5 Lord Davies of Brixton debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Parents: Separation

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Monday 22nd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap having heard what has been a powerful and interesting debate—short on numbers but strong on substance. I have a very narrow point to make. On the general debate, the connection between cause and effect is very difficult to establish in this sort of environment. You cannot undertake research with controlled trials; you do not know what the counterfactual is. So one should not leap to conclusions about cause and effect.

As I said, my point is very narrow. It is on pensions. Part of the process is a straightforward and pain-free process of reaching a financial settlement that does not lead to more pain than is required. The law is clear on pension-sharing on divorce but, in practice, it is not implemented to the extent required, because of lack of knowledge and the complications involved.

More work is required to simplify the process. I know that the Institute of Actuaries, of which I am a member, is undertaking work in this area. While we have this opportunity, I stress to the Minister that this is one of the issues that need to be clarified as part of the process of making the resolution of family difficulties as straightforward and pain-free as possible.

Prison Officer Pension Age

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Monday 18th March 2024

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government will certainly continue to look at this policy. As the noble Lord says, the job of a prison officer is absolutely not like our job. On retention and short-sightedness, the Government currently have no evidence that the pension arrangements as such are affecting initial recruitment or are a factor in retention. There are many factors that affect retention, but pensions do not seem to be very significant in that package. The fact that lower contributions are paid is very attractive to a young man, who does not necessarily worry about what will happen when he is 68.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, this situation goes back to the report of my noble friend Lord Hutton back in the early years of the last decade, in which he specifically mentioned that police officers should have a lower retirement age. The issue the noble and learned Lord needs to address is that, surely, the comparable profession for prison officers is police officers. The differential in respect of police officers, who fully merit their early retirement, applies equally to prison officers. Mentioning pension arrangements for the Armed Forces in the same breath illustrates the hole that the Minister is digging for himself.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, my understanding is that the 2011 Hutton report to which the noble Lord refers made a distinction between certain uniformed services—the Armed Forces themselves, the fire service and the police—and everybody else. Part of the problem we are discussing has occurred because the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, put prison officers in the latter category, so they were brought into the general Civil Service pension scheme that came in in 2015, which, in fact, is quite a good scheme. For the reasons I have already given, the Government do not accept that prison officers are as badly off as is sometimes claimed. On the other hand, the Government are perfectly prepared to continue to consider and reflect on the points that have been made.

We have here a selection of cases to which we do not know the answers. It is not clear from the legislation before us what the answers are but, clearly, there are people who will need assistance and advice, whether regarding the language used or the quality of the notices provided to them. How that advice is to be provided and who is to provide it are important pieces of information, but the clear message I am asking the Minister to give us today is this: when will those people have access to the sort of assistance we need to provide to comply with the legislation? Also, will the eight-day rule be shortened if notice is given too late, the date of inadmissibility being some days after they arrive?
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, the following group, which I will lead on, deals specifically with the impact of this legislation on workers in the transport industry. I have one question on Clause 7(8) which places responsibilities on

“owners or agents of a ship, aircraft, train or vehicle”.

These responsibilities are onerous. Have the Government consulted the people involved and made an assessment of the impact? Will those issues be dealt with in a weighted impact assessment?

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, this Bill is about removing rights and making life as miserable as possible for some of the most vulnerable and desperate people in the world. I find it impossible to understand how we have ever come to this point. Part of this process is removing human rights with regard to access to the courts—removing the courts’ ability to intervene when the Government act unlawfully. How can that happen? How can this come to us in any sort of legislation? Detaining and deporting people without providing them with any legal advice, or even any information about how to obtain legal advice, all contribute to this denial of human rights.

I was in Belgium for a few days last week. I speak decent French and some German and there were times when I could not understand a word anyone was saying. The idea that we might not help people in a language they can understand and communicate in astonishes me.

We are in an absurd situation where murderers and paedophiles could be more kindly treated by the law than, for example, a desperate family who arrive in a small boat from across the channel.

Then there is the outrageous Clause 7. This is bonkers. When I first read it, I had to laugh—it sounds like something a two year-old might come up with. It says that the Secretary of State can commandeer

“any ship, aircraft, train or vehicle”.

So the border patrol—or whoever it is—can stuff people into somebody’s car and say, “Right, you are responsible for them. You get them out of the country”. It is astonishing. Who wrote this? How does this come from a Government whom we sort of hope might be able to tough it out for the next few months—actually I do not want them to tough it out; I want them to go. Presumably, this Government do want to tough it out, so why bring this sort of rubbish to this House? It is actually quite offensive.

In Clause 7, they are asking ordinary citizens—the British public—to act as border enforcement agents. I do not think any of us would want to do this, even the most rabid ERG member you could possibly think of. This is part of the problem with the Bill. It is not going to help the situation in any way at all. Is it designed to pander to the extreme right wing of the Government, so that they can say they are doing something and perhaps retain those votes? I have no idea. The thought processes are beyond understanding. Clause 7 is unbelievably bonkers.

It shows how this Government are trying to exploit Just Stop Oil, asylum seekers or people such as that to make the public think they are actually doing something about the problems these people are facing. I really hope that we defeat quite a lot of this Bill before it gets much further.

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Moved by
57B: Clause 7, page 10, line 36, leave out subsections (12) and (13)
Member's explanatory statement
This probing amendment, along with that to Clause 9 at page 12 in the name of Lord Davies of Brixton, removes subsections that place responsibilities on a captain of a ship or aircraft, the train manager of a train or a driver of a vehicle that are in addition to those under the existing law.
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, those who have been present for the last group will inevitably experience déjà vu, for which I make no apology. The implications of this legislation for the people upon whom obligations are being placed is clearly an important aspect of the Bill. It is not about the principle, where our position has been made clear; it is about the inadequate thought and consideration that has gone into preparing this legislation.

These clauses are a form of conscription—compulsory enlistment for state service, typically but not necessarily into the Armed Forces. Requiring transport workers, going about their normal work, to undertake state service—additional responsibilities mandated by the Government—constitutes a form of conscription. I will not take this too far but, for seafarers, it is effectively a return of the press-gang.

As the Minister alluded to in his remarks on the previous group, for transport workers there are already provisions for this sort of activity in the immigration Acts. People get deported in accordance with the law when they have no right to remain in the country. That raises the question: if it is already happening, why are these additional powers required?

I would argue that there is a highly significant difference between the existing practice and that proposed in the Bill. There is no dispute about that difference. The front of the Bill states that the Minister is

“unable to make a statement that … the provisions of the … Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”.

That is the human rights convention. This makes an enormous difference when we come to the imposition of additional responsibilities on employees. It is clearly a matter of concern to transport workers that they will be required to undertake actions when the Government cannot provide an assurance that, in doing so, they are not impinging on an individual’s human rights.

It therefore behoves the Government to take extra care when preparing such legislation. It is perfectly clear that this care has not been taken. There is a total lack of any assessment of the consequences and a failure to undertake any meaningful consultation with those who will be directly affected by the legislation or even their employers. With these amendments, I am asking the Minister to take the opportunity to review the provisions in this part of the Bill that impact on individual workers before it returns on Report.

I turn to the amendments specifically. They would simply delete those provisions that are of serious concern to rail staff and seafarers—as expressed by their trade union, the RMT—and to employers across the transport industry, where I understand there has been little or no consultation about their practicalities.

Amendment 57B would amend Clause 7 by deleting subsections (12) and (13). Here we have the powers for the Home Secretary to require train “owners”, as the Bill puts it, to “make arrangements” to deport individuals who fall foul of the legislation. It gives immigration officers the power to instruct people employed as train guards, for example, to detain and even restrain someone the Home Secretary is seeking to remove from the UK on passenger rail services. In effect, guards on passenger rail services will be turned into prison guards, acting under the direction of the Home Secretary and not that of their employer.

It is worth reminding the Committee that transport workers are routinely advised not to put themselves in situations of conflict when performing their contractual duties. They signed up to provide a transport service, not to act as untrained and inexperienced prison guards. This approach of lack of confrontation was uppermost in people’s minds around the enforcement of face mask wearing and other aspects of the Government’s Covid-19 response. Why is this situation, which is more extreme, any different? I understand that the RMT has tried to contact, and spoken to, transport Ministers and employers in the industry to seek their support in opposing these provisions.

I turn to seafarers. The captain of a ship will also be subject to these provisions. In practice, that would mean immigration officers directing the ship’s captain, who would then be obliged to instruct the ship’s crew to detain and even restrain people, subject to the Bill’s provision.

When the Immigration Act 1971 and other legislation to which the Minister has referred already contain significant powers to control migration, why are these additional powers required?

Amendment 58A would delete Clause 9(1) and (2). These provisions add rail employees to the list of transport workers subject to fines—criminal penalties—of up to £5,000 under Section 27 of the Immigration Act 1971, in relation to the removal process. This rush to legislate has been undertaken with scant regard to, and certainly no consultation with, workers on their responsibilities, even when they could be prosecuted if someone being transported in accordance with the instructions of the Secretary of State were to “disembark”, as the legislation puts it, or were not removed from the UK. In effect the Government are threatening transport workers, particularly rail and shipping staff and their employers, with criminal sanctions if they fail to impose custodial conditions on people submitting a claim for asylum in the UK. Once again, the Government do not appear to have undertaken any impact assessment of these proposals, particularly what they mean for individuals.

Amendment 71B would delete part of Clause 11(1). There are already significant powers in the Immigration Acts for an immigration officer to instruct the captain of a ship or aircraft to detain a person being removed from the UK if they have not been granted leave to remain or have attempted to enter the UK illegally on a ship or aircraft. But Clause 11(1) significantly amends paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971.

The effect of this provision is that the Secretary of State, rather than the courts, will determine what is a reasonable period to detain an individual for, for the specific statutory purpose. If the Secretary of State does not consider that the examination, decision, removal or directions will be carried out, made or given within a reasonable period, the person may be detained for a further period that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, reasonably necessary to enable arrangements to be made for release.

The concern is that the Bill appears to give the Home Secretary much broader powers to require the detention of people on ships and aircraft for long periods of time. This is likely to mainly affect services chartered by the Home Office or the Home Secretary, but clarification is needed on the impact on the ships’ crews, who will potentially be stuck in port for an indeterminate period of time under the instruction of the Home Secretary.

As with the concerns I have raised over the contents of Clauses 7 and 9, the provisions in Clause 11(1) put seafarers and other transport workers in positions of conflict and potential harm at the instruction of the Secretary of State.

Given these concerns, I press the Minister to answer the following questions. First, will transport workers be prosecuted if they do not detain asylum seekers in line with the provisions of the Bill—actions clearly outside their contract of employment?

Secondly, what impact assessment have the Government conducted of these amendments, which bring transport workers and their employers into the scope of the legislation with the threat of criminal sanctions? If they have made an assessment, will they reveal it?

Thirdly, what consultation have the Government conducted with employers across the transport industry regarding these powers? I asked a question in relation to the previous group. I would have pressed the Minister at the time but, since I have this second bite at the cherry, I raise it now: what consultation has taken place? If there has been none, will they swiftly organise some? Will they include the results of such discussion in the fondly awaited impact assessment?

Fourthly, what discussions have the Government had with the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland over the effect of these requirements on Transport for Wales, ScotRail and cross-border rail operations?

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, as we can see, there has been an inevitable crossover between this group of amendments and the previous ones, as the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Balfe, mentioned. I rise in support of this last group of amendments put forward by my noble friend Lord Davies.

For workers, there can be no doubt: it is somewhat disgraceful that Ministers are seeking to make transport workers responsible for detaining and even restraining asylum seekers. The TUC says that this idea shows “total disregard” for these workers’ ethical views and legal obligations. As has been mentioned, the RMT has put this in even starker terms, as did my noble friend Lord Davies a few seconds ago: these proposals will turn train guards into prison guards. Think about those words for a moment; it cannot possibly be right.

Clause 7 risks putting transport workers in situations of conflict, while Clause 9 increases their exposure to criminal sanctions and drags train managers and others into the removal process. This is surely completely unacceptable and unnecessary. The legislation is vindictive and inhumane. It seeks to exploit boat crossings in the channel to stoke resentment against refugees and migrants seeking asylum in this country.

These amendments are probing in nature and designed to draw out the Government’s reasoning behind these appalling proposals. They would protect transport workers from the terrible burden that Ministers seek to place upon them.

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. I acknowledged that there were existing provisions but that the situation in which we now find ourselves is qualitatively different. It was a grave disappointment that there had not been sufficient consultation with those directly affected. There is no doubt that transport workers and transport providers have significant concerns. Even if the Minister is right in what he says, it would clearly have been appropriate to have some discussions, if only to allay those concerns. I am disappointed that he has not given a commitment to give further thought on this area.

I do not know whether it is by chance, but we happen to have the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, who is the Transport Minister, with us now. Perhaps some discussions could be facilitated, because I know that she has had representations on this issue. I will look carefully at what the noble Lord, Lord Murray, has said and consider whether this is an issue to which we will need to return. I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 57B withdrawn.

Judicial Pensions Regulations 2022

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Monday 4th April 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the regulations: I am in favour of good pension schemes for our public servants, and this certainly counts as a good scheme. I thank the Minister for his clear and detailed explanation of the regulations and the reasons for the specific characteristics of the proposals compared with other public sector pension schemes.

As has been explained, the fact that the scheme is good is because of the particular characteristics of the workforce, as it were, and a strong case has been made. I would just express a word of caution here. It is difficult to constrain unique circumstances. There are always other circumstances that might be argued to be similar. There will obviously be room for debate about how similar the circumstances need to be to trigger the special circumstances. A strong case has been made for this being a good scheme, but similar problems of recruitment and retention, at least potentially, might arise—for example, with persuading senior medical surgeons to remain in the workforce. There is a clear suggestion that surgeons are leaving because of the impact of the normal rules on pensions. I have heard the same problem raised in relation to senior figures in the military. In some way I welcome the fact that it is possible to argue that other people are entitled to similar advantages.

The beneficial deal that the judges are receiving here does not consist just of the scale of the benefits, although they are undoubtedly good. There is also this special issue of the tax treatment; it is a slightly separate issue. The Minister needs to bear in mind that his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer has frozen the limits on the lifetime allowance and the annual allowance for prolonged periods, and this is having an increasing impact on people’s pensions. It is now reaching well beyond those who might be characterised as high earners. It is reaching down and becoming a problem, not for people with average earnings but certainly for those well below the rate at which the upper-tier tax rate comes into effect.

There is an issue here that the Government will need to confront. I understand that this is not in the Minister’s remit, but I am just flagging it up. It cannot be said that this problem applies only to the judiciary. It is a general issue and will become increasingly difficult for the workforce, given that the limits are currently being frozen for prolonged periods. One suspects that what the Chancellor has in mind here is increasing public revenues, but there is inevitably a cost to be paid in its impact on people’s pay.

We touched on these issues when the Bill—now Act—was going through, but I think our focus was on other issues; I mentioned these points in passing. Given the regulations, I emphasise that I do not think these issues are quite as self-contained as the Government suggest.

The temporary reduction is an interesting development. It is very scheme specific, but it is an issue raised by a number of the public sector schemes. Given that we have now passed the deadline, do we have any idea at this stage how many members have opted for the lower-rate contributions? The difference in what they are being asked to pay is not all that substantial, but one understands the sensitivity of take-home pay, even for judges. It would be interesting to know whether any figures are available. We are now into the new scheme, so presumably people must by now have opted for the lower or the higher rate, and it would be interesting to know what impact that option has had.

As a final point, I just wish that the terminology was slightly different. This has been referred to—I raised this point when we were discussing what is now the Act—but I struggle with the concept of tax being unregistered. To me, a “tax unregistered” scheme is a scheme where people and their employers are not entitled to any tax relief at all. However, in this case, they clearly are entitled to tax relief so the term “tax unregistered” does not make a lot of sense in practice. Given more time, a more judicious term—I am not making a pun—could have been used for these circumstances.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has come to the end of his remarks; it appears that he has. There is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee will adjourn for as long as it takes for noble Lords to vote—perhaps not less than five minutes and not more than 10—but we will go with the flow.

Judicial Pensions (Fee-Paid Judges) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I must first declare an interest. As shown in the register of interests, I am the actuarial adviser to several trade unions with members in other public service pension schemes.

First, we must thank the Minister for his comprehensive explanation. I admire his ability to get the initials of the various schemes right, although I am a bit disappointed that he did not tell us why this happened. Let us spare the blushes of whoever was at fault, though.

These regulations are narrowly focused. However, they provide an opportunity to make a more general point: essentially, the value to all of us of having worth- while pension arrangements for workers in our public services. There is a strong case, as the lawyers here are likely to agree, for having good pensions for judges. Obviously, this needs to include all eligible postholders, so I welcome the regulations.

Perhaps we take the high standards of our judiciary too much for granted. Of course, these standards are due to many reasons, such as culture, training and so on, but in that mix should be the assurance that its members will have a comfortable retirement. I am not for one moment suggesting that our judges are in it only for the money, but we must be clear that we need to get judicial pensions right.

It is worth noting, therefore, that we are of course in the middle of a review of judicial pensions. The immediate cause was to address the situation produced by the McCloud judgment, but it is also clear that there was a particular difficulty caused by the tax treatment of judicial pensions. So, I hope that I am not pushing my luck too far but I wonder whether the Minister can give any indication of when an announcement about the outcome of the review will be made. Supposedly, the new arrangements are meant to come into force for benefits accruing from April next year, which suggests a tight timetable. Can he give us any information?