32 Lord Macdonald of River Glaven debates involving the Home Office

Wed 14th Jun 2023
Illegal Migration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2
Mon 12th Jun 2023
Illegal Migration Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Lords Handsard Part 1
Wed 11th Jan 2023
National Security Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Mon 19th Dec 2022
Tue 22nd Nov 2022
Wed 16th Nov 2022
Public Order Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Mon 28th Feb 2022
Nationality and Borders Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage & Report stage: Part 1
Wed 9th Feb 2022

Sir Edward Heath: Operation Conifer

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on securing this important debate and on his perseverance in this important matter.

It is worth recalling the context for Operation Conifer. It arose in the depths, and I use that term advisedly, of the Metropolitan Police’s—frankly, weird—fixation with the criminal fantasist, Carl Beech. Noble Lords will remember that this man, now serving a richly deserved 18 years in prison, claimed to have been abused by, or witnessed others being abused by, a former Home Secretary, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, a former director-general of the Security Service, a former chief of the Secret Intelligence Service and a former Prime Minister. What were the odds? How credulous did the police have to be to take these claims seriously, notoriously publicly describing the allegations to be “credible and true”, even before the conclusion of their investigation—indeed, almost at the beginning of their investigation? This was like some macabre version of Cluedo, with distinguished public servants reduced to the status of playing cards, only they were real people with real families and real reputations being steadily shredded in real time.

It was within the midst of this storm of scandal, public outrage and credulity that Operation Conifer opened, disgracefully, with the superintendent of police of the Wiltshire Constabulary standing outside the gates of the former home of the by then dead former Prime Minister in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close, calling for “victims” of Sir Edward Heath’s alleged sex crimes to come forward.

This was a remarkable low in policing endeavour. It smacked of an unworthy attempt by the then chief constable of the Wiltshire constabulary, the since disgraced Mike Veale, to curry favour with the public by demonstrating that Wiltshire Police “got it”—that it was on board with the public outrage and would act swiftly and firmly. This behaviour was reckless; it did not smack of real policing and looked political. Therein may lie the true public scandal: not that Sir Edward Heath was guilty of crimes of sexual abuse, for plainly he was not, but that Wiltshire Police may have allowed a critical aspect of our justice system, the criminal investigation phase, to be hijacked in order that it might impress what it took to be a strong public mood.

Of course, there was never any evidence against Sir Edward. The final insult was that, when this became clear, Wiltshire Police sought to give itself spurious cover for its ill-fated investigation by releasing the completely meaningless statement that, had Sir Edward still been alive, he would have been interviewed under caution. As Veale knew then, and surely still knows now, the bar for an interview under caution is so low that its invocation in these circumstances was no more than a weaselly attempt to evade deserved criticism at someone else’s expense. It looked like a final, cruel undermining of Sir Edward’s reputation in the service of the Wiltshire constabulary retaining, as it must earnestly have hoped, some shred of credibility after this fiasco.

It seems to me that this sequence of events is so worrying and so potentially undermining of public confidence in the probity of police investigations that it demands, as noble Lords have said, a public inquiry into the allegations that Sir Edward faced, so that this matter may finally be put to rest and some measure of justice finally be dispensed.

Illegal Migration Bill

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Kerr, will be pleased with my remarks because this is my plea for the impact assessment.

I am delighted to see that we may get a different answer because we have a different Minister, although I have to tell the Minister that if he says “in due course” or “on the first day of Report”, he will get the reaction that his noble friend Lord Murray got. I say, half in jest, it was not great knowing that the Minister was going to reply to this point about the impact assessment, given what happened when he was replying to me yesterday with respect to the Public Order Bill, when the Explanatory Memorandum was published the day after the other place discussed the public order regulations and I received it at 2.27 pm for a 7.30 pm debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, having learned from that, is now on the case to ensure that the impact assessment will be with us well before Report.

The serious point is that all noble Lords are saying to the Home Office that it is simply unacceptable that we are flying in the dark here. We need the information before us. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, can come up with another phrase which gives us more hope and expectation, because that is the serious point here.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his support for Amendments 134 and 135, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for her support for Amendment 138. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, what we have here is an attempt to bring accountability and review into the system. This is about Home Office operational efficiency. The asylum system is in chaos. If it is not in chaos, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me what word he would use for the enormous backlog, the increase in the time that any decision is taking, the drop in the number of people being returned, the surges in people coming across the channel, and the individual injustices. I remind noble Lords, if they have not seen it, that 616 migrants crossed the channel on Sunday. I am not sure whether there have been any since, but on Sunday they came.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was right: if I had known about Amendment 132—also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—requiring an independent review of the management and operation of the Home Office, I would have added my name to it. If we cannot get the bureaucracy, the applications and the decision-making process right, we will have a problem. No law will work if there is bureaucratic inefficiency, so I very much support that amendment.

Amendment 134, requiring the Government to publish an impact assessment of the financial consequences of the Bill, is a probing amendment, but you can see why we require one. We had more information from the Times newspaper about the potential cost of the Government’s reforms, when it went from £3 billion to £6 billion, than from the Government. All the Government can say is, “We don’t comment on leaks”. How on earth can we legislate when all we have to operate with are newspaper stories? We have no way of knowing. If the Government say this is not the case, then what is the case? What is the projected cost? Hence, there is Amendment 134.

Amendment 135 would require the Government to publish an impact assessment on the use of hotels and so on after the Bill has been enacted. Every now and again we read that the Government have bought a couple of barges; that certain hotels are not going to be used; that “it’s not going work at that military camp, so we’re going to try this one”. Then, suddenly, a disused liner sails into Weymouth. This is fag-packet policy. What are we doing? What is the plan? We have tabled this amendment because, clearly, the Government have a plan. In the Home Office, there will be an assessment of what is needed and how it will be done. There is a secret plan, which the Government will not share with us. If that is not the case, and instead it is a case of, “Goodness me, we’ll have to buy a barge”, then buy “Barge News” and see what is available next week. “Oh, I know: there’s a liner coming in”—

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Has it occurred to the noble Lord that there may not even be a secret plan?

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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It had not occurred to me—but it has now.

The serious point is that there must be a plan. It cannot just be a question of, “I know—we will buy a barge, get a liner or buy this military camp”. There must be some sort of strategy, secret plan, non-secret plan or memo saying what the Government are going to do, yet we are not allowed to see, share in or understand it. I have never known anything like it. This is a flagship government Bill. It is an important way of dealing with a challenge that we all know must be dealt with, yet we are having to deal with it in this way. It is nonsensical.

There is another reason why we need to know this. As noble Lord after noble Lord has said, the whole premise of the Bill is that every single migrant crossing the channel or entering illegally will be detained and subject to removal. That must mean that the Government have a figure for how many detention places they will need. If not, can the Minister say, “We have no idea what we will need”, “This is what we think we will need”, or, as would normally happen, describe the worst-case and best-case scenario, or best guess? We have no idea. How many detention places are the Government assuming they will need for their Illegal Migration Bill to work?

Illegal Migration Bill

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
I urge the Government to adopt this amendment for the sake of our moral character, our international reputation and, most importantly, the victims of modern slavery in the UK. But if that does not motivate them, I urge them to accept it for the sake of their own stated objectives.
Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, allow me to add a few words about law enforcement. It seems to me that the problems the Bill intends to confront would best be solved by international co-operation, including international rules of law, but also by firm domestic law enforcement against the traffickers. That is a critical component.

It is very difficult for me to conceive of successful cases against traffickers without the co-operation of their victims. Persuading victims of crime in some categories of crime, including human trafficking, to give evidence against their tormentors is difficult, complex, sensitive, time-consuming work for the most obvious of reasons—the victims themselves feel under threat. This Bill gives those co-operating witnesses, who are showing enormous courage, no encouragement, no succour, no assistance, no help whatever. It will undoubtedly, in my judgment, make successful cases against traffickers less likely. This Bill is not simply anti-asylum but anti-prosecution.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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The strongest argument, apart from the legal and moral arguments, is the practical one that has just been made. How do you persuade victims of slavery to come forward and assist in a case if, when they do so, they are declared inadmissible and dispatched abroad? It is simply counterproductive and destructive of the whole basis of the Modern Slavery Act.

I would like to start as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, did, by pointing to the Government’s announcement last week—there seemed to be some other things going on at the end of last week. It would have been better to make the announcement in this House, but it slipped out that the two-tier system for handling asylum introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act was being abandoned. We spent weeks pointing out that it would not work. However, better the sinner that repenteth, and I warmly welcome the Government’s decision to drop it. I think they were absolutely right.

The asylum queue now, at about 178,000, is 20,000 longer than when, with objections, we passed the Nationality and Borders Bill. A principal reason for it getting longer is the two-tier system that was introduced, which is administratively unworkable. I warmly welcome the Government changing their mind, but it is a shame that it remains a stain on our statute book—a clear breach of the UN refugee convention, as the UNHCR confirmed at the time. Of course, it was a smaller breach of the refugee convention than this Bill, as the UNHCR has confirmed.

If I could have the Minister’s attention, I ask him to at some stage correct the record on the UNHCR’s role in these matters. In the first day in Committee, asked about its views on the Bill, he acknowledged:

“Some parts of the UNHCR have views on the Government’s position”


but said that the UN

“is not charged with the interpretation of the refugee convention”.—[Official Report, 24/5/23; col. 968.]

He might want to reconsider that. Under Article 35 of the convention, the duty is laid on the UNHCR of supervising the application of the convention and all parties to it have an obligation to co-operate with the UNHCR. As for “some parts” of the UNHCR commenting on the Government’s position, it has published and formally conveyed to the Government its formal position and legal observations on the Bill in the exercise of its responsibilities under Article 35. That is what it is required to do and what it has done. To suggest that criticisms of the Bill come from “some parts” of the UNHCR but are not its institutional view is wrong.

I come back to the modern slavery amendments. Mine was taken in the middle of the night, unbeknown to me as I rashly went home shortly before midnight. One of the charms of being a Cross-Bencher is that you never have the faintest idea of what is going on. The usual channels rarely have a tributary around these parts. My amendment was crucial, but it would be out of order for me to speak to it now. However, I can praise the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its magisterial report that came out over the weekend. Its conclusion on the clauses we are looking at is exactly the same as that which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, came to:

“It is, in our view, wholly inappropriate to categorise victims as a threat to public order by the mere fact that they arrived … through an irregular route”.


It says—correctly—that Clause 21 breaches Article 10 of the convention against trafficking and formally recommends that it should be removed from the Bill. I agree. It seems to me that that is what we should do, so I shall support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when we consider whether it should stand part.

My general view is in line with that of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack: I do not like this debate, for a number of reasons, partly because the best debates have two sides to them. This is tennis with nobody on the other side of the net and I am fed up with it.

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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That all depends on the facts of each particular case, As I say, that is what will be considered in accordance with the guidance that I have just described.

Where the Home Secretary concludes it is necessary for someone to remain in the UK for the purpose of co-operating with a law enforcement agency, the continued need will be kept under review. Section 65 of the Nationality and Borders Act already provides for the grant of limited leave to remain in such cases. The length of such leave should be considered on a case-by-case basis. As such, it would not be appropriate to provide for an arbitrary minimum period of 30 months, as Amendment 89 seeks to do.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Would the Minister accept that, given the extreme sensitivity of persuading victims in these categories of offences to co-operate in the first place, and the almost full-time pastoral care that they have to be given in the approach to a trial, doing all of this from the countries to which these people are likely to be sent is going to be inordinately difficult?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid I do not accept that, because of the advances in technology that I have already described. That is the position in respect of Amendment 89.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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May I just briefly make four points? First, as regards exempting small companies, as a director of one or two small companies that are charities, I can see no reason at all why we should exempt them. Your accountant always goes through what measures you have in place to prevent fraud, and it is extraordinarily difficult to understand what the costs are.

Secondly, from the way in which the Bill is drafted, it plainly means a single body corporate. There is a whole host of good reasons why you would structure your corporate activities over a host of different companies. It is critical that, if you are to have a limit, it must include all associated companies. You can see a good illustration of the way this is done in the provisions of the Building Safety Act 2022 that deal with remediation in relation to cladding. The Government dealt with it there because so many SPVs—special purpose vehicles—are used in the property industry, and you simply cannot permit them to be treated separately. Certainly, there are extremely good reasons sometimes to structure your partnerships as a whole lot of separate partnerships, partly to limit your liability for negligence. However, it should not apply in relation to fraud.

Thirdly, dealing with two out of three tests is not sensible. Looking at the way in which you suggest fines be imposed on companies, if you are to go down this route, the variety of the ways in which companies operate is so enormous that if you are to have an exemption, you should catch as many as possible. Again, if you do not have a structure that brings in everyone, the position is more complex.

Lastly, I will say something about the reform of the doctrine of corporate responsibility. Of course, I agree with my noble and learned friend, and former colleague, Lord Etherton that we need to be very careful. However, we are trying to tackle economic crime, and there is therefore a special case to be made for dealing with that. If we say that we have to wait until we have the whole of the criminal law sorted out, although one or two people in this Room may see it in their lifetime—I see that the Minister has a young team behind him—the law moves with incredible slowness in reforming criminal justice, and if we do not go through with this in this Bill, I doubt whether even the young members of the team will see any change, not merely during their time at the Home Office but in their lifetimes. We ought to move now.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, against the extraordinarily high rate of fraud offending, we have to set the fact that fraud is the most under-prosecuted offence within this jurisdiction. There is no doubt about that, and no doubt that people in the country understand it, are aware of it and are extremely angry about it, particularly victims of this crime. I would hazard a guess that virtually everybody present knows at least one person who has been the victim of a fraud that has not been prosecuted; I know several. That is a lot of people who are not getting justice—on both sides of the transaction, I might say. I therefore welcome this amendment but I am disappointed that SMEs have been carved out, largely because, on the Government’s own figures, no less than 99.9% of businesses in the UK are SMEs. That is a significant statistic when we are considering the size of this carve-out and the impact it is likely to have on the Government’s objectives.

Some comparisons have been made with the Bribery Act 2010, specifically Section 7, and the “failure to prevent” offence in that legislation. Similar arguments about SMEs were made during the debates that led to that legislation, including the claim that if SMEs were included within it then that would impact on their ability to export. I am sure these are the sorts of arguments the Government have in mind when excluding SMEs from this legislation—that somehow it would be too burdensome for SMEs, some of which, to most of us, are very large companies indeed. So it is germane that in 2015, the government survey of SMEs and the impact of the Bribery Act on them found that nine out of 10 had no concerns or problems whatever with the Act, and that 89% felt it had had no impact on their ability to export.

As the Committee has heard, when your Lordships’ House undertook post-legislative scrutiny of the Bribery Act, it concluded that there was no need for any statutory exemption for SMEs from the Act. The Law Commission similarly received submissions arguing that SMEs should be excluded from corporate liability reform. It disagreed and did not recommend any statutory exemption for SMEs. Furthermore, government research on SME adoption of preventive procedures in relation to the Bribery Act found that the average cost for an SME was £2,730, with medium-sized enterprises spending an average of £4,610. These are tiny figures that could not conceivably justify exclusion of SMEs from this legislation on the basis that it would be too burdensome for them. Points have already been made about the extent to which the Government are encouraging the placing of public procurement contracts with SMEs, and that is also highly significant.

Since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, has raised the question of prosecutorial discretion—it seems only yesterday that he was Solicitor-General, but that may be a sign of my age as much as his— I say in support of him that the amendment as drafted places a great deal of discretion at the disposal of prosecutors. The defence set out under new subsection (3)(b) is:

“It is a defence for the relevant body to prove that, at the time the fraud offence was committed … it was not reasonable in all the circumstances to expect the body to have any prevention procedures in place”.


That is a potential carve-out that would deal with any problem or concern the Government have that the amendment’s impact might be disproportionate on SMEs. For all the reasons I have set out, I do not believe that it would be. I believe the real effect would be to leave whole swathes of business activity completely unaffected by this legislation so that, in effect, fraud would continue—disgracefully, in my view—to be an under-prosecuted offence.

Lord Cromwell Portrait Lord Cromwell (CB)
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The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, referred earlier to making feeble jokes. Anyone who was here on Tuesday heard my feeble joke for this year, so the Committee will be relieved to know that I am not going to make any more.

I agree with all the previous speakers that the idea of creating a legal cliff edge, with whole, untouched schools of fish swimming in the sea below the cliff, is both problematic and fundamentally pointless. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, about enablers; we will be coming to that issue later, and it is a real concern. To me, it is rather like saying that SMEs do not need to worry about health and safety or do not need cyber security, and only the big firms do. Both those assertions are patently nonsense, but that seems to be the flavour of what we are faced with here with this cliff edge. I hope the Committee enjoyed my analogy about the fish.

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Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Before the Minister moves to another area, the figure I gave that SMEs account for 99.9% of all companies and business organisations in the UK comes from government statistics—namely, business population estimates for 2022.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that information; I will come back on that.

National Security Bill

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate, will be clearer than at Second Reading. I think that the justification the Government have provided is not strong enough. The expansions are far too strong. There are concerns that this would provide immunity, and there is a lack of risk assessment, for some of the serious crimes that I indicated. The preference would be for the whole clause to be taken out—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on our contention that the clause should not stand part—or at the very least for the Government to be very clear with regard to the interaction on the very serious offences outlined in my amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, I just wonder whether he considers that there may be a difference between intentional killing, on the one hand, which may or may not be wrong, depending on the circumstances and context, and torture and sexual violation on the other, in respect of which it is very difficult to conceive that they could ever be right. Does he think that there may be a distinction?

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I understand the case. The Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel does not make the distinction. It does make the distinction that there is a lack of clarity when it comes to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. Our definitions of that may differ from those of some of our allies, or of others we are working with. For the other two areas, there is no distinction as provided for under the consolidated guidance. Indeed, the risk assessment criteria that all officers currently have to operate under—the checklist that exists within the guidance that they have to go through before entering into any of the security work with agencies—include all of these areas, including where senior personnel and legal advisers conclude that there is risk of torture or CIDT, and also lawful killing. This is in addition to what authorisations under the ISA may bring about.

National Security Bill

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
Baroness Manningham-Buller Portrait Baroness Manningham-Buller (CB)
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I will not take very long; I will just correct the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that economic pressures on national security are a new addition. The Security Service Act 1989—the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who is not in his place, referred to this—talked about protecting the

“economic well-being of the United Kingdom”.

This is not a new issue. That is a point of clarification, for which I have not taken too much time.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, on the minor tiff between the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Carlile, both of whom I have great respect for, I am inclined to side with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I have no doubt at all that economic well-being is an aspect of national security. It is worth observing that Clause 2(1)(d) requires that

“the foreign power condition is met in relation to the … conduct”

in question. In Clause 29, the “foreign power” condition is:

“For the purposes of this Part the foreign power condition is met in relation to a person’s conduct if … the conduct in question, or a course of conduct of which it forms part, is carried out for or on behalf of a foreign power, and … the person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that to be the case.”


That is the sort of conduct that we are talking about. We are not talking simply about one commercial organisation stealing a science secret from the University of Oxford; we are talking about this conduct being carried out at the behest of a foreign power, which rather colours the matter in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, described.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister has given no quarter. I suppose that is to be expected on the first day of a Committee on a Bill, with the Government defending their position as thoroughly as he has done. I hope that when he does read Hansard, as he has just promised to do, he will realise that there are a great many areas in which flaws in the Bill have been exposed—and exposed in particular by this group of amendments—where it is quite plain that conduct that ought not be criminal runs the risk of being criminalised. The question asked by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed just a moment ago exposed the danger for people working for a foreign intelligence service if they are British citizens; they are plainly caught. There are a number of areas where assisting a foreign intelligence service, for instance, gives rise to particular difficulties.

Before I go on to any detail, let me say that it is a dangerous path for a Government to say that they do not believe that there would be many unjustified prosecutions because the public interest test for a prosecution would not be met. Let us remind ourselves that the prosecution services have to consider two things: first, whether there is a reasonable chance of a conviction on the evidence, and, secondly, whether it would be—

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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“Realistic” is better than “reasonable”; the noble Lord knows far better than I what the test is.

The second point is whether it would be in the public interest to prosecute. That is a decision made by prosecuting authorities. What we are concerned about in this Committee is what conduct is criminal and merits a conviction in a criminal court. That carries with it the question of how a judge will be constrained to direct a jury as to what criminal conduct is. We have to get that right. Nowhere is that better shown than in this group of amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was referred to jocularly in an earlier group by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, who said that she often does not agree with government policy and the interests of the United Kingdom as defined by government policy. Of course, he is right that she often does not agree with government policy, but she is right to point out the danger of ill-thought-out laws that go too wide, criminalising behaviour that is no more than the democratic expression of dissenting views. That is one of the evils at which this whole suite of amendments that we have tabled is directed.

An example of how the Bill goes too far was highlighted by the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, to my Mossad example. She said that, of course, Mossad operating in the United Kingdom would be—I forget the phrase she used—notifiable activity, or it would notify of the activity. That is not the concern I was expressing. The concern that I and others were expressing is that a private citizen helping a foreign intelligence agency in the interests of the United Kingdom or compatible with them, without a government sanction and without working for the Government, would be criminalised. I suggest that it is wrong for that private citizen to be dependent on the Government, prosecuting authorities or the Attorney-General taking the view that the public interest test was not met.

In connection with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, we simply heard no answer to his question about the tendering of legal advice. I know the Minister said that consideration would be given to that, but that calls into question the whole gamut of queries raised in this House, in this Committee and elsewhere about where the Bill goes too far. I suggest that where a Bill is too wide because it offends against human rights so that human rights are infringed and obviously infringed, the law can become positively dangerous—that is why the JCHR position taken on a number of these amendments is so important; I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on this. We do not just have to consider a benign and friendly Government steeped in the traditions of British democracy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, who is not here today, often says, you have to consider the possibility arising of a Government who are wholly against the traditional freedoms that are protected by our law on human rights. I suggest that that is the danger that we are concerned to defeat.

I therefore invite the Minister and his colleagues to go away and think very carefully about the breadth of these clauses and about the strength of the amendments that we have suggested to them, and to discuss with those people who have proposed amendments—we will all be willing to discuss these amendments and any refinements there should be; we are not wedded to the wording as it is the principles that are involved. Thus, by the time the Bill comes back on Report, they can be far more clearly defined, and the intent to prejudice national security—the subject of the Bill—should be clearly made out before anyone is subjected to serious criminal consequences as a result of misguided prosecutions and convictions that will inevitably flow from the misguided wording of the Bill. Having said that we will discuss it, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 94, lest it be overlooked in considering the broader issues in this debate. I accept that the issue before us in this section of the Bill is a sensitive one that deserves our most earnest consideration.

I agree in principle with the amendments to Clause 9 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. Amendment 94 relates to the criminal punishment attached to the proposed criminal offence. Given that the clause potentially criminalises people for praying quietly or offering support and advice to people in a public area, this is no small aspect of the clause. Making it illegal to quietly stand outside an abortion clinic or compassionately express one’s genuinely held belief about the sanctity of human life and the value of an unborn child, as proposed in this Bill, is surely a major step backwards for our country.

The right to enjoy freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest have been hard fought for and should not easily be given away. Yet, as a result of this clause, anyone who influences, advises or persuades, who attempts to advise or persuade, or who otherwise expresses an opinion outside an abortion clinic, could be liable even in the first instance to a prison sentence. Surely this runs contrary to our basic freedoms. A former Home Office Minister said in March 2021:

“The right to protest is the cornerstone of our democracy and the Government is absolutely committed to maintaining freedom of expression.”


Can the Minister confirm that this new law as drafted would criminalise someone who accompanies a woman having an abortion who says to her, “Are you sure?”, even if the woman seeking the abortion is happy for that to be asked—that they would fall foul of this legislation? If so, what kind of a country are we living in?

I heard a lot of talk about the other place, and like two noble Lords who spoke—

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Does the noble Lord understand that prosecutors, in authorising and not authorising charges, have discretion in whether to prosecute a case? No prosecutor I have met would ever prosecute a case on the facts the noble Lord has just set out.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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Is the noble Lord also aware that one of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, addresses exactly this issue, making somebody voluntarily accompanying a person to a clinic exempt from this clause?

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Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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I very much welcome the noble and learned Lord’s help in trying to find a suitable wording for what we are seeking to do. I want to inform your Lordships’ House of what is happening: there are individual acts that, one by one, may not be intimidating but, put together in a pattern with a deliberate aim, they are.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that I am glad he was there with my colleague David Steel in 1967, but we are in a very different place now. Back in 1967, clinics were not having to deal with harassment as they are now.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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Does the noble Baroness agree with me that there is clear evidence of a concerted effort by well-funded, extremist United States—sometimes religious—groups to replicate in this country the situation that exists outside abortion clinics in the United States, in which women are routinely abused and threatened for trying to access medical care?

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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I do not think there is any doubt about that; the evidence is—

Public Order Bill

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Excerpts
Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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The Bill addresses this point, but we could spend for ever on that. None the less, I understand that the Bill is designed to bring clarity to the issue of whether a police officer is within his rights to deal with an obstruction, for whatever cause that obstruction may occur. To answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile; clearly, in the situation he outlined, the police officer would exercise his common sense and would not arrest the person in question. Therefore, it seems to me that, if we seek clarity, the more we add bits and pieces to the legislation that put down reasons why people may have a right to protest—for some reason which they bring forward—we simply fudge the whole issue and deduct from the clarity that we need. At the end of the day, people really do want this clarified: they want to know what the rights and duties of the police officer are, and that they are accordingly following those thoroughly.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, the extent to which there are gaps in our current legislation that require filling by this legislation is a substantial question. I, for one, will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say about this, because it seems to me that it is incumbent on the Government to point out what those gaps and loopholes are, and where those gaps and loopholes are being exploited. If the reality is that we have sufficient legislation in place but it is simply not being rigorously applied, that is no argument at all for new legislation: it is an argument for the current legislation to be properly applied. I am absolutely confident that we have legislation to deal with people who climb up on to motorway gantries and cause 50,000 or 60,000 cars to be blocked from travelling around the M25. With respect, I defy the Government to argue with any persuasive force that we do not have legislation to deal with that.

So far as the point made by the noble Lord on the recent Supreme Court judgment in Ziegler is concerned, that reasoning would of course apply to every clause in this legislation. All that the court was saying was that when individuals are arrested for an offence in circumstances where they are exercising their Article 10 free expression rights, a proportionate examination has to be undertaken by the court as to whether the inconvenience, for example, that they are causing is so minimal that it is overwhelmed by their Article 10 rights to protest and that they should therefore be allowed to do so. Of course that is right and it would apply to every clause in the Bill. If the disruption is significant, it will almost always, in my judgment, overcome any Article 10 defence. But I ask, particularly in respect of the offence of locking on: where are the gaps that the Government say exist that need filling by this clause and subsequent clauses in the Bill?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall open by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for setting the scene and the background to this group of amendments. I agree with the way that he set out the history of this group of amendments. I also thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for the way she set out her amendments and commented on the other amendments. I agree with her assessment that the Bill, as drafted, is vague and broad—and that it is vague and broad in a dangerous way. I agree with those central points.

Throughout the Bill, a number of clauses state that it is a defence for a person charged with an offence under the clause to

“prove that they had a reasonable excuse”

for their actions. As we have heard, the JCHR flagged this as a reverse of the burden of proof, so that rather than the prosecution having to prove that a person’s actions were done without a reasonable excuse and so were unlawful, it is for the defendant to prove, after they have been charged, that they had a reasonable excuse for their actions. This is in contrast to an offence such as obstruction of the highway, which we have just heard about, where the prosecution must prove that the defendant did not have lawful authority or excuse for their actions. For the new locking-on offence, the burden of proof would be on the defendant to show that he or she had a reasonable excuse.

Such a reverse burden of proof may be inconsistent not only with Articles 10 and 11 but with the presumption of innocence—a central principle of criminal justice and an aspect of Article 6 of the ECHR and the right to a fair trial. This is because requiring the defendant to prove something, even on the balance of probabilities, may result in a conviction despite there being an element of doubt, and it is hard to see why a reverse burden is necessary or appropriate in this case. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, gave the example of a bladed article and the reverse burden of proof in that context. It is of course a defence I am very familiar with as a sitting magistrate in London. It is of course right that the court will take its own view on whether the reverse burden of proof is reasonable in these circumstances.

I agree with the point made by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti that the better situation is that a police officer, when considering whether to charge, at that point takes into account whether there is a reasonable excuse, rather than it being subsequently resolved in a court case—although I also acknowledge the legal point made by the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Anderson, that it is not always simple to distinguish between the two. Nevertheless, the point is that the police officer should take into account a potential reasonable excuse defence before deciding whether to charge.

To summarise this debate, two noble Lords made points that I thought were particularly resonant. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked whether this was speciality legislation for ever more exotic offences that can be extremely annoying to the general public. As many noble Lords have said in this debate, there is existing legislation to deal with those offences, and there is scepticism that the police are feeling able to use the legislation that is already within their power. The noble Lord, Lord McDonald, challenged the Minister to give examples of the gaps in the existing laws: in fact, he defied the Minister to go ahead and give those examples.

I also want to comment briefly on my noble friend Lady Blower’s speech on Amendment 60, which of course I agreed with. I also agreed with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that in the case of industrial action it should not be a reasonable excuse. The offences should never be charged in the first place. It is the same point, in a sense, that the potential use of a reasonable excuse should be taken into account right at the beginning of the process rather than once you get to a court case.

Although the amendments focus on particular detailed provisions in this Bill, I think a challenge has been laid down to the Minister to give examples and to say why this is necessary when we have a plethora of laws which are being used. The demonstrators on the M25 have moved on partly because of the sentences that have been given to them, so what is the necessity of pursuing this legislation?

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Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, as a former prosecutor, I commend Amendment 6 to the Minister. I have no doubt at all that a definition along the lines of that pressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, would be of assistance to the police in judging their response to these sorts of events. A definition would certainly be of assistance to prosecutors in coming to a determination about what the appropriate charge is. It would assist judges in summing up cases to juries, and it would certainly assist juries in coming to fair conclusions by judging the conduct of defendants against an intelligible definition. If we do not have a definition, the danger is that people will be more at sea than they need be.

I have one other point. People who are proposing to go out and demonstrate are entitled to understand and to be able to predict with some confidence whether what they are proposing to do will be lawful or unlawful. This is an important aspect of the rule of law: that the law is predictable and the consequences attendant on the behaviour that demonstrators seek to engage in are predictable. This important aspect of the rule of law is clearly undermined by a lack of certainty in the Bill in the absence of a definition of one of its most important concepts—that of “serious disruption”.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti is unable to be in her place for this group, which affords me the opportunity to speak to Amendment 23, which would include in the Bill a definition of “serious disruption”—a single definition, in contradistinction to the ideas proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

Much turns on this phrase; it appears a grand total of 132 times, acting as a core component to several new and extremely broad criminal offences. As things stand, the consequence of “causing or contributing to” serious disruption of varying kinds could result in a prison sentence, unlimited fines or a variety of conditions imposed through what many are calling protest banning orders, including GPS ankle tagging, bans on internet usage, prohibitions on associating with certain people and, again, imprisonment—yet, as we all now know, nowhere in the Bill is “serious disruption” defined.

The former Minister, Kit Malthouse MP, claimed at Second Reading in the other place that

“the phrase ‘serious disruption to the community’ has been in use in the law since 1986 and is therefore a well-defined term in the courts, which of course is where the test would be applied under the legislation.”—[Official Report, Commons, 23/5/22; col. 106.]

I am afraid that I do not think that explanation suffices. The test to which the former Minister refers is that set out in the Public Order Act 1986, which is now almost four decades old. It relates to the imposition of conditions on public procession, assemblies and one-person protests. This Bill is very much wider, and that framework does not necessarily neatly map on to what is before the House today.

I add that it is surprising that the Government should be content to allow legal uncertainty and let the courts, through lengthy and expensive litigation, rather than through Parliament, set the parameters of what actions they wish to criminalise. The lack of a definition of serious disruption in the Bill is an obvious and, in my view, critical deficiency and one which Members on all sides of this House and those in the other place have identified on several occasions.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights remarked in its report:

“It is unclear who or what would need to be seriously disrupted, what level of disruption is needed before it becomes serious and how these questions are meant to be determined by protesters and police officers on the ground—or even the courts.”


At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made apt reference to both the Joint Committee report and the evidence to the other place from West Midlands Police, who called for

“as much precision … as possible”—[Official Report, Commons, Public Order Bill Committee, 9/6/22; col. 58.]

in defining serious disruption. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who has much experience of police operations in response to protests through his time as Metropolitan Police Commissioner echoed this call for clarity. In another place, Sir Charles Walker condemned the overall thrust of the Bill, no doubt worsened by this vague and all-encompassing term, calling it “unconservative”.

Therefore, it was heartening to hear at Second Reading the Minister recognise the House’s “strength of feeling” on this issue and that

“a clear definition could bring benefits”.—[Official Report, 1/11/22; col. 204.]

This amendment would deliver such benefits, giving legal certainty and precision to what are otherwise vague and, frankly, highly draconian offences. It does so by clarifying that before the Bill’s offences are engaged, significant harm must be caused to persons, property or, per the Public Order Act 1986, the life of the community. It sets the bar at an appropriately high level, stating that “significant harm” must be

“more than mere inconvenience, irritation or annoyance”.

The example of people joining arms to walk down the street has already been given, so I will not repeat that. Under the amendment’s proposed definition, these ordinary everyday behaviours would be rendered safe from undue criminalisation. The definition also requires that significant harm must be

“of a kind that strictly necessitates interference with the rights and freedoms curtailed by proportionate exercise of a power, or prosecution for an offence, provided for under this Act.”

We have seen the police exercise existing powers inappropriately and disproportionately—I will not go into the case of Charlotte Lynch yet again, but it is one such.

This amendment is designed to prevent the future misuse of any new offences and powers created. Its benefits are threefold, giving guidance to the police in exercising their powers; safety to the public, who should be free to enjoy their right to protest free from prosecution; and clarity to the courts when they must interpret the law.

The criminal law acts as a powerful and coercive tool by which dividing lines are set between conduct Parliament has deemed acceptable or unacceptable. As the former senior Law Lord and eminent jurist, Lord Bingham, posited in the 2003 case, R v H and the Secretary of State for the Home Department, its purpose is

“to proscribe, and by punishing to deter, conduct regarded as sufficiently damaging to the interests of society”.

Clear definitions are therefore indispensable, for without them, how is the public expected to understand what is proscribed, from what they are being deterred or what Parliament has concluded is sufficiently damaging to the interests of society?

I strongly believe that the Bill should be voted down in its entirety. It represents a dangerous and authoritarian boost to the state’s power to curtail the vital right to protest peacefully. However, this amendment’s definition would go some way to remedying one of the Bill’s many critical flaws. I therefore commend it to the House.

Nationality and Borders Bill

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Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, powers to deprive British citizens of their citizenship have historically been very tightly drawn under UK immigration law for obvious reasons. However, I reminded the Committee that in 2003, 2006, 2014 and 2018, these powers were very considerably expanded, so that now they are exercisable against any British citizen who has dual nationality, where the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good. The breadth of this power is perhaps best understood by the Supreme Court’s conclusion in the Begum case, that this includes situations where the individual is unaware that they hold dual nationality and even where that individual has little or no connection with their country of second nationality.

I reminded the Committee of the words of the leading immigration law silk, Raza Husain QC, who said:

“This progressive extension over the last two decades has meant that it is no longer necessary to demonstrate that someone is a terrorist or a traitor before stripping them of British citizenship. Individuals may be deprived of citizenship on general public interest grounds of the sort usually invoked to justify deportation, rather than on the basis of their severing the bonds of allegiance that are the hallmark of nationality.”


The drastic nature of this power was well described by the United States chief justice Earl Warren, a Republican, put on the court by President Eisenhower, who said that the loss of nationality amounts to

“the total destruction of the individual’s status in organised society… the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.”

He was channelling Hannah Arendt there.

Deprivation of citizenship is such a drastic and far-reaching power that it must be accompanied by proper procedural safeguards. That much is obvious. This is a power that has been beloved of some of the worst regimes in history. If we are to permit this power to a Secretary of State, it must be accompanied by procedural safeguards. In its original form, Clause 9 went in precisely the opposite direction, removing the most basic safeguard of all—the safeguard of notification —really at the Secretary of State’s whim. That was not good enough and, like my noble friend Lord Anderson, I am grateful to the Government for having listened to the debate in Committee and for having changed course. Again, like him, I am satisfied that serious movement has been made and that some of our most serious concerns about the clause as originally drafted have been responded to appropriately. For that reason, I will be supporting this amendment and am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for moving it.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, add hugely important safeguards to Clause 9, but subsections (5) to (7), which are set out on page 12 at lines 13 to 19, would remain in place and appear to make lawful what is clearly unlawful. The secret power to deprive citizenship without notice and/or appeal threatens our cherished British values of fair play and the rule of law. It would also risk unduly affecting ethnic minority communities. Subsections (5) to (7) seek to instruct the courts to treat past unlawful deprivations as if they were lawful, even where the courts have found that these actions failed to comply with statute at the time when they were made.

Parliament, it seems to me, is being asked to condone a disregard for the law by those Ministers who took away British national citizenship when it was illegal to do so. If these provisions remain in the Bill, a series of unlawful deprivation orders made against young women from minority ethnic communities will not be subject to any scrutiny whatever. This cannot be right.

It seems clear from what has been said so far on this clause that the most profound concerns still relate to Clause 9 as a whole and—although the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, alters the whole tenor of the Bill and grateful thanks are due to the Minister for enabling this—the concerns remain. These clauses would create a secret power. Clause 9 goes well beyond cases where the Government cannot provide notice. According to the Policy Exchange think tank, at no point in the last century has it been thought that national security called for depriving British citizens of their citizenship without notice. We cannot see the case for this now, at a time when our closest allies, such as the US, are warning that depriving individuals of citizenship is not an effective way to fight terrorism.

The main issue in this group of amendments is whether Clause 9 should remain part of the Bill. My suggestion is that it should be removed to create certainty and clarity. It seems to me that the optimal solution would be to remove this clause altogether, not only because, as it stands, it is contrary to British law and indeed to parts of the UN refugee convention, but because this clause—as well as new subsections (5) to (7) proposed by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—seem to enable further restrictive orders, something that we as a scrutinising Chamber should avoid at all costs. Therefore, while I will of course support the noble Lord’s amendment, I will also seek to move my amendment, which would leave Clause 9 out.

Knife Crime

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Wednesday 9th February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord that VRUs are a very valuable tool in early intervention. We have provided £35.5 million this year to fund them. They are commissioning a range of youth interventions, and I will keep the House updated as they become more widespread.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister say something about interventions in schools to discourage young people from becoming involved in gangs, which seem to be a very rich source of knife crime on our streets?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right in what he says, and we know that engaging in education is one of the strongest protective factors against violence. That is why we have invested over £45 million in both mainstream and alternative provision schools in serious violence hotspots, to support young people at risk of involvement in serious violence to re-engage in education. Since November last year, in 22 areas across England alternative provision specialist task forces have been working directly with young people.