Arrests and Prison Capacity

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, public safety must at all times be our primary concern. The fact that we now have a shortage of prison spaces and that these contingency measures were even considered is worrying. The Government have said they have not put the measures in place this time, but of course this shortage of prison spaces has been building for a long time and is having a knock-on effect throughout the criminal justice system. I agree with the need for contingency planning, even when the outcome is worrying. Can the Minister tell me, within contingency planning, what would be the priorities for the arrest or non-arrest of suspects?

In conclusion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, for the assiduous and courteous way in which he has dealt with many questions, debates and lots of legislation. He must be one of the most hard-working Members of this House, and we appreciate it.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord very much indeed for those remarks. They are very kind, and I am very grateful for them.

Obviously, public safety is the Government’s priority. We fully expect the police to arrest anyone who has committed a serious crime and poses a risk to the public. Police chiefs have been very clear today that officers will arrest anyone they need to in order to keep the public safe. The NPCC has suggested that, to its knowledge from daily engagement with forces, no arrests have been delayed because of the impact of Operation Early Dawn.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his acknowledgement that contingency planning is obviously a necessity. Frankly, any serious organisation should prepare for contingencies all the time. There were some strange remarks relating to that in the House of Commons. I think it is odd that was perhaps highlighted as a thing.

I acknowledge the comments about prison capacity, but we have made significant progress with regards to building capacity, which I am happy to talk about.

Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) (Amendment) Order 2024

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Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months ago)

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I should have said that we support the order.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we support the order as well, and I thank the Minister for introducing this SI. Currently, pre-settled status lapses when somebody is outside the UK for a period of two years or more continuously; settled status lapses after five years of absence.

A court ruling, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, found in late 2022 that, first, applicants granted pre-settled status should not lose their rights of residence if they do not make an application for settled status. This was on the basis that the wording of Article 13(4) of the withdrawal agreement makes it clear that a right of residence can be lost only in very specific circumstances. The expiry of the status was not among them. Secondly, the consequence of the above is that settled status rights accrue automatically once the conditions of such status have been satisfied by the individual without the need for a second application.

As we have heard from the Minister, this SI aligns the law with this ruling in ensuring that pre-settled status can lapse only after five years’ absence. The Government also announced last year that some pre-settled status holders will be automatically changed to being settled status holders this year.

Can the Minister confirm how many people have applied to switch from pre-settled to settled status but are currently waiting for a decision on their applications? We know that there is still a backlog. Will he tell us what information the Home Office has on the number of people who currently meet the eligibility criteria to switch from pre-settled to settled status but have not yet submitted an application to do so?

In July 2023, the Home Office said that its intention was to take steps to automatically convert as many eligible pre-settled status holders as possible to settled status once they are eligible for it, without them needing to make an application. Can the Minister update us on the progress of those plans? As he has acknowledged, the draft order seeks to implement a change to current legislation that is required as a result of the court’s decision. We approve of the order but I would be interested in the answers to those questions. They are actually the same questions that were asked in the other place when this matter was considered.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions to this relatively short debate. It is worth saying to start that the EU settlement scheme has been a great success—and I shall come on to the numbers in a second. We have gone above and beyond our obligations under the citizens’ rights agreements and are pleased that so many families, friends and neighbours have obtained the status that they need to remain in the UK.

To respond to the various points, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me about facts and figures. This also answers a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made. There is no complacency here: as of 31 December 2023, 7.7 million applications were made to the scheme by an estimated 6.2 million people, of whom 5.7 million have obtained a grant of status. We have received 1.7 million applications since 30 June 2021, of which 38% were late applications; 39% were repeat applications, including those moving from pre-settled to settled status; 23% were joining family members; and 1% were from derivative rights applicants—please do not ask me what that means, because I do not know.

Nearly 1.6 million of the applications received since 30 June have been concluded; 746,000 people have moved from pre-settled to settled status, which represents more than half of repeat applications, and contributes to settled status outcomes being proportionately high when looking at the monthly outcome figures in the quarterly statistics. Application intake has remained high—the average monthly intake for the final quarter of 2023 was approximately 51,000. However, we continue to conclude more applications than we receive, concluding on average more than 57,000 applications a month.

Finally, there are 121,830 pending applications, compared to 142,430 in the previous data released to 30 September 202, which is a 14% reduction. I appreciate that that was a lot of numbers. It might be helpful if I commit those to paper and send them to both noble Lords.

The order is not retrospective, in answer to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. If the leave of a pre-settled status holder lapses before the coming into force of this order and they have not obtained a withdrawal agreement right of permanent residence, they will have lost their immigration permission to enter or remain in the UK. That is consistent with the citizens’ rights agreements, because the point at which pre-settled status currently lapses, after more than two years of absence, is more generous than any of the periods of absence permitted under the agreements.

On why we have not given pre-settled status holders a more generous permitted absence period in line with the draft order, the current provisions already allow pre-settled status holders significant periods of absence while maintaining their status. We have gone further than required by the citizens’ rights agreements. There are no plans to take a more generous domestic approach to permitted absence periods for pre-settled status holders than those set out in the agreements. Pre-settled status is a route to settlement, and we expect an individual to show a level of commitment to the UK. Not only are these absence periods well established under previous immigration arrangements with the EU; it would be unfair on UK nationals in EU member states who would not benefit from such greater flexibility.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me why we were slow to implement the judgment. By virtue of UK domestic law, the withdrawal agreement as interpreted by the judgment is directly effective, which means that the rights are, and always have been, available to citizens. Our implementation is therefore focused on ensuring that it continues to be easy for citizens, government departments and third parties, such as employers and landlords, to evidence rights or check that they are in place. Some of that work is not straightforward and necessarily takes time. No guidance on the order has been published, but it will be shortly.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness for submitting her specific question, which was about confirming that the GOV.UK web pages make it clear that the change made by the SI will not benefit a holder of pre-settled status who does not have permanent resident rights. The change will benefit pre-settled status holders who have not acquired a withdrawal agreement right of permanent residence by extending the five-year lapsing provision to all EUSS status holders. I can confirm that the GOV.UK pages will be amended to clarify the position for leave that has lapsed before and after the order comes into force. The position remains that the easiest way for a pre-settled status holder to prove their right to live permanently in the UK is to apply for settled status.

I hope that that addresses all the points raised today. I appreciate that this is a particularly complicated subject. In conclusion, the draft order upholds the judgment of the High Court; it ensures consistency in the legal framework and does so in a simple, practical and workable way. I thank noble Lords for their support and commend the order to the Committee.

Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 1st May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me for taking the Front-Bench slot from this Bench instead, where I can lean on the back of the Bench in front of me.

The inscription on the sculpture at Waterloo Station commemorating the Windrush generation reads:

“You called … and we came”.


It is the first and repeated line of a poem by Professor Laura Serrant, a very senior nurse, celebrating the call between 1948 and 1971 to people to care for this nation. One stanza is as follows:

“Our big hearts, skilful hands and quick minds

encased in our skins – of a darker hue.

Which had shimmered and glowed

in our sunnier climes.

But now signified our difference

– our un-belonging.

Matrons became assistants

Nurses became like chambermaids.

All the while striving to fulfil our promise

– to succour, to serve, to care”.

This is not the first time that I have used poetry in this Chamber to make a point which I cannot make quite so clearly myself.

I share both my noble friends’ regret regarding these rule changes as they apply to care workers—though “regret” is rather a mild term when we still look beyond the UK to other countries for people to care for us but do not treat them as we should. We fail to respect them as we should. We subject or expose them to experiences that do not show respect or, sometimes, humanity. We may not display overt racism in the same way that the Windrush generation encountered, but failing to recognise that caring is part of the culture of some other nations in a way that it is not in ours is, I think, an aspect of othering.

The paradox—or contradiction, if you like—of “We want you and we need you but there is a limit to how far we will reflect that in our rules and our ways of working” remains. It is reflected in the rules regarding dependants and in the risks of exploitation. My noble friends have covered that very fully, as did the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—although, as usual, it couched its criticisms in very careful language. Its report on the lack of an impact assessment and an equality impact assessment is very clear and, in my view, uncontestable, as is the absence of consultation. On the latter, the Government explained that

“an external consultation would carry an unacceptably high risk of a prolonged spike in applications pre-empting the rule changes”.

In other words, they have made the decision and do not want to have anything fed back to them that disrupts that decision.

To say, as the Home Office did, that a formal public consultation

“would be disproportionate given the nature of the changes”

overlooks how our care system operates, which is of enormous public interest and concern. It is something that people think of in terms of their own lives and the lives of the people they are close to. The Home Office explained that consultation would be disproportionate because of the

“marginal benefits of consulting on these particular changes – which would be unlikely to … inform the policy in any meaningful way”.

I leave that to speak for itself, but to me it is an interesting approach to consultation.

I am a member of the Select Committee reviewing the Modern Slavery Act, and we have identified the care sector as one to be concerned about. I do not want to say too much about that, not least because we have yet to take oral evidence from the CQC, but the CQC’s expertise, or the limits of its expertise, and its capacity have already been identified as areas to investigate: just what is to be inspected; what about enforcement; how best practice is to be encouraged and maintained; and all this in the context of a route designed, as the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration put it, as applying to a largely compliant sector but applied to a high-risk area. It is a fragmented sector too, and it is easy to let people fall through the gaps. And it is a sector where exploitative practices are seen in providers who are actually now registered with the CQC.

How “the party of the family” can introduce rules about dependants, most of whom must be children and all of whom are subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rules is beyond me. How does this help in filling care roles? Is it a deterrent that care workers cannot bring their dependants with them? Deterrence must be a term which the Government wish had never been coined. It seems that, yet again, immigration numbers trump every other consideration.

Professor Serrant’s poem ends:

“Recognising the richness of our kaleidoscope nation.

Where compassion, courage and diversity are reflected

in our presence and our contribution:

Not only the hopes and dreams of our ancestors.

Human values needed to truly lead change … and add value.

Remember… you called.

Remember… you called.

You called.

Remember, it was us, who came”.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for moving his regret Motion and for the way he did it so fully and so movingly, if I may say so. I also thank the two other Liberal Democrat Peers who have spoken. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Allan, had an interesting perspective, with the various questions he asked the Minister and the way he delved a little more into the fraud that is strongly suspected to be currently within the system. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has taken a long-standing interest in these matters.

Anyone who works in our adult social care system deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and our thanks should go to anyone who comes to our country to join our adult social workforce and our NHS workforce. The changes the Government have made regarding access to and cost of visas, including family visas, have had a huge impact on many families across the country, and there are serious concerns about how lack of transparency in the Government’s decision-making only makes the situation worse.

Net immigration levels soared to 745,000 in 2022, despite the Government repeatedly saying their priority is to bring them down. This compares to a net immigration level of 245,000 in 2019. We in the Labour Party are clear that this level of immigration is unsustainable. We must ensure a level of controlled immigration that balances the needs of the country. Our efforts to create a sustainable system must be evidence-based and transparent. The Government have not been clear, in the large number of major changes they have made in the past year, about why decisions are being made and what impact they will have on our workforce and our economy. The Migratory Advisory Committee must be asked to investigate the impact of preventing workers bringing dependants to the UK, as well as the setting of salary thresholds, and decision-makers must consider those findings and reach a sensible, balanced conclusion.

Ukraine: Small Boats

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 1st May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My reply would be that we should look into the appropriate sorts of boats that we should send as part of our aid. Again, to remind noble Lords about the type of aid, since the start of the conflict the UK has sent almost 400 different types of capabilities to Ukraine. If the Ukrainians asked for boats, we would certainly look at providing them, but not these.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I visited Western Jet Foil just over a year ago, and I agree with Minister. I saw oversized rubber tyres which looked extremely dangerous, so I support the Minister in what he just said. I want to ask the Minister about the seizure of Russian assets. We have had the same answer from the Government on this question for a long time now. Will the Minister outline what concrete steps the Government are taking to access those assets for the benefit of the Ukrainian people?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his support for the Government’s position regarding the boats. On the seizure of Russian assets, I am afraid I am not more aware of the discussions than he will be from having read in the papers about what is going on at a very high level among the international community. I am sure that as soon as there is more to say on the subject, we will be back at the Dispatch Box.

Immigration Update

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 1st May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement; I have a number of questions for him.

What is the Government’s plan for the 99% of people who will not be sent to Rwanda? How will the Government fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise to detain everyone crossing the channel, given that there is fewer than one detention space for every 10 migrants who make that journey? Of the 5,700 migrants who have been identified for removal, only 2,145 can be located. Where are these people and what is the department doing about tracking them down? Can the Minister explain what will happen to the more than 150,000 people whom the Refugee Council estimates cannot be removed to Rwanda or returned to their home country since the introduction of the Illegal Migration Act 2023? Does he accept that these people are stuck in limbo and are likely to be reliant on Home Office support or to go underground?

Do the Government have an updated figure for how much money has been sent to Rwanda? Will they publish the advice that they have received on their new visa rules and what impact they believe these changes will have on key industries such as hospitality and social care? What action are the Government taking to ensure domestic social care training and recruitment so that elderly and vulnerable populations are cared for? How are they working cross-department to address this issue? I remember that the Minister largely answered that question in the previous business. Will the Government commit to publishing their analysis on the workforce and economic impact of their immigration policies, and are they considering stronger measures to crack down on rogue care sponsors?

There has been a huge amount of publicity in the last couple of days about the one volunteer who was flown to Rwanda with £3,000. I understand from reading the papers that he was from Africa in any event. In addition to that £3,000, is there any support? On other schemes, people being sent to Rwanda are likely to get a five-year support package as they make their new lives in Rwanda. Will the individual who voluntarily flew out also be entitled to this package of support? I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I am sorry that he has been given the task of defending what reads more like a press statement on the eve of an election than an update on overall policy, but perhaps I am prejudiced. I am sorry that the Statement does not extend to putting our policy into an international context and telling the House anything about work being done with international partners.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I am interested in this well-covered story of the individual who has received £3,000 under the old scheme to go to Rwanda. What support will he receive to help him settle in? Will he have to pay for it out of the £3,000? Can the Minister give a breakdown of the number of asylum seekers who are not missing but who cannot be found? How many are due to report within the next week, the next month and so on? What is the “range of measures” to remain in contact with those people and how does the Home Office know where they are when they are reporting digitally? Will the Government keep the House updated on this?

The Statement refers to the minimum income requirement for family visas, which we will be debating the week after next. We have just debated overseas care workers bringing dependants, so I will ask some questions about students—most, but not all, of whom similarly cannot bring dependent family members—and about young people.

On students, where has there been a reduction in student visa applications? Is there data to show which courses have a reduction in international student numbers? Have the Government consulted universities recently about the impact of international student numbers on their university funding? Is the reduction in numbers reflected more in certain nationalities than others? What would be the long-term impact on university funding? Has an assessment been made of the impact of the policy to reduce international student numbers on the soft power that creates for the UK internationally?

With regard to young people, the youth mobility visa scheme offered by the EU has been rejected by the Government and I understand that Labour takes the same view. Why have the Government rejected this out of hand? Details would need to be negotiated but it is a sensible proposition. It would boost our economy—especially in hospitality and tourism—offer important opportunities for young people to live and work abroad and have an important role in our relationship with the rest of Europe. Why have the Government rejected the proposal?

Peaceful Protests

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for introducing this debate. Although there are very few speakers, it is actually a very important subject. I declare my interest as a sitting magistrate. I have heard cases regarding protests and sentenced protesters on occasion.

I am speaking for the Labour Party in this debate and we, of course, support the right to peaceful protest, which has helped us in this country win so many of our historic rights. In a democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and historic rights to protest run alongside the rights of people to go about their daily lives, the right to be free from harassment or intimidation and the vital need to ensure that essential services are not disrupted. That is why this House voted against the sweeping stop-and-search powers in the Public Order Bill that risked penalising peaceful protesters and passers-by. As one of the Labour Front-Benchers on that Bill, it was disappointing that the Government failed to pay due attention to the opinion of this House when they brought those measures back in secondary legislation only months later. Will the Minister say what assessment has been made of the impact of these measures?

This debate’s title is highly focused, and it would be useful for the Minister to respond in a focused way to the UN guidance being discussed, and how it relates to the UK’s current strategy towards protests. The debate’s title reminds us that peaceful protesters worldwide face intimidation, repression and human rights violations. Britain must show that the right to peacefully protest should be fiercely protected, while the minority who seek to abuse that right are stopped from doing so.

When the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, introduced her speech, she drew comparisons with Russia and Belarus. I have worked extensively in Russia and have visited Belarus many times, and I think her comparisons with those countries are completely absurd and alarmist. The noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, also made various alarmist claims, but the substance of the points he was making about the use of facial ID technology, and in particular live facial recognition technology, are indeed concerning. I was very interested to hear the fuller explanation of how the Metropolitan Police and other police forces are using this technology. Obviously, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave reassurances about who is on the police database and who can have access to that database when comparisons are made between the faces on the technology and the live facial recognition. He gave the example of stalkers and a couple of other examples. I understand that the noble Lord is talking about the practice of the Met—nevertheless, this is an alarming development, and I think the Government need to be very aware of the way this is developing.

While I accused the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, of being alarmist when comparing Britain to Russia, nevertheless it is the same technology that is being used. This is international technology. We are here talking about what the British Government do but, of course, that facial recognition technology is used completely internationally. There are huge databases of our faces and our characteristics being built up all over the world. We have debated the implications of that on other pieces of legislation fairly recently, and I know the Minister is aware of how that will impact on the way police forces and other agencies try to keep us safe in our own country.

To repeat myself, while I called what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said ridiculous and alarmist—I used those words very deliberately—we should be very concerned about the subject and keen to understand developments in live facial ID recognition. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the Government are keeping the most serious eye on the way this technology is developing.

Care Worker Visa Regime

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd April 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend on that. We remain committed to developing the domestic workforce. We are doing that by investing in retention—there is a high churn rate in this sector, as is well understood—through better workforce training, recognition and career progression. A new career structure is being launched for care workers so that all staff can build their careers and more experienced care workers are recognised for their skills. We are creating new qualifications and a digital skills record to reduce the need for retraining costs. We are increasing funding for learning and development. The Government have made available up to £8.6 billion in additional funding over the financial years 2023-24 and 2024-25 to support adult social care and discharge. I trust that all noble Lords will support the PM’s valiant efforts to mobilise those who are not currently engaged with the domestic workforce.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister spoke of fraudulent sponsors and exploitative agents. What assessment have the Government made of the need to tighten up repayment clauses for relocation and visa costs, and requiring compliance with Department of Health and Social Care rules on international recruitment as a condition of gaining a sponsor licence?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord develops on a theme explored earlier, in a question I could not entirely answer. I will come back to him with a better answer in due course.

Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) Order 2024

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Thursday 18th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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There is a similar challenge around firearms. Some imitation firearms can be converted, and a lot of work has gone into ensuring that that does not happen. My open question is what similar considerations have been taken on these weapons, which may be blunt but could be adapted later.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we too welcome this SI. I will start with some questions for the Minister, then comment on other noble Lords’ contributions to the short debate.

First, what are the Government doing to increase prosecution rates for knife crime? Currently, fewer than half of those who come to police attention are actually prosecuted. Do the Government have any plans to introduce a new serious violence strategy, given that the existing strategy is five years old? What assessment have the Government made of the threat of so-called “ninja swords” and why are they not covered by this legislation? The Government, as we heard, have tried to ban zombie knives before but the retailers have adapted their designs to get past the laws. Are the Government confident that they have done enough to stop the same thing happening again this time?

Further, online knife sales represent a serious issue in terms of lack of supervision by the websites and the lack of regulation over online marketplaces hosting illegal knife sales, particularly when these websites are hosted overseas. Can the Minister say something about buying these types of knives from overseas websites, how they may be intercepted and the obligations put on the people running those websites?

I also want to acknowledge that I understand this is a difficult problem and do not want to score political points on this issue, but there is a wider strategy to be developed and adopted to try to cut down this scourge in our society. The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, made an extremely good point when she drew the comparison between the cuts in youth services and the corresponding increase in knife crime. That really points to one of the sources of the problem that we have seen in recent years.

As an aside, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I am glad he made the points that he did. I agreed with those points and many families, including mine, have historical pieces which would certainly be illegal if they were sold nowadays in shops—so I thank him for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, raised some detailed questions, which I thought were very interesting, about the practical steps that police forces can take to track down sales and do some proactive policing to see what has happened to the knives that have been sold legitimately over the last few years. Of course, a huge number have been sold illegitimately, but we understand that point.

In conclusion, I want to talk slightly more generally. As noble Lords may know, I sit as a youth magistrate and regularly see knife crime-related charges in both youth and adult courts. One of the things I always do in the youth court is make sure that the parent, responsible adult or elder sibling sees the knife, because very often the person who accompanies the young person in court does not really know the extent of the danger which may have been posed through carrying that knife. Whether it is the physical knife itself, which we sometimes see in court, or a picture of it, I always make sure that the responsible adult sitting next to the young person sees that object, so that they know what we are talking about.

The other thing I always do with the young person, however serious the knife-related offence is, is say to them that their own lives are in danger. What we regularly see in court is young people being attacked with their own knives when fights break out. Twice in the last five years, I have had young people not turning up to court for a knife offence because they themselves have been killed. This is why I say that to the young people in front of me; one can only hope that it drives the message home.

We need to say that it is gang-related or drug-related, of course, but a lot of these people will say that they carry these knives for their own defence. They are more frightened of the harm posed to them by other people carrying knives than they are by what the court can do to them by way of sanction. This is not to argue for higher sanctions, but it is to argue for education and better youth services, and for a wider intervention through schools and other youth programmes to try to bear down on this scourge.

The final point I want to make is that people often ask questions about racial disproportionality, with young black men attacking each other. In this House and elsewhere, you hear of people saying that the police are disproportionate in their response to this and in stopping and search young black people. I have certainly been in more than one meeting with black mothers who have said to me and to the people with me, “You’re not doing enough to protect our sons”. So we need to do more to protect their sons and we need a holistic approach to do that, but, as far as this SI goes, I support it.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this relatively short debate. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his personal insights from his courtroom; they made a great deal of sense and, in some cases, were very disturbing. I have had similar conversations with some of those mothers; they are particularly relevant in the context of some of the debates on stop and search that we have had in this House. Perhaps we need to do more to publicise the results of some of these conversations.

I will do my utmost to address the questions asked of me. I will start by talking about the serious violence duty, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me about, because that obviously informs the entire debate. In 2023-24, the Government allocated £13.1 million to continue the implementation and delivery of the serious violence duty; that followed a commitment made in January 2023. The noble Lord will remember that, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the serious violence duty requires a range of specified authorities—such as the police, local government, youth offending teams and health and probation services —to work collaboratively and put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence in their local communities, enabled by new powers to share both data and information. Of course, that Act also contains measures such as serious violence reduction orders as well as other things; it is probably a little too soon to tell precisely how effective those are but, obviously, they are in train.

Local areas have the flexibility to determine the geographical extent of their partnerships. We are encouraging local areas to use multiagency partnerships where possible. The point was made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that educational institutions, prisons and youth custodial institutions—known as “the relevant authorities”—are under separate duties. We expect them to co-operate with the core duty holders when asked as well. We also require partnerships to consult such institutions in their areas.

The fact is that this is a societal issue. We are not going to solve it this afternoon, but I have heard the points made and, of course, I will make sure that they are shared round the relevant parts of government—that is, most of government and most of society.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me about ninja swords and other types of bladed articles that are used in crime. Concerns have been raised during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill through Parliament in relation to swords, in particular so-called ninja swords. Those that have the features set out in this legislation will be banned; however, those that do not have those features will not be, because we have focused our efforts on the types of weapons that the National Police Chiefs’ Council has raised as being of particular concern.

As my noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned, many members of the public legitimately own antique swords and swords of historical interest. People also own modern swords as collectible items, and there are those who own swords for activities such as martial arts, fencing and re-enactment. Many British military swords have straight blades and are treasured by service personnel when they serve, as well as by their family members when they are passed on. These articles are generally owned and used responsibly, obviously.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, is quite right about blunt blades. Something that is blunt can be sharpened. However, we have provided the defence of blunt items, which would enable collectors of fantasy knives to purchase for display items that would otherwise be prohibited. We are taking the opportunity to extend this defence to curved swords, as I have mentioned, but it is important to note that, if an item were sharpened, it would become illegal. If this comes to the attention of the police, they will be able to make a charge for unlawful possession of a bladed article if the blade is sharpened.

I also point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that the unfortunate and awful crime in Croydon that she mentioned was actually committed with a kitchen knife.

The statistics are not quite as bleak as the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, suggested. I am always a bit nervous talking about statistics in relation to what are individually horrific circumstances, so please bear that in mind when I mention them. The latest provisional admissions data for NHS hospitals in England and Wales showed a decrease in the number of admissions for assault with a sharp object in the year ending September 2023. The figure was 4% lower than in the year ending September 2022. We should also bear in mind that many of the comparisons that we make are with the years of Covid, when many people were locked up—metaphorically speaking—so they are not direct comparisons. If we compare like for like, the numbers are improving. That is not to say that they are not still awful, as I said, and obviously we have to do much more about that.

EU Borders: Hand and Face Scanning

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness will appreciate that, as a Home Office Minister, I am not party to those discussions, but I will go back to the relevant department and find out, and make sure that she is made aware of the discussions and their substance.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, I think it is this side.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I do not think so. The Minister will note that there is an air of scepticism in the House about the implementation of these new procedures. Will transitional measures be in place to enable the new system to bed in while the existing system carries on working?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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No, I do not believe that there will. As I say, this system is being operated and introduced by the European Union, so we have limited say in whether there should be transitional arrangements. Having said that, I do not think that the start date has been made public yet. I know there is a target start date, but I would imagine that there is no obligation to start on the date that has already been published if things are not yet ready.

Police: Joe Anderson

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Monday 15th April 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I do not agree with that. It depends very much on the complexity of the individual investigation. As I have said, the Merseyside police have confirmed that they intend to conclude it as expeditiously as possible. Beyond that, I can go no further.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, it is fitting that we are discussing police conduct today, 35 years, almost to the hour, since the Hillsborough disaster that killed 97 people. Today, the Labour Party has confirmed that it would introduce a Hillsborough law to ensure public authority accountability. Does the Minister agree that there is much more that we can do to achieve justice for those killed and to ensure that such a disaster never happens again?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I join the noble Lord in honouring those who died, of course; 35 years have passed since the tragedy and the impact continues to be devastating for many. The families have my sympathy. The families of the 97 have shown tremendous courage and determination and obviously their loved ones will not be forgotten. In his Statement to the other place on 6 December, the Lord Chancellor committed to a debate later this year on the Government’s response to the Bishop Jones report. It would be unwise of me to pre-empt that debate, so I shall say no more at this point.