Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, we support Motion A1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Compared with other important issues that the House is considering today, it is a relatively minor one. None the less, it will save no time if we abstain, so if the noble Lord divides the House, we will support him.

On Motion J, although the repeal of the Vagrancy Act is very welcome and something for which Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for many years, it is unfortunate that the Government are still insisting on delaying the repeal of the outdated and unnecessary Act until replacement legislation is in place, as we believe that existing alternative legislation is sufficient. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, I heard the Minister say that the Government will commence, not conclude, repeal in 18 months—I wrote it down. If I am right and the noble Lord is wrong, can the Minister tell us how long it will take to repeal the Act in its entirety?

On Motion L, serious violence reduction orders will allow the police to stop and search people without any suspicion that those targeted have anything on them at the time they are stopped and searched that they should not have in their possession. It is another form of stop and search without suspicion, which is notorious for being ineffective. It is even less effective at finding weapons than stop and search based on suspicion and it is disproportionately focused on black people, even compared with stop and search based on suspicion. As a consequence, it is notorious for the damage that it causes to the relationships between the police and the communities they are supposed to help. The Government’s own impact assessment shows that these measures will disproportionately impact black communities and fly in the face of the Government’s response to the report by the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The police need to work together with communities suffering serious violence to build trust and confidence and to demonstrate that they are on the side of the community—not using powers disproportionately against it, as these new powers, by the Government’s own admission, will continue to do. Even Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services says that the disproportionate use of powers against certain communities is “undermining police legitimacy”.

Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, we have concerns. We believe that serious violence reduction orders are likely to make serious violence worse, as they further alienate the very communities the police need to co-operate with to identify the perpetrators. However, we have reluctantly agreed to see how SVROs, arguably a manifesto commitment, work in practice in a limited number of pilot areas. We supported an amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on Report that would have strengthened the proposed pilot evaluation and prevented SVROs from being introduced beyond the pilot phase until a report on the pilot had been laid before Parliament and both Houses had agreed to the rollout.

The Minister has given assurances that the pilot will be independently evaluated and that the Government will not continue with the scheme if it proves, as we suspect, to be ineffective or counterproductive. The evaluation must include crime reduction outcomes and community impact assessments. Given those reassurances and the Government’s strengthening of the pilot evaluation, we have agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, not to insist on her amendments, but we will be watching the pilots very carefully and listening to the communities affected, whose trust and confidence in the police is essential if knife crime is to be tackled effectively.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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There are three issues in this group and I wish to say something about all of them. Starting with Motion A1, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, for sending me a copy of his letter of 22 February to my noble friend Lord Rooker on Lords Amendment 58, which relates to the Food Standards Agency. As the letter says, the amendment gives powers available to the police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to the National Food Crime Unit of the Food Standards Agency. However, the Commons disagreed with the amendment, giving this reason:

“Because it is premature to confer new search and seizure powers on the Food Standards Agency until the accompanying accountability arrangements, including in respect of the handling of complaints about the exercise of such powers, have been determined.”

Yet Lords Amendment 58 does not lay down a specific date or timescale by which powers available to the police under PACE have to be given to the National Food Crime Unit. It simply says:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations apply any provisions of this Act to investigation of offences conducted by officers of the National Food Crime Unit in respect of search and seizure.”

If I am right, the Commons reason suggests that the Commons and the Government never actually read the terms of Lords Amendment 58. That is surprising, since the letter from the Minister to my noble friend Lord Rooker states that

“the Government agrees in principle that these powers should be conferred upon NFCU officers in order to support their vital work tackling food crime.”

There is no argument about whether the powers should be given, but simply over when they should be given. Lords Amendment 58 would give the statutory authority to the Secretary of State to give those powers but leaves it up to the Secretary of State to decide when the time is right. So what is the problem with the amendment?

The letter from the Minister goes on to say:

“Food crime is a very serious issue and empowering the NFCU to investigate these offences independently will ensure that their specialist knowledge is put to best use and that the burden on police forces is reduced”.

Yet the Commons and the Government have disagreed the amendment. The Minister goes on to say that

“further work is required to fully work through the implications of these proposals to ensure that any exercise of police powers by a non-police body is necessary, proportionate and legitimate and that suitable governance and accountability arrangements will be in place”,


“For these reasons we have tabled a motion to disagree with Lords amendment 58”.

But Lords Amendment 58 does not say that the Secretary of State has to do it; it would simply give the Secretary of State the necessary statutory power to do it if and when the Secretary of State so wishes, which is the point being made by my noble friend Lord Rooker. Frankly, the Government really are struggling to think of a credible argument why Lords Amendment 58 should not be accepted.

The powers currently available to the Food Standards Agency under food law relate to the enforcement of regulatory matters. The NFCU investigates cases of serious crime, often involving offences such as fraud. However, the FSA’s existing powers do not sufficiently equip the NFCU to investigate these crimes fully and lawfully, and to collect evidence to the higher standard needed to prove criminal intent, without the support of partners in the hard-pressed environments of policing or local authorities.

As part of the FSA, the NFCU already has access to sensitive law enforcement powers around directed surveillance, securing communications data and the management of convert human intelligence sources. But NFCU officers have not yet been given essential investigatory powers, including the power to apply to courts for warrants to search premises and seize evidence, or to interview suspects without police officers present. The unit has to rely on the support of partners, including the police forces, to carry out these activities. This means that the courts are not hearing from the experts familiar with the cases, which can increase the likelihood that warrants are not authorised.

As I understand it, competing demands on police time have led to delays in several NFCU investigations. At present, the NFCU needs the police to go to court and swear warrants on its behalf, so investigations are delayed if the police decline or take time to do so, or if the court refuses to authorise the warrant, which is more likely if the person swearing it cannot answer questions about the case. The NFCU also needs the police to be present when warrants are executed, which can lead to delays in the unit being able to carry out searches or seize critical evidence if the police have other priorities. As I understand it, the evidence seized then needs to be taken into police custody before it can be transferred to the NFCU. These issues can and do create delay, which is a problem in running a live investigation and trying to gather evidence before it is moved or destroyed.

I understand that NFCU investigations have been impacted by all the issues to which I have referred. I am also advised that the FSA’s view is that these additional powers are essential to enable the National Food Crime Unit to properly investigate and pursue complex food crime cases. As has been said, this was also identified as a gap in its systems to keep food safe in the independent review by Professor Elliott in I think 2014 following the horsemeat scandal.

In the Commons debate on this Lords amendment, the Minister said that the chairman of the Food Standards Agency had written to the Minister for Crime and Policing on 11 August 2021, expressing concern that the existing powers of the National Food Crime Unit were insufficient for their purpose. The Minister responded in October by expressing support for the request and indicating the Home Office’s intent to work with the NFCU to find a suitable legislative vehicle.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, in relation to Motion C, one of the main recommendations of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, led by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, was for the police to be subject to a statutory duty of candour, as has been introduced into the National Health Service, and Lords Amendment 71 sought to establish that. The Government with their Amendment 71A, in Motion C, claim that police officers are already under a duty to co-operate during investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings and that it would be premature to add such a provision pending further consideration by the Government.

The provision to which the Minister referred makes a lack of candour a matter for police misconduct proceedings, except in the most serious cases where a complaint is made by someone who is not a member of a police force and who is directly affected by the conduct. Whether a police misconduct investigation is held, or misconduct proceedings are brought, is a matter for the relevant chief constable of the police force concerned.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has today published a report in which it describes the Metropolitan Police’s approach to tackling corruption as “not fit for purpose”. Publishing the report, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Matt Parr, said:

“It is unacceptable that 35 years after Daniel Morgan’s murder, the Metropolitan Police has not done enough to ensure its failings from that investigation cannot be repeated. In fact, we found no evidence that someone, somewhere, had adopted the view that this must never happen again.”

That is why we need a statutory duty of candour. In the case of the issues covered by the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, there was systemic and institutional withholding of information by the police sanctioned at the highest level. Arguably, the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who as an assistant commissioner decided to withhold essential information from the panel, would have had to order an investigation into herself under the provisions that the Minister is relying on.

The provision that the Government are relying on is not fit for purpose in the circumstances of police cover-ups, even when there is a member of a police force who is a whistleblower, because the whistleblower is a member of the police force and cannot bring a complaint against his or her own force. However, work is ongoing by the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and the family of Daniel Morgan to ensure that a comprehensive, effective and legally binding duty of candour is imposed on all public institutions. Therefore, we have reluctantly decided not to insist on Lords Amendment 71.

In relation to Motion K, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for clarifying that there is no legal barrier to local authorities setting up and running academies and for the Government’s acknowledgement of the important role that local authorities have played in the past in running secure accommodation for young offenders.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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There are, as has been said, two issues here, the duty of candour and secure academies. I note what the Minister said on the duty of candour and must say that our views are rather more in line with those just expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. One might think it rather odd, particularly at the present time when trust in the police appears to be at such a low level, that the Government and the Commons decided to disagree with such an amendment, but it is their prerogative to do so.

As the Minister said, this issue is not going to be dropped. There are people within Parliament, including ourselves, and people outside Parliament, to whom reference has been made, who intend to pursue the issue of a duty of candour. I think I am right in saying that the Minister referred to the fact that the Government would further consider the position—indeed, that is given as a reason for disagreeing—and that they would come up with conclusions later this year. While indicating that we intend to pursue the issue, we will, with some reluctance, leave this in that context. It is certainly not going to be pushed to one side now. It will be pursued and we will wait to see what conclusions the Government come up with later this year. The issue of trust in the police is a serious matter and I know the Government agree. We need to make sure that the mechanism is in place to improve the levels of trust that currently seem to exist.

On secure academies, the Government and the Commons have disagreed the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord German, which would put explicitly in the Bill that local authorities can establish and maintain secure academies. The aim of the amendment was to put beyond doubt that applications from local authorities to run secure academies would be welcomed and would be considered on their merit, on a level playing field with other providers.

The Government’s response has been that there is no legal barrier to local authorities setting up an entity that could enter into an academy arrangement with the Secretary of State, so there is not a legal barrier to them establishing a secure academy. The Government said that the Ministry of Justice

“will assess in detail the potential role of local authorities in running this new form of provision, before we invite applications to run any future secure schools.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/22; col. 803.]

The Minister also made that point.

Our response in the Commons was that this does not go far enough. We argued that local authorities have the expertise needed to run services and provide care for vulnerable children with a high level of need in a secure environment and that the Government should widen the pool of expertise that providers bring and ensure that local authorities are explicitly brought into the fold when planning for secure academies.

We recognise that the Government have committed to look at the involvement of local authorities in providing secure academies before any new applications are invited, so we will now deal with and pursue this issue outside of the Bill. However, we strongly support the noble Lord, Lord German, in saying that what is needed, and what we will keep calling on Ministers to deliver, is, frankly, not vague statements that a local authority could provide a secure academy but a proactive change to bring the expertise that local authorities have into that pool of providers.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who took part in this debate. I will take matters fairly briefly, given the amount of other business before the House.

On the duty of candour, I emphasise the essential point that the disciplinary system provides clear sanctions that can lead to dismissal. We should not introduce criminal sanctions for the police alone. Ultimately, the inspectorate can determine whether forces are following the guidance. We will monitor that extremely carefully.

I do not want to take up the House’s time too much on the report, which has been published in the last half an hour. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already issued a statement, which noble Lords will be able to find online, but my understanding is that the Metropolitan Police has 56 days to respond formally to the report. The Home Secretary will of course return to Parliament to provide a full government response once the final report and responses have been received.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for their engagement on the issue of secure schools. I have tried to set out the legal position clearly. I hope that the undertaking that I have set out will be sufficient. Again, with apologies to the House for not dealing in too much detail with the new report, because I am sure there will be other opportunities to debate it, I beg to move.