lastly, Clause 5, along with Clauses 3 and 4, is designed to make clear that the protest tactic of building tunnels to disrupt legitimate activity will not be tolerated. I am afraid there is a degree of repetition here, but projects such as HS2 have been targeted on multiple occasions by tunnels which have contributed to an enormous cost of £146 million to the project. Aside from the cost, these tactics are enormously reckless, putting not just protesters themselves at risk but those called upon to remove them and repair the damage inflicted.

There is one further amendment in this group: Amendment 69, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, which seeks to remove the delegated power for the Secretary of State to amend, add or remove the list of infrastructure in the legal definition of “key national infrastructure”. Throughout the debate, we have heard about ever-evolving protest tactics, targets and technology. We therefore see it as entirely right that Clause 7 is accompanied by a delegated power that will allow us to respond effectively to emerging threats. But I reassure the House that the power is subject to the draft affirmative procedure, thereby facilitating substantive parliamentary scrutiny.

Before concluding tonight’s debate, I will respond to speeches made by many noble Lords, but specifically the noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Coaker and Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about the necessity of the powers taken in the Bill. I have spoken about the three key general differences between the Bill and existing public order offences and legislation. First, it is about sentencing lengths; secondly, it is about offences that take place on private land; and, thirdly, it is about introducing more pre-emptive powers, providing the police with the ability to stop serious disruption before it happens.

It would be appropriate to acknowledge at this point that some of the commentary from the police is a little contradictory. Chief Constable Chris Noble, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on protests, said:

“There have been some very novel—without giving them any credit—and highly disruptive tactics; that is reflected on the contents page of the Bill. If we look across the breadth of protest organisations and groups, we see that they are very aware of some of the legal gaps, inadequacies and shortcomings; that is very clear from their engagement with police, as well as their tactics.”—[Official Report, Commons, Public Order Bill Committee, 9/6/22; col. 5.]


Of course we work with the police, and we will obviously continue to do so.

I will try to address some of the key existing offences that have been mentioned and talk about how the Bill differs and builds on these important offences. I turn first to Sections 12, 14 and 14ZA of the Public Order Act 1986, as amended by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which allows the police to place necessary and proportionate conditions on public assemblies and processions to prevent certain harms occurring—namely, serious disruption to the life of the community. These powers are for the safe management of large protests where many people assemble or march. They do not provide the police with the means to tackle non-violent direct action of the sort that Just Stop Oil engages in.

I turn now to public nuisance and obstruction of the highway offences. We are pleased to have put the public nuisance offence on to a statutory footing, and noble Lords are quite right that it can be used to deal with some of the highly disruptive protests that we have seen recently. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, indicated, both these and other criminal offences are currently being used to arrest and charge Just Stop Oil protesters.

But we have to remember that there are offences that can cause serious disruption but do not meet the threshold for the public nuisance offence, which is extremely high. At the moment, such protesters manage to find loopholes to get acquitted or are subject to low penalties. These new offences are therefore essential to give the police the powers that they need to deal with these offenders. Although many Just Stop Oil protesters have been arrested for public nuisance and obstruction of the highway, these offences do not necessarily apply to tactics such as those that have targeted HS2 Ltd. Therefore, new criminal offences covering tunnelling and locking on are necessary.

I turn to the offence of aggravated trespass, which criminalises intentionally obstructing, disrupting or intimidating others carrying out lawful activities on private land. The maximum penalty is three months’ imprisonment or a £2,500 fine, or both. This broad offence captures many activities that trespassers, protesters or others may engage in. The maximum penalty is not proportionate to the seriousness of some of the tactics used by protesters, which can put lives at risk. This is a broad offence that covers many non-protest behaviours, and it would not be appropriate to increase the maximum sentence for it. Therefore, new criminal offences that apply to private land are needed: locking-on, tunnelling and infrastructure-related offences.

I turn to stop and search. Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows a constable to search individuals whom they reasonably believe are carrying something that could be used to commit specific criminal offences, including criminal damage. Furthermore, the police can search individuals after having arrested them. For example, after arresting Just Stop Oil protesters for conspiracy to commit public nuisance, the police searched their car and seized items suspected to be used in the course of the offence.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, queried the necessity of the measures given that HS2—which has experienced significant protest action at huge cost, as we have discussed many times—was able to secure a nationwide injunction. We agree that injunctions can be helpful for preventing the types of serious disruption we have seen, which is why we have introduced our own measure which provides a specific mechanism for a Secretary of State to seek an injunction against protest activity where it is in the public interest to do so. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle and we have seen from the M25 protests that injunctions do not necessarily stop people breaking the law.

I have tried to set out how the measures in the Bill will bolster the police powers to respond more effectively to disruptive and dangerous protests, to protect our key national infrastructure and major transport works from interference, and to better balance the rights of protesters with the right of the general public to go about their lives free from serious disruption and harm. For those reasons, I respectfully ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords for sticking it out and will try to be brief, given the hour. I am also particularly grateful to the Minister for reminding me that I did not speak to my Amendment 69, which, as he rightly said, would remove the ability to change the criminal offence of interfering with national infrastructure by adding further infrastructure. I stand by my concern that this kind of thing should not be done by way of secondary legislation, because it has such a profound effect on the rights and freedoms of people in this country to dissent peacefully. It would be very easy to abuse that power and it is not appropriate for secondary legislation. We will no doubt return to issues of powers of that kind at a later stage.

Once more, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for pointing out what the courts are having to grapple with: a burgeoning statute book with more and more offences, which police forces must deal with too. This menu of potential powers and offences just gets bigger by the year. The idea that, every time there is an innovative or novel protest, something must be done and there will be a new offering of legislation is not a coherent way to operate the rule of law in a constitutional democracy. Lots of dangers will come from this.

I take the point about the police service not speaking as one on any of these issues, and maybe it should not. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for pointing out, as a former police officer, that there is quite a strength of police opinion and scepticism about the powers in the Bill. I was also grateful to him for reminding me that the offence of going equipped for locking on is, in a way, even worse than the offence of locking on. Locking on is incredibly broad, as I think the Minister accepted in some of his earlier responses. Yes, linking arms is sometimes terribly disruptive too, but going equipped for locking on is a proper thought crime and one of the reasons I am particularly concerned about that offence. It is a thought crime that is supportive of a crime that is, in itself, incredibly broad and will, theoretically, capture some activities that some people think are just natural to humans and innocent.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for addressing a very important process point. I totally understand the need for Ministers to write to noble Lords later, particularly in answer to the Questions we have each day. However, writing later should not be a central tactic of defending and promoting a Bill that has been some time in gestation. I was grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for coming up with a little more about the existing statute book in the latter part of this evening, but that will require a lot more examination. I know that noble Lords in Committee will be reading Hansard very carefully tomorrow and there will be more to discuss about that.

Ultimately, there are some protesters who, rightly or wrongly, care so much about the climate catastrophe, race equality, Brexit or whichever other issue that they are prepared to go to prison. There are some in that category for whom there is no new offence that will prevent their actions. So be it; that is life.

What I am concerned about, with the ever expanding public order statute book, are the people who are not in that category and who will get caught up in this kind of thing, as happened last week to the journalist who was detained for, in total, about seven hours, with five in a police cell, just for reporting on the protests. When you keep adding to police powers, adding to the public order statute book and catching more and more innocent activity, more injustice will follow. It will not be about catching the people who we all agree are going too far sometimes—and who are prepared to go too far for their cause; that is their conscience. There will be more and more innocent bystanders—journalists, people from racial minorities—who get caught up in this very broad blank cheque that noble Lords and Ministers are proposing to hand to the police. The police are from us; they are a part of our community and are imperfect as we are. It is not fair to hand this blank cheque to them and, when it goes wrong, to blame them. We have that on our conscience if we pass these powers.

Public Order Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I think I have already gone into that. As I say, the Bill creates another set of offences designed to deal with evolving protests, but I will come back on the specific point about the PCSC Act.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am almost speechless. I do not blame the Minister, but those briefing him really need to consider what we have been discussing today; we are talking about the rights and freedoms of people in this country, and it is a very serious issue.

I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate on the first group. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for, as always, bringing his policing expertise as well as his parliamentary skills to the debate. I also thank him for mentioning Charlotte Lynch, the LBC journalist who was arrested last week beside the M25 with a valid press card and with a microphone that was clearly branded with the name of her broadcaster. She offered her press card to the police, who then slapped handcuffs on her. They took her mobile phone from her and started scrolling to see who she might have been speaking to. Perhaps she had been tipped off about the protest by protesters; that is what journalists do in a free society. She was subjected to a body search and taken to Stevenage police station. She was detained in the police station in a cell with an open toilet and a simple bed for five hours, and was eventually let go without a police interview. Records show that they arrested her for the offence of “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”. That happened under the existing law.

Now, without addressing concerns about incidents of that kind, and in the wake of what happened to Sarah Everard and all the crises there have been in public trust in policing in this country, the Government are proposing this suite of new offences—yet the Minister has not been able to identify the gap that those offences are supposed to address. That is a matter of considerable concern—a concern which was mentioned by almost every speaker in this debate, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and the Minister himself. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, called for clarity in the law, but I am afraid I was not totally clear which provisions or amendments he was addressing.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, gave a master class on issues of burdens of proof and reverse burdens, which are sometimes used in law. However, I remind the Minister that, when they are used in law, it is in relation to very tight offences that are problematic per se, such as carrying a blade or point in a public place. Most members of the public understand that that is not innocent activity; it is incumbent on somebody to explain why they needed to be carrying that knife in the street. That is not the case with carrying a bicycle chain or linking arms with a friend. That is innocent activity per se that is rendered criminal in certain circumstances, and so it is particularly dangerous to flip the burden of proof. Further, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, it is essential that the person should be able to say to the police officer before they are arrested—not seven hours later, in Stevenage police station—that they have a legitimate reason for what they have done. I ask the Minister to think about Charlotte Lynch when he reflects on the powers that he is being asked to justify by others in this Chamber.

Police: Vetting, Misconduct and Misogyny

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 2nd November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am not entirely sure I share the noble Lord’s analysis of the quality problem. The fact is that a new online application process has been introduced, replacing an old assessment centre system called SEARCH. The new process operates according to national guidelines and it has been reasonably successful so far. Some 83,500 candidates were invited to complete the assessment; 58,000 have had their results marked and 42,500 have been successful—that is 73.55%. It is not just online; all the candidates have to pass each stage of the recruitment process, which includes assessment centres, vetting, medical assessments and fitness tests—there are lots of face-to-face aspects of the process. I am not convinced that an uplift in numbers affects quality.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, when asked about these matters the noble Lord says repeatedly that police vetting, discipline and recruitment must be left to chief constables themselves, but should there not be a legislative framework for this? The Government are very ready repeatedly to legislate for extra police powers but not for what the public deserve, which is a rigorous legislative scheme for recruitment, vetting and discipline.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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That is the way the system is currently set up. As I say, the Home Office is not trying to absolve itself in this regard, but the fact remains that the vetting processes, which vary to some extent across forces, are the responsibility of chief constables.

Public Spaces Protection Orders

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 27th October 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister help me, for clarity: does the relevant guidance prohibit or advise against incentivising enforcement for profit motives rather than because it is the right application of the law?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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No, the relevant guidance does not, because, as I say, this is a matter for the local authorities. As I understand it, there is no mention of profit.

Police National Computer

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 24th October 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend. So far, to date, the Government and Post Office have made good progress on delivering compensation to postmasters through the scheme fairly and quickly—82% of eligible claimants have now received an offer, and £52 million has been offered in total. I accept that it is not enough, but it is being done.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government have presided over the economy and vital sensitive infrastructure, including tech infrastructure, for 12 years. If, as the Minister suggests, there was no viable alternative, why not?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Unfortunately, as I said, this relates to the delay in the rollout of the new system. The new system was delayed because of unforeseen complexity. I should state for the record that statistics around the police national computer are mind-boggling in their complexity: 30 million people’s information; 68 million vehicle records; 61 million driving licence holder records; 1.34 million daily transactions; 114 million checks per annum. It has to work; therefore, there was no viable alternative.

Metropolitan Police: Misconduct

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord asks a number of questions and invites a number of responses. I shall confine myself to the data that he asked for at the end—and I am grateful to him for giving me advance notice of the data so that I could get the right answers for him.

The Home Office collects and publishes data annually on police officers on long-term absence, classed as those lasting at least 28 calendar days, by type of absence, including suspension and sick leave. This data shows that, as of 31 March 2022, the Metropolitan Police Service had 449 officers full-time equivalent on long-term sick leave and seven officers were suspended. The Home Office does not collect data on the number of officers who resign while under investigation, but I remind the noble Lord that, since December 2017, resignation does not preclude the force from pursuing misconduct proceedings against an officer. In 2021-22, the College of Policing’s barred list statistics show that 14 officers who had resigned and four who had retired would have been dismissed from the Metropolitan Police had they still been serving. These individuals are still placed on the barred list and still prevented from rejoining front-line policing.

I apologise for the long answer, but I felt that it was appropriate.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his fearless efforts on this front over many years. Surely, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, for an interim report that appears to contradict the former Met Commissioner’s “few rotten apples” theory about the Metropolitan Police. Might the Minister reflect that, in the light of this interim report, now is not the time to hand even more draconian powers to an unreformed police service. The Government might be wise to swap legislation for the reform of police discipline for the Public Order Bill currently heading our way.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the noble Baroness and not agree with her, but I am going to say that I think that the Metropolitan Police Service’s response to the interim report is most welcome. The new commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, has the full support of the Home Secretary in delivering his plan for transforming the Met, focusing on the key areas of more trust, higher standards and less crime. I hope that all noble Lords will welcome his initial responses, which have been broadly welcomed across the spectrum.

Banks: Forgery

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 30th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has raised the subject of resources, because we are giving them: the spending review last year allocated a further £400 million to tackle economic crime over the next three years. This includes £100 million earmarked specifically to target fraud, including by establishing a national fraud policing network, including greater fraud investigative capacity in the NCA, meeting a manifesto commitment to create a new national cybercrime force focused on fraud. In addition, new fraud investigation teams have been piloted in four regional organised crime units, which will be expanded and rolled out across all ROCUs. These new capabilities are driven by a new tasking and co-ordination process run by the NECC. Finally, as part of the police uplift, we are prioritising more investigators for the City of London Police, which leads on this.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister was quite rightly concerned about operational independence in an earlier answer. In that light, is it really appropriate that Lloyds Bank, one of the suspect banks, has directly funded the City of London Police to the tune of £1.5 million since 2019?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is referring to Action Fraud, which is receiving some funding—but the money is ring-fenced from another source. I cannot find the precise reference to it now, but I will write to her with the details. However, it is not from Lloyds Bank directly.

Ukraine: Visa Restrictions for Refugees

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 28th February 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. I have to go back to what I said earlier, I am afraid. We believe that visas are an important security tool. However, there are safe and legal routes for people to apply for visas.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister remember that the reason we have a refugee convention in the first place is because we have been here before, with ships of Jewish refugees not being allowed to stop at any safe port? The Minister has said now at least twice that people should go west and claim in the first safe country. The Government repeatedly tell us that that is where they should claim asylum and that is where they should stay. How does that involve us doing our part?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I understand the point about ships, but there are no direct travel routes from Ukraine to this country at the moment. The safest route for people to leave Ukraine is via neighbouring countries to the west.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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May I just suggest to the Committee that we proceed with the Committee? I occasionally have nightmares about these issues and I am probably too sensitive to engage in human rights debates, but the die is cast—what can I say? I can think of nightmares I might have about who would be at the Dispatch Box to answer to my questions. At the moment, the little “question time” I have just heard is exceeding the worst nightmare. Can we perhaps hear from the Minister we have, rather than the potential Minister of my nightmares?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I will take that as an invitation. Thank you very much indeed. I will try not to be a nightmare.