Debates between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 5th Dec 2023
Tue 20th Jun 2023
Wed 14th Jun 2023
Illegal Migration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 17th May 2023
Wed 15th Mar 2023
Tue 14th Mar 2023
Public Order Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

Inadmissible Asylum Seekers

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 9th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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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 thank the noble Lord, Lord German, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As noble Lords are aware, the UK has a long and proud tradition of providing safe haven to those who genuinely need our protection, and we remain committed to providing such protection, in accordance with our international obligations.

The matter of the Government’s proposed approach to addressing the cohort of individuals who have entered the United Kingdom since 7 March 2023 is therefore an important one. It may be helpful if I set out, in general terms, the Government’s approach and recent successes in clearing the asylum legacy backlog, give a brief update on the Government’s aims for deciding the asylum claims which have been made since 7 March and clarify how inadmissibility provisions will be applied. Before I do that, again none of the speakers addressed the simple question of why people have to claim asylum in the first safe country. It seems to be forgotten repeatedly and often that these arrivals in this country have all left a safe third country. It is a long-standing principle that those in need of genuine protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity, in the first safe country they reach, and this is the fastest route to safety.

I remind the House of the progress the Home Office made in 2023 in clearing asylum legacy backlog. As noble Lords will recall, the legacy backlog comprised 92,601 asylum claims lodged before 28 June 2022, when provisions within the Nationality and Borders Act came into force. The Prime Minister committed on 13 December 2022 to clear this backlog by the end of 2023. The Prime Minister’s commitment to clear the backlog was delivered at the end of the year and, in total, 112,000 asylum cases were processed in 2023. Increased efficiency and capacity saw the Home Office not just clear the backlog but exceed it by also processing over 25,000 asylum claims lodged on or after 28 June 2022. To achieve the success of 2023, the Government enhanced processing and deployed an additional 1,200 caseworkers, thus meeting the target to double the number of asylum caseworkers and increasing productivity.

As of 14 April 2024, there were 2,545 full-time equivalent decision-makers in post, answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord German. That is nearly double the number of asylum caseworkers in April 2023. In addition, the streamlined asylum process was developed as part of the legacy backlog clearance strategy for adults. It centred around accelerating the processing of manifestly well-founded asylum claims from legacy claimants of certain nationalities, such as those from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Yemen and, more recently, Sudan. This involved the use of an asylum questionnaire provided to claimants allowing them to explain why they required protection status in the UK. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed the introduction of the streamlined asylum process, publicly stating

“Removing the requirement for substantive interviews through the use of a questionnaire for asylum seekers from certain countries with very high grant rates should meaningfully reduce the current backlog of cases awaiting adjudication. Simultaneously, the procedure should uphold appropriate safeguards by maintaining individual interviews before any negative decisions are made”.


Since April 2023, children’s claims from high grant rate nationals of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam have also been considered through the streamlined asylum process. It remains a key priority to consider claims as efficiently as possible, to clear the asylum backlog and to reduce the number of people on asylum support, in turn reducing the burden on taxpayers. By our speeding up decision-making, asylum seekers are given the certainty they need to plan for their future. In 2024, flow claims—those lodged on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023, as well as asylum claims from those who arrived before 7 March 2023—are being prioritised now that the legacy claims have been cleared.

The Home Office has continued to build on existing processes and systems in its approach to tackling this latest cohort of claims. For example, the streamlined asylum process was extended to include eligible claimants from 28 June 2022 to 6 March 2023. During July 2023, the streamlined asylum process for children’s claims was also rolled out to claims from the same nationalities lodged from 28 June 2022 until 6 March 2023. We have recently redesigned the statement of evidence form for children, making the process quicker and more streamlined. The process for accompanied and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children enables cases to be progressed more quickly.  The latest provisional data shows that, as of 14 April 2024, there were 7,358 outstanding claims made on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023. This demonstrates that we are making good progress on clearing the remaining claims. That means that the Government have made excellent recent progress in clearing both the legacy and, shortly, the flow backlog of asylum claims. The Government remain committed to their objective of deterring illegal migration to the UK and stopping the boats.

The Government are clear that those who fear persecution should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and not put their lives at risk by making unnecessary and dangerous journeys to the UK. Illegal migration from safe countries undermines our efforts to help those most in need. Controlled resettlement, via safe and legal routes, is the best way to protect such people and disrupt the organised crime groups that exploit migrants and refugees.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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I wonder if I could ask about those who come directly to this country and those who pass through other countries? Given that nearly two-thirds of all people who are here irregularly do not come in small boats, what percentage have come directly? For example, those who overstay visas have not come via a third country but have arrived directly. I understand that the Government do not know how to split up that two-thirds, but is there any data on the numbers arriving here directly in that 60-odd percent?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I can reassure the noble Lord that I am coming to a more detailed set of number shortly, if he will bear with me. The safe third country inadmissibility policy is a longstanding process, intended to encourage individuals to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is an established part of international asylum procedures, applied across the EU and explicitly provided for in UK law, including in the strengthened provisions introduced in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

 With the exception of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, those who choose to travel from a safe third country such as France, and then claim asylum in the UK may find their claim treated as inadmissible to the asylum process. That means that the UK will not consider the substance of the person’s claim and will seek their removal to a safe country.

In answer to the right reverend Prelate about facilities in France, anyone detained at the border is held for the shortest time possible. We prioritise processing children and vulnerable people as quickly as possible. Individuals in detention are held in safe and decent conditions. There are established procedures in place in every facility to monitor people’s welfare and safeguarding needs. These facilities are subject to inspection by HMG’s Inspector of Prisons, accompanied by their French counterpart, to ensure that they are of the highest standards.

 It is in this context that current removals to Rwanda may apply. Any individual who is otherwise suitable for an inadmissibility decision and who has arrived in the UK through dangerous, illegal and unnecessary methods since 1 January 2022 may be considered for relocation to Rwanda, under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership. Individuals will only ever be removed to a third country when that country is safe and removal is appropriate, according to the individual’s particular circumstances.

Once commenced, the provisions in the Illegal Migration Act will further strengthen our approach to inadmissibility.  When a person meets the four conditions under Section 2 of the Act, they will be subject to the duty to remove. Any asylum or human rights claims made against the person’s country of origin will be declared inadmissible. The UK will not consider the substance of the person’s claim and will seek their removal either to their home country—if it is safe to do so—or to a safe third country, such as Rwanda.

As of 14 April 2024, there were 21,313 outstanding claims made between 7 March and 19 July 2023. In addition, there were 51,925 outstanding claims made on or after 20 July 2023. I would caution that this data is provisional. It is taken from live operational databases and has not been cleansed to remove duplicates. The finalised figures as at the end of March 2024 will be published later this month.

 

The right reverend Prelate also asked me about the numbers of missing children. There are 111, they are all male and 98 have reached the age of 18. There are 13 left who are under the age of 18.

These provisions will apply to both adults and children. The duty to remove does not require the Secretary of State to make removal arrangements for unaccompanied children, but there is a power to remove unaccompanied children in limited circumstances, such as family reunion with a parent. However, any asylum or human rights claim made against the child’s country or origin will be declared inadmissible. Taking these measures will send a clear message that children cannot be exploited and cross the channel in small boats for the purpose of starting a new life in the UK.

Once commenced, these inadmissibility provisions will apply to those who are subject to the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act, and who entered or arrived illegally on or after 20 July 2023. As all asylum claims are generally worked in date order, the next cohort of asylum claims that are due to be progressed are those made by individuals who arrived in the UK after 7 March 2023. Further information will be published on our plans to decide these cases in the coming weeks. I am afraid there is no more I can say at this point.

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt again, but can the Minister answer the question? His officials told the committee in the other House that there is ongoing discussion about whether the continuous use of ODA is possible. Have those discussions with the Treasury reached a conclusion, and is the Minister able to say that it is certainly possible to spend this money now?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I do not have that information to hand. I will see whether I can find it, and I commit to write to the noble Lord if I can.

I turn to other aspects of the various questions I was asked. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, asked about individuals who were previously present in a safe third country and entered the UK by a dangerous and unnecessary method. I am afraid that they are liable to relocate to Rwanda. It is an ongoing operational matter, so I am unable to provide a running commentary on individual numbers or cases.

In answer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about colleagues, I note that he now has a colleague who says:

“Don’t trust Labour on immigration they really want open borders … The Government wants to close legal loopholes … Labour seems intent on creating them”,


and

“Labour … are not serious about stopping small boats, tackling criminality, protecting people from the smuggling gangs or saving lives in the Channel”.

What on earth did the colleague mean by all that? I think the noble Lord knows.

As I hope I have made clear, the Government recognise the crucial importance of having in place a robust operational plan to deal with individuals who have outstanding asylum claims in the UK. We are getting on with the job; we will have a lot more to say on this subject, and I expect to be questioned on numerous future occasions on this very subject. I have little else to add.

Asylum Seekers: Rwanda

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

(3 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As the scheme has only just begun, I do not know what the numbers are likely to look like in the end. However, as this is governed by a separate agreement, I imagine that the answer is no.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the size of the cohort that he described and to whom the offer will be made? What will the status be of those people when they arrive in Rwanda, given the present position of the Bill, the treaty and everything else? I draw attention to my interest in the register that I am supported by the RAMP.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, as I said, this will be offered to individuals with no right to remain. They are visa overstayers and failed asylum seekers, who are offered this option as part of our regular dialogue. It is very hard to say exactly how many people are likely to be offered this, so I cannot answer that question in its entirety. However, this builds on our already widely used voluntary returns scheme, which saw more than 19,000 people accept support to return to their country of origin last year. We have agreed with the Government of Rwanda that individuals who are relocated voluntarily will have the same package of support for up to five years as those who are being discussed under the Bill.

Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Amendment of List of Safe States) Regulations 2024

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I was just about to get to that.

These regulations seeks to add India and Georgia to the list of countries in Section 80AA(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, as I have already said. They are not about the inadmissibility provisions, which already rely on the exceptional circumstances safeguard.

Section 80A already applies to EU nationals. Only when Section 59 of the Illegal Migration Act is commenced will the safe country of origin list be actionable in terms of its application to the revised inadmissibility provisions at Section 80A of the 2002 Act and to the removal provisions at Sections 4 and 6 of the Illegal Migration Act.

Section 80A(4) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 sets out some examples of what may constitute exceptional circumstances in that context. Section 6(5) of the Illegal Migration Act sets out the same examples, but these are not exhaustive, nor do they purport to be. They will not be relevant in some cases. Exceptional circumstances are not defined nor limited in legislation, but will be considered and applied on a case by case basis where appropriate. When we commence and implement the wider Section 59 measures, we will provide updated guidance to assist caseworkers in their consideration of exceptional circumstances and the wider provisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me to go into a bit more detail on Georgian asylum applications and grant rates. I am happy to do so. In 2023, there were 1,071 applications—23% fewer than in the year before, but more than four times higher than in 2019. For cases where decisions were made, the grant rate at initial decision was 12%—based on 24 grant decisions out of a total of 205. That was lower than the grant rate of 23% the year before, but higher than the 8% in 2019. Where withdrawals, which numbered 621, were included as part of the decision total, the grant rate was only 3%, compared to 5% the year before and 2% in 2019. The grant rate for Georgians is far below the average grant rate across all asylum claims. We should note that the number of Georgian applications with an outcome in each year before 2023 was low—120 cases in 2022 and 88 in 2019. I apologise for that blizzard of statistics, but I hope it answers noble Lords’ questions.

I hope that I have satisfactorily explained the Government’s position on the inclusion of both Georgia and India in the Section 80AA(1) list of safe countries of origin. I beg to move.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, if I were to ask the House to consider whether the five questions I posed have been answered in sufficient detail, I would probably have a negative answer. It is my view that we have tried to find a rationale for a workable procedure. We do not have the sort of information we would need in order to make a proper judgment. That was what the Select Committee advising this House decided. We were asked to test this out because they did not have the information to do so. I do not think we are much wiser.

It was pretty fundamental for us to know the sources of information on which the Government made their decision. If I were asked what a reasonable, workable system might be, I would say that there are people who could be safely returned. I am in favour of returning those who have no right to be here. Equally, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, there are people who would definitely be in trouble if they were returned. These are not just individuals but groups of people. We would like to understand and know where people who, because of the group they are in, would be unsafe in going back to India and Georgia. This would aid the balance of decision-making. All the time we have talked about it being for the individual to make it clear that they believe they have exceptional circumstances, not for the Government to understand it. The danger is that people get used to what these circumstances are. If, for example, you are a Dalit and know that you are likely to be persecuted, or if you were politically active in Georgia and caused some uproar, you will soon be testing this out as an individual within a group of people. It strikes me as being unhelpful to put all those individuals who are in that circumstance through costly court and other procedures one at a time to make sure that it works.

Guidance was fundamental to the view of the Select Committee that advised us. All we know from this discussion so far is that the guidance is to be updated, but we do not know what it is. I and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about retrospection. Will this apply to people who have the right to have their case heard, or will it apply only to people who have come in subsequently? We did not get an answer to that question either. I would put it down as an all bar one answer to the queries that we have put so far. We are having this discussion in the Rwanda Bill and these discussions will be ongoing. If this House continues to be without the information upon which we can judge whether the procedure that the Government are adopting is correct, then the Government are in for a bumpy ride for the very few months they may have left to make these decisions.

This is a matter which we will return to and one with unanswered questions. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Immigration Detention: Brook House Inquiry

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

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I draw attention to my interests as laid out in the register.

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 Government are carefully considering the findings of the Brook House inquiry, set out in its detailed report, in relation to the management of the immigration detention estate and the welfare of detained individuals. There are no plans to introduce a time limit on immigration detention.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, the inquiry exposed the dehumanising abuse of vulnerable people held in immigration detention. Unfortunately, the report’s author states that these issues remain in place today. We understand that a senior civil servant has been tasked to prepare the Government’s response, to be published “in due course”. I wonder whether “in due course” will have ended nine months from now. Perhaps the Minister could tell us. Secondly, the report’s recommendation on a time limit was meant to be alongside the Home Office guidance on imminent times of removal. Will the Home Office seriously consider that recommendation, putting it alongside the current guidance, so that people are not detained for periods for which they are not intended?

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.

Refugees: Notice Period for Home Office Accommodation

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 18th December 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I will go through a little bit of what local authorities receive from the department. We work closely with DLUHC and regularly engage with the local authorities to ensure that they are supported. We of course recognise that the number of individuals in the system and the clearance of the asylum backlog is adding pressure to local authorities and their housing allocation capacity because of individuals presenting as homeless. I would also say to the noble Lord that all of the people being cleared in relation to the backlog have been in this country for a long time already.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, the problem that the Minister has just alluded to is that local authorities are under enormous pressure when people arrive on their doorstep with a short period of time in which to find themselves appropriate housing. Given that the number of people reporting after the decision-making is now larger than it was, what extra assistance are the Government giving to local authorities, and to the voluntary sector, which is doing so much to help where it can?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, there are a number of things that we are doing. We have local authority liaison officers who provide a specific point of contact for local authorities, particularly for urgent discontinuation-related inquiries. There are significant improvements in train to ensure that local authorities receive early notification of those who are being granted and leaving Home Office accommodation and supporting those customers through the move-on process following a positive decision. Following notification of a service decision, accommodation providers will notify local authorities within two days. We also share relevant data in the form of heat maps and various other macro data, if you will, to ensure effective planning.

Refugees: Homelessness

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

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I would take slight issue with the right reverend Prelate on whether the notice period is inadequate. I think that 28 days is more than enough, and there is huge pressure on our asylum system. As the House will be aware given that we talked about it the other day, the asylum and immigration system is costing this country £4 billion a year. However, ministerial agreement has been given to pause evictions for up to three days when a local authority has activated its severe weather emergency protocol due to poor weather conditions. This reduces the risks to life and enables the individual and/or local authority to find alternative accommodation arrangements.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, the biometric residence permit gives successful asylum claimants access to public services, including, crucially, access to cash and funding for housing. What progress has the department made in bringing the notice to vacate closer to the time when it provides the permit? Bringing those closer together would give people the full time available to them to find appropriate housing because they would have the cash available. Without it, they cannot find the cash. I know the Government intended to make progress on this; what progress has been made in bringing those two dates together?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The move-on period is linked to when a biometric residence permit is issued and received because, as he points out, individuals generally require that BRP to access mainstream support—benefits, local authority housing, right to rent, bank accounts and so on. They are linked.

UK-Rwanda Partnership

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 7th December 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, there is no doubt that this is a mess. It is a mess in which the Government have written themselves a project so bad that we are ending up with an ineffective, expensive and unworkable policy which lacks in human decency. What we should be receiving is a Government that give us a workable solution which is speedy, effective and humane. Adding to that, and worse, it is now pitting the Government against our courts. This is a dangerous path to follow. It risks our freedoms and liberties under the law against excessive overreach from Government.

Disapplying legal protections to a specific group is a threat to anyone who may need the protection of a judge in future. Human Rights are universal: either you have them or you do not. If you take them away from one group of people, they are no longer human rights; they are rights for some humans. It is a dangerous, slippery slope when the Government seek to disapply them to asylum seekers. Which group of people out of favour with the Government will be next?

In effect, we are being asked to believe that the facts established by the Supreme Court are now wrong—in essence, that black is white. When the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Rwanda was unsafe, based on a whole range of facts, but said that at some stage in future things might be different, there was no expectation that this could be achieved by last Monday. One simple line taken from the Government’s Statement proves just that:

“Rwanda will introduce a strengthened end-to-end asylum system”.


It does not say “has introduced” but “will introduce”. The fact will be demonstrated by seeing a new system in place, not simply by producing a statement of expectation. The Statement is simply incorrect in stating that these Supreme Court matters are “concerns”. They are not; they are facts. That is what our highest court ruled on: the facts. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Supreme Court ruled on the basis of facts?

Let us have some facts. By when, exactly, will Rwanda have introduced a strengthened end-to-end asylum system that meets all the international treaties, laws and rules to which the United Kingdom has signed up? What will be the cost of the creation of a new, specialist asylum appeals tribunal in Rwanda and who will meet it? What will be the ongoing annual costs of the running of the tribunal, including the salaries of judges from across the Commonwealth?

How much are the UK Government setting aside for paying for the provision of legal services to asylum seekers in Rwanda? How will the judges be selected? How can we be assured that the judges will be mindful and live to the protection rights of people with protected characteristics—for example, sexual orientation, women who have experienced gender-based violence, religion or race?

There is an alternative to this unworkable, expensive and inhumane policy. We need an effective asylum system where decisions are made swiftly and accurately. We need effective, humane removals of those whose asylum claim is refused. We need a range of workable safe routes so that people who need protection can get to the United Kingdom safely, including an enhanced resettlement scheme, a humanitarian visa and a more effective family reunion route. There is an alternative.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, if there is an alternative, I did not hear one.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked whether I was invited on to the “Today” programme. I am sorry to disappoint him, but I was not. And I was not necessarily as disappointed as the noble Lord was.

The partnership with Rwanda is now set out in a new treaty, which is binding in international law. It has been agreed by the UK and the Government of Rwanda and was worked on by both parties with close care and attention. It was laid in Parliament yesterday. The treaty, crucially, addresses the conclusion from the Supreme Court on the risk of refoulement to those relocated to Rwanda. I will come back to the Supreme Court decision soon.

The treaty is binding in international law, and it makes it clear that Rwanda will not remove any individuals relocated there to a third country, ensuring that there is no risk of onward refoulement. Relocated individuals will be given safety and support in Rwanda. Those not granted refugee status or humanitarian protection will instead be granted permanent residence so that they are able to stay and integrate into Rwandan society. Once individuals are relocated to Rwanda, they will have their needs looked after while their claims are being considered, including having safe and clean accommodation, food, healthcare and amenities. People are free to leave if they wish and will not be detained.

Far from pitting us against the courts—as the noble Lord, Lord German, alleged—we are responding to them. The treaty does not override the Supreme Court’s judgment; rather, it responds and adapts its key findings to ensure that the policy can go ahead.

The court recognised that changes might be delivered in future which would address the issues that it raised. These are those changes. We believe they address the Supreme Court’s concerns and now aim to move forward with the policy and help put an end to illegal migration. I remind noble Lords that the Supreme Court’s judgment was based on a very specific time in the past; a lot has been done since.

The new treaty—again, this goes to some of the facts that the noble Lord, Lord German, was asking for—also sets out how the independent monitoring committee has been enhanced and will play an important role. It will ensure that obligations under the treaty are adhered to. It will also, in practice, prove that the monitoring committee has the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring and will have unfettered access for the purposes of completing assessments and reports. It will monitor the entire relocation process from the beginning, including initial screening, to relocation and settlement in Rwanda.

The monitoring committee will be responsible for developing a system to enable relocated individuals and legal representatives to lodge confidential complaints directly to the committee. These can be regarding any concerns about the treatment of individuals or alleged failure to comply with the obligations in the treaty. This will provide an additional layer of assurance and ensure that the asylum decision-making process is robust and identifies any issues at an early stage. The monitoring committee will undertake real-time monitoring of the partnership for at least the first three months.

The treaty will also strengthen Rwanda’s asylum system through a new appeal body under its courts system—the noble Lord, Lord German, asked me about that. That will have Rwandan and UK Commonwealth co-presidents, all decisions will be reviewed by the co-presidents and they will be responsible for selecting and appointing the ordinary judges, who can be a mix of nationalities. There will be an independent expert on asylum and humanitarian protection law, providing advice to the panel before any appeal is determined for the first 12 months.

Our aim must be to deter the dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK and disrupt the business models of the criminal gangs. I think we can all agree on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about costs. I remind the House that the costs here are massive—and they are not just in money but also in lives. We saw an example of that in French waters only a couple of weeks ago. So far, however, the UK has provided Rwanda with an initial £140 million to assist in the economic development of Rwanda and with upfront operational costs. We will not be providing a running commentary on other costs. Those focusing solely on the costs of this partnership are missing the point. It is incredibly frustrating for British people and the taxpayer to spend billions of pounds to house illegal migrants in hotels. Criminal smuggling gangs are continuing to turn a profit using small boats, and we must bring an end to that.

The Prime Minister, far from pleading, was explaining this morning, and he explained that there is a narrow exception

“if you can prove with credible and compelling evidence that you specifically have a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm”.

We have to recognise that as a matter of law, and if we did not we would undermine the treaty we have just signed with Rwanda—as the Rwandans themselves made clear.

To conclude, the numbers to this scheme are uncapped, so I cannot give any estimation of how many may end up in Rwanda. To reassure the noble Lord, Coaker, I am on the side of the Government. I drink my coffee black and do not like milk very much. He will also be very reassured to hear that my happiness is abundant.

Legal Migration

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, yesterday’s Statement to the other House was one where figures were plucked from the air; one must draw the conclusion that they are arbitrary, in the sense that they do not have any background in what one might call a forward workforce planning regime for the country as a whole. One would have expected that, if you were to do a workforce planning regime for the future, it would be timed, looking forward as to the requirements on our workforce in this country.

It is certainly the case that the Government are well aware of the length of time that it takes to train individuals and get people moving along that pipeline. It is also certainly the case that the issue of medium-salaried people has come out as one of the major concerns of the document put before us yesterday.

The Statement, when examined for the sorts of people that the country needs who are going to be excluded by the regime, includes such people as butchers, chefs, welders and joiners. It is quite clear to anyone who has been around this country looking at the hospitality and tourism sectors that there are significant shortages of people to fill those places. It is not infrequent that you see a sign for a chef outside a restaurant where they are short of staff. The question to which we need to address ourselves is: where is the forward planning behind the figures that have been put before us?

Equally, the regional pay disparities around the United Kingdom mean that the wage levels in London and the south-east of England are very different from those that you find in other parts of the country. The wage levels that we are being told about have a bit of a sniff for the London and the south-east but are damaging to other parts of the economy where wage levels are different. The correct form of workforce planning would have had all these issues under review.

The issue of social care visas is obviously one of a lack of investment in the past. The Migration Advisory Committee has previously said that the Government’s persistent underfunding of local authorities, which of course fund adult social care, is the most important factor in the staffing crisis. The Government now say in the Statement that care workers without families will ensure that we have enough people to meet the demands of our caring services.

Equally, we are assured that the CQC will now oversee all this information, but there are problems for the CQC because its inspections do not actively address the working conditions and well-being of care workers. In that sense, the independent regulation of health and adult social care contains significant oversight gaps. How is the CQC going to ensure that those are fulfilled for those filling these vital posts from our immigration system?

I have questions about the impact upon companies in the sectors that are most impacted by the Statement. This comes on the back of last night’s discussion in this House. The Minister at that time did not recognise where I got my figures from: it was paragraph 12.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the regulations on fees that we were talking about last night. It says, and the words are quite clear, that there will be a significant impact on companies—these are the Government’s words—of

“tens of millions of pounds”.

On top of that, companies are now having to think whether they can afford to pay these amounts of money in order to recruit. A failure to recruit sufficiently for a company to operate means that the UK company itself might be in danger of not being able to continue to operate, and so UK workers might be affected by that decision. It is worth understanding what training and workforce plan is behind the migration strategy.

I have what might be thought of as a cheeky question, but it is one that worries me considerably, regarding the ability of British citizens to bring their partner to the United Kingdom to live with them, and with their children if they have any. I had a think about this and it was clear to me that a significant number of current government Ministers have partners from another country —we can all think of examples of that. My question is: what number of our population have partners from another country, given that £38,700 is a large figure for someone to be able to bring their partner to this country to live with them?

The danger here is that, in that development of a partnership between two people, the British citizen could think, “I can’t bring my partner to this country, so I will go to their country instead”. If they decide that, we might lose some of the vital people whom we need for our country, especially remembering that we are heading towards a time in our society where, for every elderly person, we will have only two people of working age. There is a big change coming, and we need to be prepared for it.

Have the Government assessed how these restrictions to legal migration will impact the numbers on overstaying visit visas? How many British citizens will be driven out of the country to live with their partners and children elsewhere in the world, as in the question I just addressed? Will the restrictions apply to workers who are already sponsored? Sometimes people have to renew and, when they do, will the restrictions that apply in this new Statement apply to them when they renew their work permissions in this country? Will an existing migrant worker’s salary have to rise in order to extend their visa? Finally, have the Government considered the disproportionate impact that the increase in family visa requirements will have on British citizens who live outside the south of England and London, because of the wage disparities around the rest of the United Kingdom?

That is a range of questions which we need to have answered, but the context of it all is: what is the plan? Is it merely a decision to have an arbitrary number which looks good to the public—or looks good in an election manifesto—rather than one which faces the problems which our economy, and our future as a country, will be needing?

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 thank both noble Lords for their comments and say to them that the level of legal migration remains too high. As a result, we have announced the five-point plan—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Office announced it yesterday, as the House knows—and this package of measures, taken in addition to the measures on student dependants that we announced in May, means that around 300,00 people who were eligible to come to the UK last year would not be able to in future.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has noted, the UK has experienced unprecedented levels of immigration since the pandemic. The figures are widely understood, and this is partly because of our generosity towards people fleeing conflict and persecution in Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan. Over 80,000 people have immigrated to the UK on our Ukraine, BNO and resettlement schemes in the last year. However, it is also because of the rising numbers of overseas students and care workers that the Government have taken action to address the rise in legal migration.

The new package involves a number of measures—five, which have been noted. We will reduce the numbers on health and social care visas and end the abuse of that route by stopping overseas care workers from bringing in family dependants and requiring social care firms in England to be CQC registered before they can sponsor migrant visas—I will come back to the CQC in a moment. We will remove the right for care workers and senior care workers to bring dependants from spring 2024. Care workers and senior care workers arriving through the health and care visa also bring a large number of dependants per main applicant, with approximately 120,000 dependants accompanying 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023. As has been noted, we will increase the earnings thresholds for those arriving on the skilled worker route, with the minimum threshold rising by 48%, from £26,200 to £38,700 from spring of 2024. Those coming on the health and social care visa route will be exempted, so we can continue to bring the healthcare workers that our care sector and NHS need.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, specifically mentioned the shortage occupation list and scrapping the 20% going-rate salary discount for shortage occupations, as recommended by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which, I note, has not called for any more powers. We will establish a new immigration salary list, which will retain the 20% discount on the general salary threshold. This means that migrants working in lower-paid salary occupations on the immigration salary list will still benefit from the minimum salary floor of 80% of the new general salary threshold of £38,700, but migrants in occupations where going rates are higher than the general salary threshold would not be sub to further salary discounts.

We will ensure that people can bring only dependants whom they can support financially by raising the minimum income for family visas to the same threshold as the minimum salary threshold for a skilled worker. We have also asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the graduate route to ensure it is fit for purpose, to prevent abuse and to protect the integrity and quality of our UK higher education.

On graduate migrants, I am very happy to reaffirm our commitment to attracting the best and brightest global talent to support growth. We are committed to ensuring that happens and have taken a number of steps to do it, including by introducing an elite route to attract the best and brightest, maintaining the UK’s status as a leading international hub for emerging technologies. We have created a scale-up visa, allowing those with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa. We have reformed our global talent route by expanding the criteria so that global prize winners automatically qualify, launched a global business mobility visa, and established the high-potential individual visa route to allow graduates from the world’s best universities to come to the UK.

The changes we are introducing—in answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby—apply only to those who come here on new visas. That means that workers with dependants already in the UK will be able to stay.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the salary threshold affecting hospitality, accommodation and food services. Employers will still be able to recruit workers from overseas to those industries, but it is right that we increase the salary threshold to the level of median earnings to ensure that we do not undercut UK workers by using cheaper overseas labour, and to prevent downward pressure on wages.

As my right honourable friend said in answer to Yvette Cooper in the other place—there was no reference in either of the noble Lords’ comments to this—the £7 billion employment package announced in the Spring Budget will help 1.1 million get back to work and “stay in work”.

We do not believe that these measures will discourage carers who contribute to the UK economy. It is still an extremely competitive offer. We launched the health and care worker visa on 4 August 2020. This has delivered on the Government’s commitment to introduce a route which makes it quicker, easier and cheaper for eligible people working in health and social care to come to the UK. Those affected by this package are, as I said earlier, predominantly people with dependants who make a more limited contribution to the economy than those coming under other work routes, minimising the impact on UK growth. Care workers and senior care workers arriving through the health and care visa bring a large number of dependants per main applicant, with approximately 120,000 dependants accompanying 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023.

I said I would come back to the CQC. What we mean by regulated activity in the context of social care is that this relates to personal care. Personal care is defined as providing physical assistance to a person where they are unable to perform activities in connection with eating or drinking, toileting, washing or bathing, dressing, oral care or the care of skin, hair and nails. The regulated activities are further detailed in Schedule 1 to the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

There will be a regulatory impact assessment, which will be developed in due course, as well as an equalities impact assessment. I think that answers two of the questions from the noble Lord, Lord German.

I will answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about withdrawal from asylum processing. I do not know why we do not record that information. I will endeavour to find out and I will certainly come back to the noble Lord. I can confirm that in the year ending September, 41,858 initial decisions were made in terms of immigration processing. That is twice the number that were made in the previous year. I am reassured that the clearance of the backlog is on track.

These measures are very sensible. They are clearly carefully thought through, and I commend them to the House.

Asylum Seekers: Deportation from France

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

(6 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 cannot anticipate what may or may not be in the Bill. Obviously, the Bill will be presented to Parliament in the usual way.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, what consideration has the Minister given to the views of the same Interior Minister from France that consideration will be given to giving legal status to undocumented people working in sectors with labour shortages? If the Minister were to give consideration effectively to that matter, surely that would help our relationships with the French Government and everything in the immigration system beyond.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I refer the noble Lord to my earlier Answer. I am not going to speculate on or discuss what the French legal system and the French Interior Minister decide about their own domestic policy.

Rwanda: Asylum Arrangements Treaty

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 21st November 2023

(7 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Again, the noble Lord is asking me to speculate on something that has not yet happened, and I am afraid I do not see the point of that.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, are the Government intent on making any payment to the Government of Rwanda for converting their MoU into a treaty, and have the Government provided any support to the Rwandan Government in the last 12 months for the training of their officials in the immigration department?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Again, as I said yesterday, in answer to the second part of the noble Lord’s question, the answer is yes. As regards the costs, I have no knowledge of that.

Illegal Immigration

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

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, this Statement is welcome; of course, we could have had it last week, but that was not to be the case. However, that has allowed us the whole weekend to understand slightly more the Government’s intentions—at least some of the Government’s intentions, some of which are being challenged. It means that we have to examine this Statement very carefully. The Statement says that the Government of course “respect the Supreme Court”, but we are being asked to suspend belief—to convert black into white on the say-so of the Government.

Are the Government intending to implement legislation that simply allows them to make an opposing declaration to that of the Supreme Court on the safety of Rwanda for refugees? To what extent is that respecting the Supreme Court’s decision? Do the Government agree with the Supreme Court that, in order to see their Rwanda policy in operation, they would need to disregard the ECHR and the United Nations system of international treaties, including the refugee convention, the United Nations convention against torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and also change not just the Human Rights Act but also domestic asylum legislation from 1993 and 2002?

Further, the Supreme Court judgment states about the Rwanda system that

“necessary changes may not be straightforward, as they require an appreciation that the current approach is inadequate, a change of attitudes, and effective training and monitoring”.

Therefore, in the past 12 months, have the UK Government provided any effective training to Rwandan officials?

Thirdly, this Statement says that arrivals are down, decisions are up, returns are up—we are getting on with the job. Believe that if you wish. Small boat arrivals are down on last year, but if you remove Albanians—clearly, we must accept the policy that returns those who are not genuine asylum seekers to their safe home country—total numbers are up from 2022. Going by the recent annual grant rates, 75% of those who crossed this year would be granted asylum. Of course, because clauses of the Illegal Migration Act have not yet been brought into force, the Government will have to hear this backlog of cases. The current backlog of cases is 122,585, taking legacy and flow numbers together. In addition, government figures show that small boat arrivals represent only 37% of people claiming asylum, up to June 2023.

What actions are being taken to ensure that those from high grant rate countries have a safe way to travel to the United Kingdom to claim asylum: for example, an Iranian female political protester, a Russian anti-war activist, a young man at risk of forced conscription from Eritrea, and so on?

Finally, I note that the Statement says:

“we are not going to put forward proposals simply to manufacture an unnecessary row”

for short-term political gain. Good luck with getting people to agree to that.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, it goes without saying that Wednesday’s outcome was not what the Government wanted to see, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.

The core part of our policy—to relocate those who entered illegally and have no right to be here to another country—remains lawful. We have also made progress on other fronts of our plan to tackle the small boats—which I will come back to in a minute—but crossings are down, the backlog is being cut, and it is interesting to note that countries across Europe have seen what we are doing and are interested in following suit.

The Supreme Court recognised that changes may be delivered in future which would address the issues it raised. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Kagame of Rwanda and both countries reaffirmed their unwavering commitment to deliver on our landmark partnership. We will work with Rwanda to address the Supreme Court’s concerns by setting out strong assurances in a new treaty binding in international law. However, we are also going a step further. As has been noted, the Prime Minister has announced that we will take the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation to enable Parliament to confirm that, with our new treaty, Rwanda is safe.

As to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on the various newspaper-based speculation about what people, including the new Home Secretary, may have said, I will not speculate but I note that he did not recognise the phrase that I think the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, described as colourful, and therefore I wish to take him at his word. What the current Immigration Minister thinks on this, I do not know.

When people know that if they come here illegally, they will not get to stay, they will stop coming altogether and we will stop the boats. Illegal immigration destroys lives and costs British taxpayers billions of pounds a year. We need to end it, so we will do whatever it takes.

However, as the new Home Secretary has pointed out, the Rwanda plan has only ever been one tool in our toolbox, and we have other schemes to drive down these numbers. We are tackling illegal immigration at every stage of the journey of a would-be illegal migrant, and our plan is working. Last year, the Prime Minister signed the largest ever small boats deal with France—I believe that 22,000 crossing attempts have been prevented because of the close co-ordination between British and French officials, and that is in 2023 alone.

Cutting-edge surveillance technology is in play, and we have beefed up security infrastructure, such as more CCTV at key border crossing points along the channel. We have ensured that there are more French officials and officers patrolling French beaches, and, as I said, they are working closely with their UK counterparts. So that is less money that British taxpayers have to spend on hotels, less profit for the criminal gangs and fewer people to process—fewer people also, I should add, putting their lives at risk. That sends a clear message to those who want to cross that we will stop them.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that we now have a returns agreement with Albania, and seemed rather dismissive of it, but the fact is that so far during 2023 we have returned more than 4,600 people in just 10 months. He should be applauding that. We are targeting the movement of goods, such as dinghies and engines, that are used to facilitate the crossings in order to undermine a key component of the smugglers’ business model. Apart from Albania, we have expedited returns arrangements with countries including France, Turkey and Italy. We have increased the number of illegal-working raids by almost 70%. We have cut the asylum legacy backlog by more than 59,000 cases. We have freed up hundreds of hotel beds with the use of alternative sites. We have announced the closure of the first 50 asylum hotels and we have passed the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which is the most ambitious immigration legislation in decades. It makes it clear that the only route to asylum in the UK is via one of the safe and legal routes that are in place.

Noble Lords asked about treaties and why this was not considered at the start. The fact is that a memorandum of understanding is a common mechanism for establishing an arrangement or partnership between countries. The Supreme Court was clear that Rwanda entered into the partnership and signed the MoU in good faith, and both countries remain committed to the partnership. We always knew that the partnership would face challenges, but we have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to deliver it.

On the Supreme Court’s decision and conclusion, the Prime Minister has said that we respect the Supreme Court’s decision. The rule of law is fundamental to our democracy, but it is also of fundamental importance that we stop the boats. I have of course taken note of the comments of Lord Sumption, but at the moment the only fact that is changing is that that MoU is being, shall we say, converted into a treaty. I do not know the details of that piece of legislation, but I have little doubt that we will be discussing it all at considerable length.

Something else that the Supreme Court said which I think is worth pointing out is that

“changes and capacity-building needed to eliminate the risk”—

it was talking, of course, of refoulement—

“may be delivered in future, but they were not shown to be in place when the lawfulness of the policy had to be considered in these proceedings”.

I make the point that the lawfulness of the policy that needed to be tested dated back to June 2022, more than a year ago. So, in answer to the noble Lord, Coaker, about what we have done since, the answer is that we have taken considerable measures since the Court of Appeal’s judgment in terms of getting skills and people into Rwanda to help them with their processes.

The noble Lord asked me about commencing parts of the Illegal Migration Act. We are moving ahead with operationalising other measures in the Illegal Migration Act, which will make it easier to remove people with no right to be here—for example, those who have travelled from fundamentally safe countries. On the cohort to which he referred who arrived under the new terms, I believe that they are still expected to be returned to Rwanda, but, obviously, at some point that will be tested in this House and the other House, so, as yet, there is no point in speculating as to how that might happen.

The ECHR has also come up. It is clear that this was a judgment from our domestic courts, not the ECHR. We always said that our plan will deliver the changes necessary to take away the incentive for people to risk their lives through illegal crossings, while complying with our international obligations. But, as the Prime Minister said, if people continue to put obstacles in the way of this policy, we will remove those barriers. As I said, we have already started the process on the treaty to address the Supreme Court’s concerns. The Prime Minister’s announcement of emergency legislation was clear, but I do not know what the content of that legislation will be.

Lastly, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Murray of Blidworth for his hard work, professionalism and absolute dedication to stopping the boats. He is a friend, he was an excellent colleague and I am going to miss him.

Metropolitan Police: Operational Independence

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord has raised operational independence—in effect, therefore, the policing protocol—and I shall go into that in some detail. The police are operationally independent, but the concept of operational independence is not defined by statute. However, it remains a fundamental principle of British policing. The Policing Protocol Order 2023 sets out how the various actors in the system—the Home Secretary, PCCs, mayors with PCC functions and chief constables—should exercise their roles and responsibilities. It seeks to clarify the operational independence of chief constables, noting that operational decisions on the deployment of police officers are matters for chief constables. The order also makes it clear that:

“The Home Secretary is ultimately accountable to Parliament and charged with ensuring the maintenance of the King’s Peace within all force areas, safeguarding the public and protecting our national borders and security”.


There are no plans to change the policing protocol; that is incredibly clear. I of course agree with the noble Lord that protecting our communities and keeping them safe should be the primary responsibility of the police, and it is incumbent on all of us to give them the support they need. However, we must also acknowledge that operational independence does not provide a blanket exemption from criticism about broader policing issues.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, the words of the Home Secretary have consequences for our policing and our police services and for the safety that people feel in our country. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Metropolitan Police has followed the law and the evidence and has made a judgment which sits, and rightly so, within the operational independence of the police services? Will the Home Secretary concentrate on running the Home Department rather than running her leadership campaign? If she cannot, she should be replaced.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I have already spoken about the operational independence of the police, which I think we all regard as sacrosanct. The Answer that I repeated included the line:

“it would be disrespectful and demonstrably wrong for protests to take place on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday”.

Actually, I do not think that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister used the word “demonstrably”, but what he did say was “disrespectful”. However, he went on to say:

“part of that freedom is the right to peacefully protest. And the test of that freedom is whether our commitment to it can survive the discomfort and frustration of those who seek to use it, even if we disagree with them. We will meet that test and remain true to our principles”.

I happen to think that is exactly right and describes the country I am proud to be a citizen of.

Stop and Search

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 20th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, we on these Benches look at this Statement in respect of whether it will produce the outcome the Government are seeking, which is, of course, a reduction in knife crime. Regrettably, I believe this Statement is one which ramps up the rhetoric that strong-arm actions will put an end to knife crime. That rhetoric needs to be tested against the evidence to see whether it works.

Police stop and search is an intrusive power that is used disproportionately against visible minorities. You are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black than if you are white, if suspicion is required; and 14 more times more likely to be stopped and searched if no suspicion is required. The proposal in the Statement from the Home Secretary is based on suspects of violent crime and talks about the implications for the black community, but there is a danger that these figures can be easily misinterpreted. There is a difference between a few people committing a large number of offences and a large number of black people being involved in violent crime. I suspect that the reality is the former. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that when referring to the figures in the Statement.

More than that, the Government’s own research suggests that stop and search is not an effective deterrent in reducing offending. Operation Blunt 2, from 2008 to 2011, demonstrated that ramping up stop and search in order to reduce knife crime has little or no effect, but Operation Trident in the early 2000s demonstrated that where police and the black communities worked together to reduce black-on-black shootings, there was a significant increase in prosecutions and a reduction in the number of offences. Also, the Government’s own evidence, which they chose to look at in respect of the use of stop and search, produces at most a static response, but often, it shows that simply increasing the use of that power is unlikely to reduce crime. That was the Government’s own evidence in the research they commissioned.

On the one hand, we have the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, pulling in one direction, as mentioned by the noble Lord Ponsonby, in wanting stop and search to be based on collaboration, listening and engagement; and on the other we have this Government pulling in the opposite direction, by increasing the number without that necessary collaboration. So, do the Government believe, against their own evidence, that if stop and search goes up, crime will come down? Have the Government considered the lessons learned from Operation Blunt 2? Secondly, do the Government agree that if a community views police activity as unfair, public trust and police legitimacy are weakened?

Finally, how do the Government intend to ensure, as the Statement says, that “every community” is

“able to trust in stop and search”.—[Official Report, Commons 19/6/23; col. 570.]?

How is that going to be brought about? How can it be brought about without the necessary collaboration which was part of the Casey report? I would be grateful if the Minister addressed those issues, because without that certainty, it is more likely that the rhetoric will fail and we will not enable the desired outcome which all of us want, which is to achieve a reduction in knife crime.

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 thank the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord German, for their remarks. I defer to the extensive front-line knowledge of this subject of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby; I know he does a great deal of work on this. I shall make a few general remarks and then address some of the questions that have been posed.

It is not just my view but the view of the police that stop and search is fundamentally about saving lives and keeping the public safe, and that, where used proportionately and judiciously, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, it works, and I will attempt to provide the statistics that prove that. For example, since 2019 more than 40,000 weapons have been seized through stop and search and 220,000 arrests have been made. The 2021 inspectorate report concluded that the vast majority of stop and search decisions are based on reasonable grounds. That is potentially thousands of lives saved and countless violent incidents prevented.

The noble Lord, Lord German, referred to Operation Blunt 2, which I think he said took place between 2008 and 2011. In 2010, this was written, and I agree with it:

“If serious violence can be prevented, then police officers must be empowered to conduct blanket stop-and search-operations which target the most likely individuals. Yes, it is a draconian power; yes, its use should be limited. But there are circumstances where such powers are absolutely necessary”.


That was the noble Lord’s colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, writing in the Daily Mail in 2010, and I agree with him.

To those who claim that it is a disproportionate or racist tool, I say that we must be honest about what this means for victims. Black people are four times more likely to be murdered than white people, and they are more likely to be victims of knife crime than young white men—that is the disproportionality that we are focused on stopping. It is important that we look at the matter with a cool head and on the basis of the evidence.

The emerging picture based on London suggests that, when we adjust the data to consider the proportion of suspects in an area and its demographics, rather than considering the data for the country as a whole, the disproportionality of stop and search falls away hugely. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary referred to this as

“a more sophisticated approach to calculating disparity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/6/23; col. 570.]

I urge noble Lords to consider and reflect on those facts, while acknowledging that more work needs to be done on the methodology.

Of course, it is right that the powers are used in a responsible and measured way, which is why engagement with communities has to be respectful, as both noble Lords noted. It is right that the powers are subject to the highest levels of scrutiny. We now see very few complaints about individual stop and searches. Training on legal and procedural justice has improved, and we have seen confidence levels increase.

As outlined in the Statement, the Home Secretary wrote to all chief constables, and one of the things she asked of them was to be “proactive” in publishing body-worn video footage. That will obviously protect officers who conduct themselves properly, but it is also designed to instil greater public confidence, which is the linchpin of our model of policing by consent. The Government are looking carefully at strengthening local community scrutiny.

Transparency is of course vital, as is community engagement. We want every community to be able to trust stop and search, and we want to present a clear picture of the stop and search landscape that shows the good work being done on the front line. The Government will amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Code A to make clear when the police should communicate when suspicionless powers are used in a public order and Section 60 context. Suspicionless stop and search must be used responsibly, but we cannot do without it.

We are also mandating data collection on stop and search, to which I referred, as part of the annual data requirement for the government statistics bulletin that is published every year. We collect more data on stop and search than ever before, and this is posted online, enabling police and crime commissioners and others to hold forces to account for their use. Disparities in the use of stop and search remain, but they have continued to decrease for the last three years.

I said that there will be a more sophisticated approach to calculating disparity in the Metropolitan Police Service, which is where about 40% of stop and searches take place—I note the noble Lord’s point about various regional disparities in methods. I do not know the precise answers to his questions about regional engagement, but I will endeavour to find out and report back as soon as I am able.

I do not have the statistics to hand on body-worn video, and in fact I do not know whether the data is collected—I certainly hope it is. I would like to look into that further and report back to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. The fact is that there is broad cross-community support for this in principle, especially for searches for weapons, but we acknowledge and stress that this is contingent and fragile. So, to that end, this transparency is absolutely necessary.

I was asked about the serious violence strategy and the various programmes and what have you that the Government have put in place. The Government made £110 million available this financial year, 2023-24, to tackle serious violence, including murder and knife crime. This includes funding for a network of 20 violence reduction units, delivering early intervention and prevention programmes to divert young people away from a life of crime, and bringing together local partners to tackle the drivers of violence in their areas. VRUs follow a public health approach and have reached over 215,000 vulnerable young people in their third year of funding alone.

There is further investment in our Grip hotspot policing programme, to which I have referred from the Dispatch Box before. It operates in the same 20 areas as VRUs and is helping to drive down serious violence by using data processes to identify the top serious violence hotspots. Those two programmes alone have prevented an estimated 136,000 violent offences in their first three years of operation.

We invested £200 million over 10 years in the Youth Endowment Fund, which provides funding for over 230 organisations that have reached over 117,000 young people since it was set up in 2019.

Finally, we have introduced the serious violence duty, which requires public bodies to work collaboratively, to share data and information, and to put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence within their local communities based on a public health approach to tackling the scourge of knife crime. Objectively, it is not right to say that the Government have not updated their serious violence strategies and processes.

I remind the House that serious violence reduction orders are being trialled; they have been since April. For the edification of the House, six SVROs have been issued—five in Merseyside and one in the West Midlands. Four of those are live in the community and two will become live when the offenders are released from prison. Officers will now proactively stop and search those with an order, deterring them from carrying weapons and making it more likely that they will be caught if they persist in doing so. It is obviously too early to assess the success or otherwise of this program but anecdotal evidence so far from the Merseyside Police would suggest that it is proving a very useful tool.

I am proud of this Government’s achievements on policing: we have a record number of police officers, more than ever before; 100,000 weapons have been seized since 2019; and crime is falling—in fact, serious violent crime has fallen by 40% since 2010.

As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, percentages are a very dry way of looking at this. We all have to bear in mind the points I made in my opening paragraph of remarks that this is really about individuals. The fact is that the disproportionality around stop and search should be borne very carefully in mind when we look at the proportion of those who are most badly affected and most likely to become victims.

I hope that I have answered the main questions. If I have not, I will come back to them.

Illegal Migration Bill

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I think that that question has been asked and answered by my noble friend; I cannot update the House on that at the moment.

As my noble friend set out on Monday, we will provide an update to the House before the first day of Report.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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In talking about this matter, could the Minister address the issue of why the Cabinet Office has issued guidance which the department has clearly ignored? Is there a need for the Cabinet Office to give guidance to Ministers on how they should produce legislation? If so, why have the Government not followed that advice?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the answer lies in the words the Home Secretary used this morning in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee. She said:

“We will be publishing it in due course”.


I am sorry to repeat those words again. She added:

“The issue is that there are many unknown factors … upon which the Bill’s success is contingent … For example, … the delivery of our Rwanda agreement. We are currently in litigation and those timelines are out of our control. We need to conclude our litigation relating to our Rwanda agreement. Once we have a clear view of the operability of Rwanda confirmed by the courts, then we will be able to take a very firm view about the economic impact of this Bill. … I would also say that to my mind it is pretty obvious what the economic impact … will be. We will stop spending £3 billion a year on … asylum cost”.


The Bill

“will lead to the cessation of 45,000 people in hotels and £6 million a day. To my mind, those are savings that we cannot ignore”.

I am afraid that I am unable to improve on that.

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 23rd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I do not believe that it is shilly-shallying. As I said, it remains under active discussion among many departments in government.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I want to take the Minister’s view on what active consideration means. On 26 March, it was reported that Tom Tugendhat, the Minister, met campaigners for proscription and told them that there would be proscription—that the Government were going to proscribe—but that he could not give them a date upon which that proscription was going to take place. Has such a conversation taken place? Have the Government taken a decision but are not yet ready to tell us?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am familiar with the meeting referred to by the noble Lord. Mr Beheshti met the Security Minister on 29 March, following which Mr Beheshti uploaded a video recording of the meeting and stated, as the noble Lord has just outlined, that the Government are intending to do this. The formal read-out from the meeting confirmed that, unfortunately, Mr Beheshti had misinterpreted the content of the meeting.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (Extraction of information from electronic devices) (Amendment of Schedule 3) Regulations 2023

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 22nd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month 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, the extraction of information powers introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 have provided a statutory basis for police and other authorised persons to obtain information from electronic devices to support investigations.

These powers came into force last November, along with a code of practice that provides guidance to authorised persons to ensure that the powers are used appropriately and effectively. They can be exercised by the authorised persons named in Schedule 3 to the Act. This is divided into three parts, which set out the different purposes for which authorised persons may exercise the powers. It is crucial that authorised persons extract information only for the purposes set by the part of the schedule in which they are placed.

At present, the Royal Navy Police, the Royal Military Police and the Royal Air Force Police can extract information only for the purposes set out under Section 37 of the Act:

“preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting crime … helping to locate a missing person, or … protecting a child or an at-risk adult from neglect or physical, mental or emotional harm”.

These regulations will amend Schedule 3 so that the Royal Navy Police, the Royal Military Police and the Royal Air Force Police are moved from Part 2 to Part 1 of the schedule. This change will allow these police forces also to extract information from a deceased person’s electronic device, using the power in Section 41, for the purpose of an investigation or inquest into that person’s death.

Electronic devices such as mobile phones contain a wealth of personal information and can be helpful in an investigation when someone has died in unexplained circumstances. Although data protection regulations do not apply to deceased persons, we must still ensure that information extracted from an electronic device where the user of the device has died is handled appropriately and sensitively. Additionally, an electronic device such as a mobile phone or laptop is almost certain to contain information about living people, so the authorised person will still need to be satisfied that extracting such information is necessary and proportionate.

The powers under Section 41 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, much like the powers under Section 37 of the Act, can be exercised only where the authorised person reasonably believes that there is information on the device that is relevant to the purposes set out under this section—in this case for an investigation or inquest into a person’s death. It is vital that these intrusive powers are available only to the authorities that need them. When the Bill was passed, it was not yet agreed that the Royal Navy Police, the Royal Military Police and the Royal Air Force Police had sufficient investigative requirement to use Section 41 powers or that their investigative needs could not be met with other existing powers.

Having taken time thoroughly to consider their case, we are now in agreement with these police forces that their investigative duties meet the requirements for use of the powers and that, without access to them, there may be a gap in their ability lawfully to extract information in these circumstances. For this reason, we are amending their position in Schedule 3 to ensure that they can investigate the death of a person as thoroughly as possible. This amendment will ensure that the Royal Navy Police, the Royal Military Police and the Royal Air Force Police have the same powers to extract information from electronic devices as civilian forces. It will also provide them with the ability to carry out their investigations as thoroughly as possible by giving them the ability to extract information from a deceased person’s device for the purpose of an investigation or inquest into that person’s death.

I very much hope that noble Lords will support this amendment to Schedule 3 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. I commend the regulations to the Grand Committee and I beg to move.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, this is a straightforward piece of secondary legislation, adding the Royal Military Police, the Royal Air Force Police and the Royal Navy Police to the list of people who can exercise extraction of information powers under Section 41 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

First, I declare what may be a tangential interest: I have a son-in-law who flies jets for the RAF. I would never have thought about it, but it is possible that his and my family would be affected if Section 41 powers were to be used in the event of his untimely death, if that were to happen.

I have two questions to ask the Minister. They relate to the guidance in the extraction of information code of practice, which was provided in relation to the Act and as a result of the words of the Information Commissioner, who believed that this was necessary. I am pleased that it is provided.

My first question relates to paragraph 69 of the guidance, which talks about the use of a mobile phone device “around the time of” the death of the person concerned. It uses the words “the user”. Earlier, in relation to Section 37 of the Act, the code of practice talks about where people are not necessarily the owner of the phone or mobile device. It distinguishes clearly people who own a phone from people who have a phone which is owned by somebody else—something we parliamentarians know because we have a parliamentarian phone that is not our property but is used for all sorts of communication, as well as for the business of Parliament. I do not expect the Minister to have an answer yet, but could there be some clarification of paragraph 69 that refers back to the earlier information given in the code of practice to say exactly what it means about a shared-user phone?

My second question is about paragraph 90 of the code and current practice among police forces to keep up to date with technology in order to separate personal information from necessary information related to the event being investigated—the death, criminal event or whatever. Does the Minister have any information about whether police forces of all sorts are using similar technology? The real problem, which is quite obvious, is that there is a variety of technological options available to police forces and they may all be using different ones. That means that they may not necessarily be able to do what is required in the code of practice and keep up to date with

“the technology options available in their organisations”.

There may be a question here—again, the Minister may not be able to answer it now—about whether the technology available to police forces is of sufficient robustness to allow them to be ahead of the game and whether there is one piece of software that is recommended for police forces to use.

With those two questions, I am perfectly satisfied that this is a sensible piece of legislation.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Just to interrupt the Minister for a second, I was asking whether a common set of software is used across police forces.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am coming to that. There is a digital evidence programme, because the Government are determined to address the challenges associated with selectively extracting, analysing and reporting digital evidence gathered in criminal investigations, as we have been discussing.

We are supporting the Police Digital Service with £1.36 million in 2023-24 to undertake work to better understand the challenges in this area and to work with the private sector to develop and test new technologies. The evidence programme has been set up with a wide range of deliverables, including landscape reviews of force capabilities and gaps; creation of a new RASSO tech partnership board, bringing actors across policing together with the private sector—please do not ask me what the acronym RASSO stands for; development and testing of a range of private sector tech products within police forces; and, through the ACE impact lab process, working with technology companies to develop innovative solutions to key RASSO problems. The work is focused on solving the problems that victims experience and the selective extraction, analysis and reporting of digital evidence. It is fairly safe to say that all the questions asked of me by the noble Lord will be covered under that piece of work.

Former Chief Constables: Gross Misconduct

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 22nd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a very good point. As he knows, in the case he describes, the usual and correct procedure was not followed in that county. I am very pleased it has finally been followed, so I agree with him.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, this House owes a debt of recognition to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his perseverance in this matter. Of course, there are obviously serious matters relating to the relationship between police officers and the law. I wonder if the Minister would care to comment on the words of the chief constable of the BTP, the transport police, who says:

“If I was to commit a crime, get arrested and give my details, there is no obvious system check that would flag that I’m a police officer if I didn’t choose to tell them”.


Does the Minister think that is an issue? If it is a problem, what are the Government doing to solve it?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I join the noble Lord in praising my noble friend’s commendable tenacity on this subject. Regarding the circumstances the noble Lord describes, I was not aware of them. Of course, he will also be aware that we have launched a review, which concludes this month, into the whole misconduct and dismissals process. With a bit of luck, it will report back in the next month or two, according to the Policing Minister in the other place. It will include a number of these issues, and I hope that will be dealt with then.

National Crime Agency Investigation: Javad Marandi

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

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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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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The noble Lord will be aware that I cannot comment on ongoing investigations; no Minister at the Dispatch Box would. With regard to Mr Marandi’s status in the United Kingdom, he is a citizen of this country, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, and his honours and so on are a matter of public record. As for political donations, UK electoral law already sets out a robust regime of donations and controls to ensure that only those with a legitimate interest in UK elections can make political donations, and that political donations are transparent. It is an offence to attempt to evade the rules on donations by concealing information, giving false information, or knowingly facilitating the making of an impermissible donation. I think this structure is pretty robust already, and a large number of various Bills, strategies and so on have recently been published which contribute to this debate.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, all political parties have had problems with political donations. For that reason, the Liberal Democrats have put in place a stringent, robust system to protect our integrity. I think the Minister was referring to an Answer given by the Minister in the House of Commons, when he said that our

“electoral law sets out a stringent regime of donation controls”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/5/23; col. 701.]

Manifestly, it does not do that. It specifies who can give donations but not where that money might come from. So far from being stringent, there is now a danger that laundered money may have been introduced into our democratic processes. If the system is as stringent as the Government make out, how was it possible for the Conservative Party to accept donations from this individual while the laundromat investigation was ongoing?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am going to repeat what I have said: there is a long-standing principle, first introduced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1998, that if you are eligible to vote for a party in an election, you are also eligible to donate to that party. That includes overseas electors, as noble Lords will be aware, with reference to the Elections Act. Coming back to that Act, I remind the House that the Government have already taken significant steps to strengthen the integrity of our elections and update our electoral law. This was done to ensure that our democracy remains secure, modern, transparent and fair. I could go on in considerable detail about the Elections Act, but it has been much debated in this House.

Vagrancy Act 1824

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

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the Government do not collect figures on the police usage of the Vagrancy Act and as the police are operationally independent, we cannot comment on figures. The Ministry of Justice figures on prosecution show that it is a very small number of people. There were four prosecutions for sleeping out in 2021 and 459 prosecutions for begging in 2021.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, this is a very important piece of legislation which the Government are seeking to provide. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the Bill, or whatever the legislation is, will be delivered and completed by the next general election?

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.

Coronation: Policing

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

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s remarks, but of course it is important that people are aware of the powers the police have. I should have said yesterday, in answer to a question from the right reverend Prelate, that the College of Policing did issue guidance on the day of Royal Assent. The police chiefs’ lead on public safety also wrote to chief constables and the Police Powers Unit in the Met wrote to five particular organisations it felt might be affected by this. Also, as Sir Mark said, the police explained in advance that there would be low tolerance of disruption and zero tolerance of security and safety threats. No one can say they were not warned, but I agree with my noble friend that, overall, the whole event passed off magnificently.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, my question does not detract from the superb job the police did in managing what they had to do to make the Coronation work as it did. However, from the figures that the Minister has just given us and information we have received from the Metropolitan Police, there were some six of those arrests for which an apology was given. That is an apology rate—or an error rate—of between 10% and 12%. Does the Minister accept that that is an issue he would be concerned about? Does he also agree with the chief constable of Manchester that the powers in general given to the police force need to be re-examined because they are too broad?

Police Uplift Programme

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

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, this is obviously a Statement that the Government are pleased to make but, unfortunately, the rhetoric does not lead to change, which is what the public will be looking for. A huge number of questions fall out of the programme and tell you something about the way in which policing takes place in this country.

What we are seeing, of course, is that record numbers of police are leaving the police force while new people come in. Does this record number of police leaving mean that we are basically trading inexperience for experience? In 2021-22, the last year for which figures are available, 8,117 police officers left the profession; that is a 20-year high. Can the Minister tell us whether that figure is reflected in the figures up to the end of March this year and whether, again, we are seeing that change? Clearly, what we need is an experienced profession.

The second thing that the uplift programme shows is the number of people in various age groups within the new police forces around the country. If you look carefully the figures for those aged 55 and over, you see that they represent only some 1.8% of the police force. Has that figure been shared, not in this financial year but in previous years? Is that an accelerating figure, with the number of older police officers declining? At present 38% of the force are aged 45 or over. Was that figure higher or lower in the past?

The other question that needs raising is how police officers are recruited. We have had a series of questions back and forth with the Minister about the way in which police officers are recruited and we know that some 50% of all recruited police officers do not have a face-to-face interview with another police officer. I know that the Minister has replied to my questions and said that this is being altered. I have read what the Government intend to do with the police college and to make that change work, but we certainly need to be reassured that the right people are getting into the police force and we are not seeing the sort of problems that we have seen in the very recent past.

If you want true community policing, what sense does it make to lose all the community support officers that we have had? Since 2015, 4,000 police support officer posts have been lost and since 2019, given that that is the bedrock date that the Minister wants to work from, 1,284 community police officer posts have been lost. The great advantage for those of us who remember the way in which those support officers worked around our communities is that they were seen on the streets; they were what you might call “bobbies on the beat”. They were an essential part of that. As the Minister knows, you do not put one policeman on the beat; you used to put a policeman with a PCSO. So it is two police officers now, because the number of PCSOs has dropped.

The real test of this measure is: will the quality and nature of the service that people get change? Some 275 car thefts per day in the past year went unsolved, and just 3.4% of car thefts resulted in a charge. Also, 574 burglaries went unsolved and only 6% resulted in a charge. The sort of result that people want to see is people being charged and found guilty of the crimes that are being committed against them. Clearly that has not happened. The test for the Government is how community policing is going to work in the future. A recent Savanta poll found that four in 10 UK adults have installed in the past year CCTV, stronger locks, alarm systems or camera doorbells, all of which demonstrates that people are worried about crime and about these crimes being detected, which they have not been as yet.

One thing absent from the Statement is any mention of cybersecurity. Those of us who have been privileged to hear what is happening in this Parliament will know of the battle against those who are trying to burst into the security of our nation. Can the Minister tell us what resource is going to go into the battle of the future against those who are causing cybercrime?

Finally, there is the issue of head count versus full-time equivalents. The Government in the published Statement say that there is little difference—some 1% or 2%. However, 1% or 2% of experienced people who are doing the work that we want to see done is a considerable number. What we are seeing here is a shell without the interior. The interior has to be made to work for the communities of this country and I am not certain that that is the progress which the Government have made.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments. Since I arrived in your Lordships’ House, every debate and Question has been a demand for more from the Government—money, resources and so on. We have finally delivered more, on time and on budget, and, if I am honest, I am a bit disappointed with the response. However, I will do my best to answer the questions that have been put to me.

To forestall any questions about fraud and the cybersecurity aspects that will be asked, I will alert noble Lords to the fact that the fraud strategy is going to be published this week. There will be more to be said on that, and as a consequence I am not able to go into detail about it.

Before I go into detailed answers to the questions, the data that I read out in the Statement was in fact a little out of date, because on Thursday last week the Crime Survey for England and Wales published its latest data, which takes us up to December 2022. That shows that all crime, excluding fraud and computer misuse, has fallen by 52% since March 2010, from 9.5 million incidents in the year ending March 2010 to 4.65 million in the year ending December 2022—a reduction of 4.978 million.

The latest data from the crime survey shows a 12% decrease in all CSEW crime since the year ending March 2020 and a 14% decrease in all crime since the year ending December 2019. There were 1.5 million incidents of neighbourhood crime estimated by the crime survey for the year ending December 2022, a fall of 26%, compared with the year ending March 2020. I could go on, but I think the data supports the fact that the police have been doing a good job and, hopefully, with this uplift in numbers, will continue to do so. I remind the House that there are now over 149,500—more than ever before. The Government are determined to cut crime and make our streets safer. Over the course of the police uplift programme, 46,505 new recruits have joined police forces. I will come back to that in a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about charge rates. I agree that the current data on charge rates is concerning. We expect police forces to get the basics right, to focus on common-sense policing and to work with partners across the criminal justice system to see more criminals charged and prosecuted. But that is a shared responsibility and the system needs to work better to catch criminals and help victims of crime.

With regard to online crime, as I said, the fraud strategy will be published this week. However, to put some numbers on that, we have already committed £400 million over the next three years to bolster law enforcement’s response to economic crime. The strategy will set out a co-ordinated response from government, law enforcement and the private sector to better protect the public and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters.

The subject of vetting has quite rightly come up. The Government have been clear that all police forces must meet the high standards that the public expect, and that forces must root out those who are unfit for service at the very first opportunity. It is of the utmost importance that robust processes are in place to stop the wrong people joining the police in the first place, which is why we have invested in improving recruitment processes and supporting vetting as part of the £3 billion of funding provided to forces to recruit and maintain officers. New recruits will have been vetted in line with the College of Policing’s Vetting Code of Practice and relevant vetting APP, which were first established in 2017. The APP is due for an upgrade very shortly, as noble Lords will be aware.

On neighbourhood policing, there are now more officers working in public protection, local policing and crime investigations. Thousands of additional officers are already out on the streets, and the latest data available shows that overall 91% of police officers were in front-line roles. The uplift programme provides the opportunity to ensure that we have the officers that policing needs, both to respond to the increase in demand and to take a more proactive response to managing that demand, including crime prevention.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the attrition rates. We have made it very clear to police forces that the large investment we have put into policing means that we expect officer numbers across England and Wales to be maintained throughout 2023-24. The police uplift programme was designed to provide a genuine uplift of 20,000 officers that accounts for attrition rates. Voluntary resignation rates in policing are at less than 3%, which is low compared to other sectors. Policing is obviously a career like no other, and the results of our latest survey of new recruits showed a positive onboarding experience overall: 82% of respondents are satisfied with the job, and 77% intend to continue as police officers for the rest of their working lives. Those numbers are very encouraging.

The noble Lord also asked me, perfectly reasonably, about face-to-face contact. In February, the College of Policing wrote to all chief constables with updated and reissued guidance on post-assessment in-force interviews. The college reiterated the importance of those interviews and that all forces should deliver them using college assessment standards to ensure the same quality nationally. The college expected forces to have implemented the updated guidance by the end of last month. Following the issuing of new guidance by the college on post-online assessment centre interviews, the latest data provided by the college shows that 38 forces are currently using a post-assessment interview and that four plan to do so with their next cohorts.

The noble Lord, Lord German, also mentioned CCTV—as if it somehow indicates against the quality of the data I have already shared with your Lordships’ House, and that there is more, shall I say, concern about crime in local areas. Of course, people are right to be concerned. However, perhaps it also demonstrates that this equipment and technology is cheaper and more readily available than ever before and, more to the point, that it can be installed on a Sunday afternoon by oneself.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is quite right: the numbers have consequences for everyday lives, which is why I believe that your Lordships’ House should support them. I certainly do not believe that any of this is irrelevant.

Anti-social Behaviour Action Plan

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, we on these Benches agree with restorative justice, but we have to test this plan against what makes good restorative justice. We know that anti-social behaviour is distressing in communities, and that it leads to a loss of respect for communities. I have a sort of déjà vu, because we saw an experiment of this kind during the Blair Government and I think that this plan has missed some of the lessons learned from that. For a restorative justice system and scheme to be successful, we must recognise that it is complex, expensive and difficult, and it must meet the ambitions of a truly restorative justice programme, which has to include things such as catching the culprits, getting the community view, providing the equipment, providing appropriately qualified supervision and, crucially, incentivising success. It must act not just as a deterrent but as an opportunity.

I will examine some of those issues and question the Minister on them. Catching the culprits requires a shift in policing methodology. It means that we have proper community policing. This is at a time when the number of PCSOs has dramatically declined right across the country, and this is just the sort of job they should be doing. The Government have so far failed to meet their target of 20,000 more police officers, and effective community policing means putting officers on our streets who are both visible and trusted. Beyond that, it means providing the necessary equipment and supervision; think of items to remove graffiti, sacks for the separation of litter and appropriate disposal operations, painting equipment, et cetera.

An experience I saw first hand in the 2000s was the danger of getting larger groups of people to do the same sort of work. I well remember seeing a group of people with hi-vis jackets, doing all the things that are in this plan, painting some railings outside a community hall. There was a minibus full of them, with one person supervising at one end and another person, who was supposed to be painting, on his phone at the other end. It was unclear what support they were getting to ensure that they were doing the job. If you are going to bring the people who are making these acts together, you must make sure they are few enough to be managed well and by the right people.

We think that making nitrous oxide illegal just will not work, especially when it goes against the advice of the Government’s own drugs body. It will hand profit and control to serious criminals. There is a danger here of perhaps confusing the mess that people make when taking this gas with its usage. One of the obvious questions I have to ask the Minister is this: we all know about children, adults as well, and party balloons—the child holds the string, lets go and asks dad for another one, please. These balloons are used on a huge number of occasions all around the country, so we can imagine their purchase becoming a source of usage as well. Is this a case of a perverse incentive or is the Minister going to tell us that children’s balloons will be banned?

I will spend a short moment looking at the costs of a proper restorative justice system and at the way these figures are laid out in the action plan. To look at the extra that is being done—the change from yesterday to today, if you like—we have to look at the sections in the plan headed

“How we will go further”.

I looked at the amounts in the plan and the figures include £50 million on immediate justice measures. How many extra PCSOs, police and supervisors will that money provide? Is that £50 million part of the cost of providing the extra police that is already in the plan to reach the target of 20,000? Is this additional or part of an existing plan?

The £60 million for hotspot enforcement is obviously very welcome, but will it reach the whole country, given where these hotspots are at the moment? If one views the map given in the plan, one sees that it requires a huge effort to spread this right across the country. When will the best practice guides on how they will be operating be published?

Not a penny of extra support for rough sleeping is mentioned. This country dealt with this matter during Covid and had to spend quite a bit of money to make it work, but there is not a single penny of extra money mentioned in that area. Some £2.5 million is given to improve our high streets and £1 million to improve local activities across England and Wales. That is for the full rollout of measures in the next year or so, so the amounts of money given do not seem to fulfil the plan’s aspirations. Can the Minister explain how that money provides sufficient resource for a whole-country rollout, when so much of what is being done already applies to small, discrete areas dotted around the country?

I am drawn to the conclusion that this plan gives the impression of not having all the tools necessary to do the job properly. I am afraid that the Government have put the headline and the soundbite before the true benefits that a well-resourced restorative justice plan can provide.

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 thank the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord German, for their remarks. Since taking up office, the Prime Minister has been clear that the people’s priorities are his priorities. That is why, in delivering on his five promises, he is determined to build stronger communities and create a better future for people across the country.

For too long, anti-social behaviour has blighted our neighbourhoods, making people’s lives a misery and stopping businesses and individuals from flourishing. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, this is not just low-level or petty crime, or kids being kids; it is an attack on the very heart of our communities. It threatens people’s sense of safety and security and, as the noble Lord rightly observed, it is a source of anxiety to many members of the public. That is why we have launched this plan to crack down on anti-social behaviour: to restore people’s confidence that these crimes will be quickly and visibly punished. That means treating it with the urgency it deserves.

I will answer as many of the questions as I can. As ever, if I miss any, I will commit to write, having read Hansard properly. We are on track and on time in recruiting 20,000 additional police officers by March 2023. All the funding within this program is additional to that uplift. Assuming we are successful, that will take us to over 148,000 officers across England and Wales. That will be the highest number of officers on record.

Since 2019, the Government have invested over £3 billion, including additional funding each year, and that rolled into government grants to recruit and support the additional 20,000 officers. We are providing police and crime commissioners with £22 million next year, and £90 million in 2024-25, to support an enhanced response to areas most affected by anti-social behaviour and to roll out immediate justice pilots.

However, as the action plan sets out, local authorities and other local agencies will also have a key role to play. We expect local partners to work together to deliver a multiagency approach to tackling anti-social behaviour and delivering the proposals set out in the action plan. I feel I should remind noble Lords that operational policing is a matter for chief constables, and they set operational priorities in their local areas in association and consultation with the police and crime commissioners. Questions about local policing are obviously better directed to those people who are locally accountable.

This plan is backed by over £160 million of funding. Up to £60 million will fund increased police and other uniformed presence to clamp down on this behaviour, including targeting the hotspots, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord German. Although he did not ask me, I reassure him that this will not impinge on any of the spending that currently goes into the pilot areas for things such as violence reduction units and GRIPs. This method of policing has been proven to work in other areas, and we expect success from the hotspot areas that we will pilot. The intention is for it to go to 10 police force areas.

I move on to the subject of immediate justice. We are planning on investing £50 million to support the provision of immediate justice by issuing out-of-court disposals with conditions to swiftly repair any damage. The aim will be for them to start within 48 hours of the offence. This will start in 10 initial trail-blazer police force areas and be rolled out nationally in 2024.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord German, had to say on the subject of making this efficient. The Government are aware of all of his concerns. There is no denying that the delivery of this program will be complex, but it is definitely worth doing. It is aimed at diverting offenders away from the criminal justice system and will make them undertake practical, reparative activity to make good the loss or damage sustained by victims. It will be rolled out to all police force areas in 2024-25. The focus will be on reparative activity, but that may be undertaken alongside rehabilitative and restorative services that foster connection with the local community, and educational interventions. It will apply primarily to adults and young people in receipt of conditional cautions for ASB-related offences under the out-of-court disposal framework. I am quite sure that all noble Lords will agree that keeping people out of the criminal justice system as far as possible is a desirable outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about banning nitrous oxide and pointed out that, in its recent report, the ACMD did not recommend that we criminalise this. That is true, but we take the broader context into account. There are health concerns with young people using nitrous oxide. As I said at the Dispatch Box a couple of weeks ago, it was an offence under the Psychoactive Substances Act to supply knowing that it would be used for these purposes. This gives the police the opportunity to confiscate or take possession of the drugs. I do not think that there is a particular intention to criminalise the lots of young people who use it. I reassure the noble Lord that his balloons will not be banned—there will be exceptions for legitimate users. We talked about some of those the other week, and they include medical, dental and apparently whipped cream producers—which amused me at the time but did not seem to amuse the House. Everybody should be reassured that this is the right thing to do. I note that the only other country to have criminalised this so far is Holland. The Dutch did so because they discovered that it was having a fairly significant impact on drug-driving. There are good reasons for doing what the Government have chosen to do, despite the advice—which I might add did not say that we should not do it—of the ACMD.

There was a good deal of discussion about youth services, and I will go into a little more detail on some of the things that we are doing. As part of the national youth guarantee, we will invest over £500 million to provide high-quality local youth services so that, by 2025, every young person will have access to regular clubs and activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer. That directly reflects young people’s priorities, and includes up to 300 new and refurbished youth spaces delivered through the Youth Investment Fund. We are also giving councils the resources they need to deliver important local services, with an additional £3.7 billion, which will not be ring-fenced, made available for things such as youth services. I could say more on this subject, and I am sure that I will be asked more on it.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord German, asked me about the fact that he could not find any funding dedicated to rough sleeping and high streets. As I said in my opening remarks, this is a multiagency approach and there are many ways to tackle these problems. The high street in particular, and things such as the empty dwellings Act and the tenant Act, do not really require vast amounts of investment; they just require some new thinking, and that is what the Government are doing.

Baroness Casey Review

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

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, in my 24 years of parliamentary activity, this has been one of the toughest and hardest-hitting reports that I have read. We must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, for that review.

For decades, there has been racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia in the Metropolitan Police, and, throughout that time, police leaders have wilfully denied it or have been so embedded in the culture that they do not recognise it. Those who stood up to be counted and reported misconduct were labelled troublemakers, ostracised by colleagues and targeted for misconduct investigations themselves. Some of those who were violent and racist were reinstated, even when they had been found guilty and dismissed.

A chief superintendent told my noble friend Lord Paddick, “You can get away with anything in this job, providing you don’t upset anyone”. Predominantly white male officers had senior officer supporters, while black, female and gay officers did not have the same sponsorship and were more likely to be formally investigated and have their appeals rejected. Even when a senior officer was accused of rape, the reputation of the Met was seen as paramount, and he was allowed to retire on a full pension, with no questions asked. So does the Minister accept that all of this is a failure of leadership at all levels, including that of the Government?

But, of course, in order to support the police, we must recognise that not every black, female, Sikh, Muslim or gay officer has had these experiences. But that does not detract from the fact that there is a corrupting and unhealthy culture that allows unacceptable behaviour to flourish and grinds down those who stand up for what is right.

Things have changed over the decades. For example, overt racism has been replaced by closed WhatsApp groups, to which only a few trusted colleagues are allowed access. Does the Minister agree that disproportionality in stop and search—stereotyping young black men as criminals, for example—demonstrates underlying racism? Does he agree that disrespecting women demonstrates underlying sexism, and that gay officers being afraid of the police demonstrates underlying homophobia? Does the Minister agree that the most important, pivotal change that Sir Mark Rowley has to make, and is making, is to reverse the overarching philosophy of “cover up” rather than “own up”? Does he agree that we need to support him?

Does the Minister agree that armed units such as the parliamentary and diplomatic team attract people who want to dominate and control, rather than cultivating such behaviours? Vetting and screening for these units are clearly inadequate, as is the whole process of vetting, as we have repeatedly raised in this Chamber in relation to having appropriate vetting procedures for both new and continuing officers.

Austerity has made things worse, as the Minister said. He said that, between 2010 and 2023-24, they have increased the cash budget of the Met by £178 million on a £3.3 billion budget over 13 years. I do not think that that is a magnificent increase, but it has certainly been reflected in the fact that we have only half the number of PCSOs in London and that specials have more or less disappeared. It means that there is a major role for the Government to play in putting things right. The Government have to assess whether they are funding the Met properly, and whether those resources are being used to the best effect.

The Home Secretary, the Mayor of London and the commissioner must all take responsibility for rescuing the Met from destroying itself. So I ask the Minister: what role do the Government see that they must play in making that change happen, given that they have sat around for all this time and we have not yet seen the results? It is clear that, despite all those repeated reviews—from Scarman, Macpherson and the HMIC—the force’s toxic culture has never been properly addressed. But this time it has to be. The leadership in the Met and the Home Office must view this as a precipice moment. The Home Secretary must take personal responsibility for this and must draw up an urgent plan. Can the Minister say what the plan is and what timescales they will use to show progress that goes beyond the tick box? The stakes are too high for anything less. The fundamental principle of policing by consent is at stake.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who have spoken. I will also take this opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, did, to thank the vast majority of police officers in London, who, frankly, must be as depressed as we all are by reading the awful findings of the report.

It is paramount that public trust in the Met is restored. The Home Secretary is committed to ensuring that the commissioner and the Mayor of London will be held to account to deliver a wholesale change in the force’s culture. Of course, there is more to do, and the nature of that mission of rooting out unfit officers will probably mean that more unacceptable cases will come to light. I am not surprised that Sir Mark was unable to answer that question directly.

However, as I have already said, we should not overlook the many officers working in the Met who carry out their duties with the utmost professionalism—I emphasise that point. I am also confident that, under Sir Mark’s leadership, progress is being made to reform standards and to deliver common-sense policing for Londoners. The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, was very explicit about this; she said that Sir Mark and his deputy, Lynne Owens, have her trust—and they also have the Government’s trust. The Government are driving forward work to improve culture, standards and behaviour across policing, which includes strengthening vetting and reviewing the dismissals process, which are subjects I will come back to.

On the subject of institutional racism, sexism and homophobia, it is obviously clear from the report that recent cases, including instances of all those things, in parts of the Metropolitan Police are completely unacceptable. It has been made very clear that standards have to improve in this area as a matter of considerable urgency. The Met has to rebuild trust, improve standards and keep all Londoners safe from harm, regardless of their background. Urgent steps must be taken now to bring this change and to right those wrongs. It is critical that we do not lose momentum and that we come together with the Met to drive this much-needed change.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked what action the Home Office is taking now. At this precise moment, the Home Office is closely monitoring the progress that Sir Mark is making to deliver the transformation that is required in the Metropolitan Police through regular attendance at the MPS’s turnaround board meetings and in the chief inspector-chaired policing performance oversight group. We stand ready, with other system leaders across policing, to consider what further support we may be able to provide to support the action plan that the commissioner has developed. We are working with chiefs and other partners to deliver a programme of work to drive up standards and to improve culture across policing.

I am afraid that I will turn to chapter 8 of the report, because the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, makes it very clear that

“the primary public accountability of the Met for policing London should exist through the Mayor of London, together with his Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) oversight arrangements … A dysfunctional relationship has developed between the Met and MOPAC, with defensive behaviours on one side”—

to which the noble Lord, Lord German, referred—

“and tactical rather than strategic approaches on the other”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, has recommended that the mayor chairs a quarterly board, and we support that. As I said in my opening remarks, we will make sure that both the commissioner and the mayor are held accountable on that. But the governance relationship is clear.

Much has been made of the impact of austerity, but I am afraid that I cannot agree because the Government have proposed a total police funding settlement of up to £17.2 billion in 2023-24—an increase of up to £287 million compared with 2022-23. As I have already said, as a result of the police uplift programme, officer numbers in the Met are at a historic high: there were 35,000 in December. On a per capita basis, in 2021 the Met received 57% higher funding per capita than the average for the rest of England and Wales, excluding London, and 24% more funding than the next highest force—Merseyside—which has a higher rate of police recorded offences per 1,000 of the population. Those numbers exclude funding that the Met receives for policing the capital city, counterterrorism and so on. Those numbers speak for themselves: the fact is that funding in London is about £300 per head of the population, compared with an average of just over £200 in the rest of the country.

Obviously, trust in the police is a subject of considerable concern, in particular in some of the communities that have been mentioned. I refer to comments made in the other place by Karen Buck, the MP for Westminster North, who pointed out:

“Neither the long-standing concerns about police culture identified in the Casey report nor the individual instances of racism, misogyny and homophobia in the police can be laid at the door of the cuts to the police budget over the early part of the last decade”.


She was happy to accept that, and I think that we should, too.

Questions have been raised in the report about PaDP—Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection—and the firearms unit, which make for appalling reading. However, these units provide a vital function in providing protection and ensuring the public’s safety, and we expect the Met to take immediate action to drive reform in these functions and to root out any officers who are not fit to serve. I am pleased to say that considerable progress is already being made on that. In addition to a root-and-branch review, the Metropolitan Police has taken a large number of other steps to ensure that the public can have greater confidence: it is under a new commander, Chief Superintendent Lis Chapple, whom I am sure we all wish well; a third of all sergeants are new; PaDP officers have been prioritised as part of the MPS’s data wash against the police national database; and Operation Onyx is looking at historic misconduct cases that have previously been investigated and resolved, but which have included allegations of sexual offences or domestic abuse over the last 10 years. I am pleased that that work is taking place, and it is good news that it is taking place quickly.

As to the noble Baroness’s recommendation of “effectively disbanding” the PaDP unit, we do not believe that that is appropriate. As I have said, the Met has committed to, and made progress on, overhauling the command, and we expect it to make sure that the reforms reflect the gravity of the recommendation, while also ensuring that the command’s critical security functions are maintained. I think that those expectations are obvious and self-evident.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised stop and search. We remain of the belief that stop and search is a vital tool to tackle crime and to keep our streets safe. In 2021-22, stop and search removed around 14,900 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in almost 67,000 arrests. We are clear that nobody should be stopped and searched because of their race. Extensive safeguards, such as statutory codes of practice and body-worn video, exist to ensure that this does not happen. It is essential that we use data and context on stop and search to provide greater clarity and to reassure the public about its use. That is why the Government have committed to improve the way that this data is reported and to enable more accurate comparisons to be made between different police force areas. We have included new analysis in our police powers statistical bulletin in October 2022, which allows users to compare stop and search rates between the 43 police forces. To be clear: a higher rate should not automatically be regarded as a problem, but the reasons should be transparent and explicable to local communities.

I accept that this can cause disquiet, of course, but I came across these words earlier when I was reading my briefing on this subject and was really rather taken with them. I will read them to noble Lords, who I hope will indulge me. Sharon Kendall, whose 18 year-old son Jason Isaacs was murdered in London, said:

“For those who try and tie the hands of the police in making their job more difficult, I ask you to stop and look at all the murdered teenagers’ faces. If we collectively gave a little more support to the police using stop-and-search and enforcement, things would change.”


I accept that the police have a great deal of work to do to improve the culture—of course I do. However, we should also bear in mind her context and take it very seriously when discussing this subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the vetting process. There is already a statutory vetting code for all forces, and the Government have asked the College of Policing to update it to insert stricter obligations for chief officers on how vetting should be carried out within their forces. That is currently out for consultation. On the subject of bans for applicants with histories of domestic and sexual abuse, the revised code will be clearer on obligations on chiefs not to appoint individuals who are not suitable to be police officers.

On chief officers suspending officers under investigation for such allegations, the chief constables have a power in law to suspend police officers either where an investigation would otherwise be prejudiced or the public interest requires the officer to be suspended. In both cases, chiefs must also consider whether temporary redeployment to an alternative role or location would be appropriate. These are rightly operational decisions for chiefs following careful consideration of the full facts and circumstances.

On leadership, I agree that leadership has been found wanting in the police but we have invested £3.35 million from 2021 to 2023 for the College of Policing to create a national leadership centre. As part of this, the college is now in the process of setting and rolling out national leadership standards at key levels in the police service and providing leadership development programmes aligned to these standards. I have spoken to Andy Marsh and the chair of the College of Policing on this subject, as I know has my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I suspect it is a subject to which we will return, as clearly work needs to be done there.

Lastly, but by no means least, on the subject of violence against women and girls, my answer will include Operation Soteria to which I have referred from the Dispatch Box before. It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that rape and sexual violence are devastating crimes that have a long-lasting impact on victims. Protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence are a key priority for the Government. It is abhorrent.

The cross-government tackling VAWG strategy and tackling domestic abuse plan set out actions to prioritise prevention, help support survivors, strengthen the pursuit of perpetrators and create a stronger system. In 2021, the then Home Secretary commissioned HMICFRS to inspect the police response to VAWG. It found that while there had been progress, there was more to do to improve the police response. We accepted all the report’s recommendations to government.

To support policing to improve its response, we are funding the first full-time national policing lead for VAWG, Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, who is driving improvements in the police response. We have added VAWG to the strategic policing requirement, which means it is set out as a national threat for forces to respond to alongside other threats such as terrorism, serious and organised crime, and child sexual abuse. We are providing £3.3 million for domestic abuse matters training and are funding Operation Soteria, which will improve the police response to rape. We have introduced a range of tools and powers to help policing tackle VAWG, including stalking protection orders, sexual harm and sexual risk orders, and forced marriage and FGM protection orders.

I have talked about Operation Soteria from the Dispatch Box before. In the pathfinder forces there are signs of improvement, which is welcome, but I acknowledge that they still do not go far enough. To the Met’s credit, it is one of the first five forces to go into that programme. I forget what the precise terminology is, but it is one of the trial forces.

I accept that there has been a failure of leadership in the police, of course, but I have faith in Sir Mark and I suspect that most of the House will share that faith. The police have a lot of work to do to restore trust, and I hope that has been made clear. There is clearly a long way to go for the Metropolitan Police, but in Sir Mark and Dame Lynne we have a very strong top team, as the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, acknowledged. They are certainly well placed to start and prioritise this work and make sure it is delivered in a timely fashion.

Nitrous Oxide

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 15th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend Lady Berridge is right; obviously we need to future-proof legislation—and I note that my noble friend next to me was nodding sagely during her question.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, the advisory committee may not have given the advice that the Government were seeking in this matter, but I hope that the Government will look very seriously at the second issue which the advisory committee reported on, which was education. Given that there are now many medical professionals, both clinical and in research, who place the risks of nitrous oxide on a par with or greater than alcohol abuse, what steps do the Government propose to take to inform the public—particularly young people —of the consequences of nitrous oxide abuse, using their experience of dealing with alcohol abuse?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a good point. A free drugs advice service from the Government, FRANK, contains information on nitrous oxide and the harm associated with taking it, such as dizziness, vitamin B12 deficiency, and nerve damage that can result from heavy long-term use. FRANK receives over half a million visits a month, with high levels of awareness and trust. User research commissioned by Public Health England has shown that 83% of 18 to 24 year-old adults are aware of this site, and that 85% of its users trust the site to provide reliable information about drugs.

Manchester Arena Inquiry: Volume 3 Report

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 14th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I echo the sentiments at the end of the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. I too welcome the third volume of the inquiry, and thank Sir John Saunders and his team for all the work they have put in.

We must remember that our thoughts must be with the families, friends and all those affected by this atrocity. Twenty-two innocent people lost their lives, hundreds more were injured, and many thousands are emotionally and physically scarred for the rest of their lives. Those responsible for this terrible, cruel and merciless act are the bomber, his brother, those who radicalised them, and those who provided them with support. We condemn their actions. We must take steps to ensure that everything possible is done to make such a set of acts impossible in future.

The inquiry has shone a light on what must be achieved to do just that. We have to face up to the shortcomings which the inquiry has exposed, no matter how hard a reading they make, and put in place the appropriate safeguards. I welcome the Government’s Statement about how they are going to address these matters, and that they intend to press forward with all the recommendations raised by the inquiry. I will come to the closed chapters in a moment. However, much more detail is needed if this House, the public and, most importantly, those directly impacted by the atrocity are to be satisfied that everything possible is being done.

I have a number of questions for the Minister, and I will try to avoid repeating those of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. First, the inquiry report contains closed chapters and recommendations, so can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have received those closed parts? If they have received them, can he say whether the recommendations within them will be restricted to selected Ministers, or, as I hope, that there can be engagement with the ISC, even if it is in camera, so that there will be an extent of knowledge and understanding of these issues wider than a very small group of people? As long as there is mystery, there will be misunderstanding.

Secondly, on Martyn’s law, I welcome the intention to introduce the legislation. We are promised the legislation “in the spring”. I am told that we are now, officially, “in the spring”, so when will the Government produce the draft legislation for us to scrutinise? I obviously recognise that there is difficulty in introducing the legislation itself because of parliamentary timetabling, but producing the draft legislation, which has been promised, is in the Government’s hands. I will try to help the Minister with the wording “in the spring” by asking: will it be introduced before Easter, before the Coronation, or in the official period called “the summer”?

My third question is on the issue of workforce pressure. One of the things that was quite clear from the inquiry report was that there were staff shortages, particularly in the north-west of England. If the Government intend to follow through on all these recommendations, how do they intend to meet the shortfall in personnel identified by the inquiry?

I turn to the countering extremism strategy. This was declared out of date in 2018 by the relevant commissioner. What steps are the Government taking to revise and publish a new strategy? In that context, are Prevent, Contest and the Shawcross review now being seen together as a whole? When can we expect to see their results being addressed? Will the conclusions be drawn together into a revised countering extremism strategy package, so that all the thoughts about the way forward are contained in a single document?

Finally, the Secretary of State responding in the House of Commons repeatedly said that she wanted to focus on security, not political correctness. I may be slightly dim on this matter, but can the Minister tell us what political correctness she was talking about? In the end, we all share the ambition to ensure that the people who have been most affected by this—the families, the friends and everyone else who has been scarred by this—understand that we will do everything we can to prevent it. I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords for their comments and echo the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. As the report made very clear, responsibility for the events of 22 May 2017 lies with Salman Abedi and his younger brother, Hasham Abedi. That is not to say that we should not also remember the victims and their families; it was a particularly awful tragedy and I am sure that all noble Lords’ thoughts and sympathies are with them.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I congratulate the intelligence agencies. As he pointed out, they have stopped 37 attacks in recent years, as was made clear, and frankly they deserve our admiration for that, notwithstanding any particular failures or problems that have been identified through Sir John Saunders’ report. While I am thanking people, I also, obviously, thank Sir John for his comprehensive report, which has considerably helped in forming our response—not just the Government’s response—to such events and how we deal with them going forward.

I will do my very best to answer all the various questions that were asked. Obviously, if I miss anything inadvertently, I will commit to write. Both the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the Statement. Volume 3 has been published and the chairman is determined to monitor recommendations that have been made with the ISC. Volume 3 “open” has only just been published; Volume 3 “closed”, to my knowledge, has not yet been shared with the Government. The Government will carefully consider the report’s findings and recommendations in full and consider any recommendations Sir John makes about the role the ISC can play, in light of the memorandum of understanding that exists between the committee and the Government, which we have discussed many times in the last few days. As noble Lords will be aware, the MoU is available on the committee’s website.

Work on Martyn’s law, which both noble Lords asked about, is progressing at pace and legislative proposals will be taken forward when parliamentary time allows. In the interim—I suppose this the option D that that noble Lord, Lord German, did not identify—we will be publishing a draft Bill in this parliamentary Session. I cannot say more than that yet. I appreciate that it has been several years since the attack, and while we accept that we have to deliver this as quickly as possible, we need to develop proposals that realise effective outcomes and truly make the public safer, and to develop appropriate and proportionate provisions which consider the impacts on the premises that will end up being in scope.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about prisons and prison visits and the fact that Salman Abedi was able to visit a particular character in prison when he was a terrorist offender. The man’s name was Abdalraouf Abdallah. Abdallah was a category B prisoner and this was arranged through the standard visits process. Under the new approved contact scheme, we are enhancing checks on visitors and communications linked to certain offenders, including tagged offenders, regardless of their categorisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, very sensibly if I may say, quoted the Spectator, which I was delighted to hear from the opposite side of the House, in referencing the 7/7 inquiry. In effect, he was asking what was restricted from the final report, and whether the Government are effectively hiding anything. The answer, of course, is no. The inquiry was rigorous, evidence-based and had access to every bit of information that MI5 and the police held that was relevant to the attack. It was established for the very purpose of ensuring that information that was national security-sensitive could be fully considered as part of the judicial investigative process. The nature of MI5 and counterterrorism’s police work means that a great deal of what they do and how they do it has to remain secret. The chair acknowledged that. He said that revealing details of how they operate would hand our adversaries—in this case, terrorists—an advantage that would impact the UK intelligence community’s ability to keep the country safe.

MI5 and counterterrorism policing gave as much evidence as they could in public, and it was for the chair to determine what was or was not made public. He was clear that he would make his own judgments on this and said that he would

“not allow the proceedings to be ‘stage managed’ by the Security Service”,

Greater Manchester Police or others, and that he would not

“act as a rubber stamp”

when taking decisions on restriction orders. That is a pretty clear statement that he certainly conducted his inquiries in the most robust way that he could, which was certainly appropriate to the circumstances, based on the national security considerations that he identified.

On the video that was published, I am not as familiar with the Online Safety Bill as perhaps I ought to be, so I shall reserve judgment on that—but I certainly hope that it would be taken into account, and I shall most certainly also make sure that my colleagues in the relevant department are aware of the noble Lord’s request.

On inquests and the various changes that have been made or considered, I appreciate that it is a difficult problem. It is probably not for me to comment on the nature of coroners’ inquests and what have you. All I can say is that the law was carefully looked at, and it was decided that it would not be appropriate to change it in these circumstances. I think that is fair, but I appreciate that it is not the message that the families want to hear. I feel for them, but I also understand the broader context in which that question was asked.

On resources, we have invested heavily in counter- terrorism. The new Counter Terrorism Operations Centre was announced in 2021, which brings together partners from counterterrorism policing, the intelligence agencies, the criminal justice system and other government agencies. That will allow minute-by-minute collaboration between teams in the police and MI5. I hope that goes some way to answering the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord German, about resourcing. It is adequately resourced with substantial amounts of money. From memory—my papers are in a bit of a mess—I think that the number is about £370 million over the next couple of years. It is definitely going to improve cross-agency communication, which—to bring it back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made—was perhaps what Sir John meant when he talked about significant failures.

I have read a large amount on this subject, and I say that the judgments of security officers are obviously finely calibrated, and they are taking into consideration a number of factors. Perhaps there were failings and they need to reflect on those failings—and MI5 has been very candid about making it clear that it holds itself accountable for this. But it is important to bear in mind that these are people making very careful judgments based often on flimsy evidence. We should take that into account when considering what they do and how they do it.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked me what we were doing on Prevent. Of course, as Sir John mentioned, Prevent is not necessarily something that Salman Abedi would have been referred to—and, if he had, Sir John also acknowledges that it may not have made any difference. As the noble Lord will be aware, we also published the report on Prevent relatively recently. All the recommendations and considerations in that report are being carefully considered in the Home Office, and I am sure that we will have much more to say on that in due course. I think that I have answered all the questions.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Perhaps the Minister could tell us about the “political correctness”.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am sorry, but I have absolutely no idea what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was referring to. I could speculate, but I would prefer not to.

Public Order Bill

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, we on these Benches accept that the amendments have been made in the Commons but are still concerned that they do not go far enough. Taking the matter back to the beginning, the bar set on which people can be convicted or the orders can eventually be issued is based on the balance of probabilities. That matter was the source of a great deal of discussion in this House. A bar has been set which is basically non-evidential, because no evidence has to be proven of what has happened. Any amendments which would raise that bar just above a zero threshold are to be commended.

Having made the orders less draconian and brought them in line with the terrorism prevention and investigation measures, the SPDOs are to be imposed on protesters, taking away their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, on the balance of probabilities. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services reported, in its review of public order policing, that it doubted that these orders are workable, even with a breach of the order occurring. A person attending a protest peacefully, in breach of an SPDO, is unlikely to be treated by the court in the same manner as a potential terrorist. Courts would look at the effect of an order and measure that against the breach of human rights legislation, and, in the end, the effect of an order breaching a person’s human rights could well override the effect of the order.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, pointed out in Committee, these orders would remove people’s rights under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but only if a court was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that depriving people of their human rights on the weakest of evidential tests was sufficient. Therefore, there is an expectation that the courts would use a breach of human rights legislation to override the effect of the SPDO.

In seeking to raise the bar from zero—the bar is sitting on the floor, as no evidence is required—these amendments at least provide an evidential activity. They require an officer to have observed the evidence behind the requirement. The requirement in the amendments before us may not be sufficient, but it certainly lifts the bar, in relation to evidence, off the floor. In fact, we need to help police officers. Police officers may be faced with situations without evidence, such as listening to somebody’s hearsay about a protester. Alternatively, they may have it in their mind that possible action will take place if they assume that a protester, who is standing peacefully and undertaking a peaceful activity, could well jump across the road, lie on the ground and stop the traffic. In those cases, they would not have any evidence that the person was about to conduct themselves in a dangerous manner, so it would be effective to introduce provisions for that. This set of amendments could provide for those matters, but, as I have said, in a very limited way.

As the noble Lord will not press his amendment to a vote, it seems to us that the Government have to consider how the courts will deal with these matters when they are placed before them, when we have human rights legislation guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom to join together with others and freedom of expression. When all those rights are being harmed, what will the courts say and are the Government sufficiently ambitious that they think that their evidence based on these rules will give the human rights opinion any credence whatever?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, again, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their thoughtful and considered contributions to this debate. As I have already detailed, the Government listened carefully to your Lordships’ concerns regarding the serious disruption prevention order measures. Orders will now be applied only where individuals have been convicted of protest-related offences or breaches of protest-related injunctions on at least two occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord German, argued that serious disruption prevention orders contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. They do not. The right to protest is fundamental and despite sensationalist claims such as that, that will not change. These orders will ensure that individuals who deliberately cause serious disruption more than twice will face justice. Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR set out that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, these rights are not absolute and must be balanced with the rights and freedoms of others.

I hope your Lordships will be satisfied that the Government have responded with a very significant offer that addresses the key concerns expressed throughout the passage of this Bill. The Bill will better balance the rights of protesters with the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives free from disruption and address the ever-evolving protest tactics we have seen employed by a selfish minority of protesters. Blocking motorways and slow walking in roads delays our life-saving emergency services, stops people getting to work and drains police resources. The British people are rightly fed up with it and are demanding action from their lawmakers.

It is time for this Bill to become law. I thank the noble Lord for saying that he will withdraw his Motion.

Police Misconduct Cases

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Monday 6th February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the appointment of staff is a matter for police and crime commissioners but, as the noble Lord is right to point out, they are required by legislation to seek the views of their police and crime panel when appointing to senior positions within their office. I note Mr Veale’s resignation but the Home Office has no role in such appointments and it would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter directly.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, in matters of police misconduct, there is a delicate balance to be drawn between local accountability and local flexibility on the one hand and consistency in dealing with these cases on the other. Does the Minister agree with the inspectorate that there is a need to standardise decision-making processes when dealing with misconduct, and do the Government accept all the recommendations contained in the An Inspection of Vetting, Misconduct, and Misogyny in the Police Service report?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, on the latter point, I think the police forces have accepted all the recommendations. As regards the consistency of decision-making, that is one of the things that the dismissal review panel is going to consider. The first term of reference is to:

“Understand the consistency of decision-making at both hearings and accelerated hearings”,


so the answer is yes.

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Code H) Order 2023

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 31st January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we support this statutory instrument, which revises the PACE code of practice H to reflect the introduction of a new power of urgent arrest by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. As the Minister outlined, this power enables the police to arrest without warrant and detain a previous terrorism or terrorism-connected offender who is suspected of presenting a further terrorism risk to the public. It also updates Code H to reflect changes made by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.

As the noble Lord said, the horror of the attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019 and a subsequent attack in Streatham is a reminder of the harm that terrorist-risk offenders are capable of. Following these attacks, the Government commissioned the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall, to review MAPPA, which is used to supervise such terrorist and terrorist-risk offenders. The creation of the power of urgent arrest was recommended as part of this review.

We supported the introduction of this power during the passage of the PCSC Act and we support it now. We believe it is vital to have the right safeguards in place. With the introduction of such powers comes the possibility of unintended consequences or missed opportunities. I look forward to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation considering the effect of the introduction of these powers, as well as the other new powers introduced to improve the management of terrorist offenders on licence, and the 2019 powers that Code H now includes.

I was just reflecting on my memory of the attack in Streatham, which is not that far from where I live. I have no inside information on it other than what I read, but I read in the papers various bits of speculation about the officers who were tracking that terrorist offender, who was out on licence; they observed a crime being committed and intervened, and the offender was killed. The speculation I read in the press was about how that process was managed and the huge resource-intensiveness of tracking such people when they are out on licence. Can the Minister say anything about whether this change to the codes of practice within Code H is partly a result of the large resource implications of tracking such offenders when they are out on licence? However, we support the changes.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked me, first, in essence, where is the guidance for the police pre arrest? Of course, the guidance is operational in nature, so it will be issued by Counter Terrorism Policing and the College of Policing, which will issue it internally. Any guidance for officers is of a highly tactical and operational nature and will therefore obviously have to sit within the police’s own guidance rather than a government-issued code of practice.

On how to determine whether an individual is on licence for a terrorist offence, this will be understood through close working by Counter Terrorism Policing and the Prison and Probation Service, which will include information-sharing and briefing about terrorist offenders on licence. If they breach their licence and are recalled, a warrant will be out for their arrest. Obviously, policemen can find out whether an offender is out on licence by checking their details on the police national computer, which will flag it.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about potential operational constraints on the police because of potentially large numbers involved, obviously, I hope that there will not be a large number of people subject to these powers, but I am quite sure that if Counter Terrorism Policing and more routine and—shall we say, traditional?—policing come up against capacity issues, we will certainly hear about it and come back to debate this in further detail. I fear that I cannot supply any better detail than that at this point. However, I will have a dig and, if I can find anything, I shall come back to the noble Lord in writing, if that is acceptable.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Just before the Minister moves on, reflecting on the answer he just gave me about the internal guidance, is that guidance publicly available? If so, has it already been written and where can we find it?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I do not know whether it is publicly available; I am afraid I shall have to find that out as well and come back to the noble Lord. I should be somewhat surprised if it is, but you never know.

In closing, I reiterate that this order provides for the revised PACE Code H, which relates to the detention and treatment of people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and applies across England and Wales, to be brought into force. This revised PACE Code H will govern the fundamental principles to be observed by the police when exercising the new urgent arrest power in Section 43B of the Terrorism Act 2000 and will help preserve the effectiveness of and public confidence in the use of police powers of arrest. The updated code will also reflect various changes made to primary legislation by the 2019 Act, as well as other minor updates to ensure that the terminology in PACE Code H is up to date with wider legislative changes. I can pre-empt writing a letter to the noble Lord, Lord German: I fear the guidance is for internal police use only, so it is not public. That said, I thank both noble Lords for their broad support for this SI and I commend it.

Police and Crime Commissioners: Accountability Arrangements

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 25th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the potential benefits and disbenefits of a recall mechanism were considered by the two-part review that I referenced in my Answer. It was decided that that would be to create a whole new body of bureaucracy and unnecessarily expensive. Ultimately, the public have the right of the ballot box, if you will, to determine the outcome of the PCC.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, given the concern there has been about the vetting of candidates for the police forces and the uneven procedure of granting face- to-face interview after assessment for candidates, does the Minister believe that there is now a need for a tighter role and concern for making sure that the best practice in the appointment of police officers is now part of this scheme which rests either with police and crime commissioners or the central Minister concerned?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As the noble Lord will be aware, after referencing a number of conversations that have been had in the House over the past few days, all of those things are happening with regard to vetting, police officer recruitment and so on.

Police: Employment and Discipline

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

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As I have said, we will be publishing the terms of reference in that review very shortly. The current system provides routes for chief constables to dismiss officers through accelerated hearings, as I have just outlined.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s report, published last November, said that

“it is too easy for the wrong people both to join and to stay in the police.”

One of the recommendations was that any candidate for the police should have a face-to-face interview with existing police officers. When that was put to the Minister in the other House, it was said that there was an expectation that that would happen. Does the Minister agree that the inspectorate has put forward a requirement, not a recommendation, for some action to take place?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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From memory, there is a face-to-face aspect to the vetting and interviewing process—if I am wrong on that, I will come back and correct myself. On the report to which the noble Lord referred, he will be aware that there is a requirement for policing bodies to provide a response to the recommendations in that report within 56 days of its publication. Those responses will be imminent, in that case.

Police: Appointments in PCC Offices

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Wednesday 21st December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I take the noble and learned Lord’s point, and I agree: the Nolan principles should always be observed.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, this Chamber has already decided that policemen facing charges should not escape those charges by resignation. Yet here we have a case of a new PCC appointing someone who is under investigation, and that investigation, as we have heard, has been delayed, in order to hold to account the chief constable. This just cannot stand. If you are appointed as a person to hold a chief constable to account and you yourself are under a sanction of gross misconduct to be heard, surely the Minister must agree that there should be regulations to avoid that circumstance. So, can he tell us what regulations are now going to be put in place in order to make sure this circumstance does not arise?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the regulations already exist. In line with the provisions set out in Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must follow the process set out: namely, they must notify the Police and Crime Panel of their proposed senior appointment. The panel must then hold a confirmation hearing and produce a report and recommendation regarding whether it supports the proposed senior appointment. The PCP must do so within three weeks of receiving notification from the PCC of the proposed appointment. This is all set out in statute, so the regulations already exist.

Investigatory Powers (Communications Data) (Relevant Public Authorities and Designated Senior Officers) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord German and Lord Sharpe of Epsom
Tuesday 20th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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, keeping the public safe and protecting our national security is a key priority for this Government. It is vital that our intelligence agencies, law enforcement bodies and public authorities are able to exercise the important powers contained in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which I will refer to as the IPA. We rightly have in place world-leading standards on transparency, privacy, redress and oversight to accompany the exercise of these powers.

The regulations to be debated today will make two necessary amendments to Schedule 4 to the IPA. The first will implement changes to the communications data authorisation process for the UK intelligence community in order to implement the findings of a High Court judgment. This judgment was handed down in June this year in the case of Liberty v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I will refer to communications data as CD and the UK intelligence community as UKIC.

This amendment will remove the power for UKIC to internally authorise the acquisition of CD for purposes which relate solely to serious crime, other than in urgent circumstances. In line with the court’s judgment, from 1 January 2023, it will be necessary for UKIC to seek authorisation for acquisitions of this type through the Office for Communications Data Authorisations, which I will refer to as the OCDA. The OCDA is part of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office, and its involvement in the authorisation process will ensure that an independent body has considered all non-urgent applications for CD.

For urgent applications, UKIC needs the ability to continue to self-authorise the acquisition of CD in such circumstances, because the OCDA is open only during normal office hours and our intelligence services need to be able to acquire CD at any time of day or night in urgent situations. This statutory instrument makes the necessary change to Schedule 4 to permit such urgent acquisition. Law enforcement bodies such as police forces are able to self-authorise urgent CD requests in the same way.

If this power is not in place, there is a risk of causing delays to UKIC’s operations, potentially putting the public at increased risk of serious crime. Additionally, these regulations will amend the Schedule 4 entry for the UK National Authority for Counter-Eavesdropping, which I will refer to as UK NACE. UK NACE was added to Schedule 4 in 2020, and these regulations do not change the powers afforded to it but make its designation more consistent with the approach taken for other similar bodies which form part of relevant public authorities for the purposes of Schedule 4 to the IPA.

It is opportune to make this small change alongside the other amendments to Schedule 4 to implement the High Court judgment. Per the obligations set out in Section 72 of the IPA, appropriate consultation has taken place with UK NACE, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office in advance of making this change. UK NACE plays a critical role in protecting our national security from state threats and other malign actors, and it is vital that it is equipped with the appropriate powers to carry out this activity effectively.

In summary, these regulations will enable UKIC and UK NACE to continue carrying out their statutory duties effectively, while ensuring that there is appropriate oversight in place to protect privacy. I hope noble Lords will support these measures and their objectives. I commend the draft regulations to the House and beg to move.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, we support these regulations, but I have a number of questions to ask the Minister and would like the whole House to reflect on the way regulations of this sort are dealt with by the House.

Early in January, there will be a debate on two reports from this House on the way in which secondary legislation is dealt with by Parliament, particularly the House of Lords. This particular set of regulations—what I am about to say has no effect on them—come under the enhanced affirmative procedure, which provides for regulations being placed in a draft form so that Parliament can assess them and then request the Government to make changes in summary. They would then bring forward amendments to it. In this set of regulations such a requirement was not in place, because the committee that looked at them, of which I am a member, did not make any recommendations about changes that might be required.

However, there are two points in respect of the way that Parliament deals with these matters. The first is that when the enhanced affirmative procedure is required, there is no specification as to which committee of this House will look at them. I will raise that matter in January, but we perhaps need to consider it. At the moment, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee looks at them, but not necessarily so: it is simply because there was nobody else. In the other place, it is “other committees” that look at this procedure, which is quite strange.

There is no question that, because there is no recommendation from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, this procedure would have to form the amendment. It is very important that we have that opportunity to make changes to the secondary legislation; it is otherwise a take-it-or-leave-it procedure. A detailed discussion has been going on in this House about this, as we find it very strange for a Parliament to give such power to the Executive without having the opportunity to properly scrutinise and make appropriate changes.

I would like to ask the Minister some questions. First, which bit of the EU law, which resulted in the High Court’s decision, was problematic? This was a compendium case taken to the High Court, in which the Government defended themselves. This was one of several elements, and the Government were defeated on this element on the basis that they were breaching that EU law. Is the Minister satisfied that the EU law itself is appropriate and will therefore not necessarily need to be changed? It provides some fundamental rights, particularly against what people call the snoopers’ charter.

My second question concerns the operation of the OCDA. It is rather strange that the Minister and his counterpart in the other place talked about the OCDA being able to deal with these matters only during opening hours. It strikes me as being rather like a pub: you have opening hours, you have to place your order, and you cannot put anything in if the doors are closed. The question therefore arises: if you are applying to the OCDA during opening hours, how long would it take to give an answer? Clearly, the issue of understanding and defining what is urgent is very important. Having a definition that says that it is urgent only if it is closing time or they are gone would not be wholly appropriate. I understand the urgent nature of the legislation, but perhaps the Minister could describe how long the OCDA would take to provide an answer in ordinary circumstances where there is not such urgency. With those two questions, I am pleased to support these regulations. I hope that we can delve more into the process in January.