I am conscious that this group covers approaching 300 Lords amendments, even if many are of a technical nature, and I appreciate that hon. Members would no doubt like me to go through all 300, but time is short, so, tempting as it might be, I will confine my remarks to the most significant amendments, so that other hon. Members may have an opportunity to speak.
On Report, way back in April and June of last year, a number of my hon. Friends tabled amendments worthy of further consideration. The Lords amendments follow up on that work. My hon. Friend Amanda Milling argued that when a police and crime commissioner took over the governance of a fire and rescue authority, the title of their office should be amended to reflect their new and expanded responsibilities. Lords amendment 215 provides that in such circumstances the legal title of the PCC will become police, fire and crime commissioner. My hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown proposed a number of sensible further improvements to our firearms licensing regime, and I am pleased to say that Lords amendments 111 to 113 give effect to three of his helpful suggestions.
My hon. Friend Nigel Adams highlighted the dangers to music festival goers as a result of the irresponsible discharging of fireworks, flares and smoke bombs in the often confined space of a festival venue. Lords amendment 114 would tackle such reckless behaviour by making it an offence to possess a pyrotechnic article at a qualifying musical event. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport indicated in April, we will ensure that this new offence is in force for this year’s festival season. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier sought to strengthen police powers to require the removal of disguises where there was a threat to public order. Lords amendment 94 will enable the required authorisation by a senior officer for the exercise of such powers to be given orally where it is impractical to confer the authorisation in writing.
Other Lords amendments respond to points raised by Opposition Members. Lyn Brown expressed concerns about PCCs taking on the governance of fire and rescue authorities. In response to similar concerns raised in the Lords, amendments 193 to 199, among others, strengthen the process by which a PCC brings forward a proposal for the creation of a PCC-style FRA to ensure that it is as robust and transparent as possible. She separately argued for a strengthening of the Licensing Act 2003 by putting cumulative impact assessments on a statutory footing. We agree, and Lords amendment 117 does just that.
Lords amendments 30 to 33 deliver on the commitment given by my predecessor on Report to amend the Bill to allow disciplinary action to be taken against former police officers outside the normal 12-month period following retirement or resignation in the most serious and exceptional cases. Lords amendments 36 to 42, among others, respond to representations from the Independent Police Complaints Commission and, indeed, from Opposition parties that the reformed organisation should retain the word “Independent” in its title. As a result of these amendments, the reformed IPCC will henceforth be known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct. This will help to reinforce public confidence that the reformed organisation will be fully independent of those it regulates.
On Report, Ann Coffey argued that the current law requiring a coroner’s inquest in every case where a person dies under a deprivation of liberty safeguard, even where the death was from natural causes, caused unnecessary upset to bereaved families.
I wish to say how welcome amendment 135 is. As the Minister said, my hon. Friend Ann Coffey was particularly aware of the pressures this was placing not just on coroners but on social services. I am also extremely glad that my hon. Friend Lyn Brown on the Front Bench is, as I understand it, supporting the amendment as well.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks. Yes, we agree, and amendment 135 therefore removes the automatic requirement for a coroner’s investigation in such cases. There will be a continued duty on a coroner to investigate any death where there is a suspicion that it might have resulted from violence or unnatural causes or where the cause of death is unknown.
Last, but certainly not least, and importantly, Lords amendments 124 to 132 would right the wrongs suffered by gay and bisexual men who were for centuries persecuted under homophobic laws for conduct that society now regards as normal activity. These amendments will confer an automatic pardon on deceased individuals convicted of certain consensual gay sexual offences that would not be offences today, and on those persons still living who have a conviction for such an offence that has been disregarded under the terms of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The amendments will also enable the disregard scheme to be extended, by regulations, to cover other abolished offences used to target homosexual activity, including the offence of solicitation by men under section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. These provisions will extend to Northern Ireland as well as to England and Wales, with the Scottish Government having separately announced its intention to bring forward legislation in the Scottish Parliament.
At this point, I want to take the opportunity to apologise unreservedly, on behalf of the Government, to all those men who will receive a pardon. The legislation under which they were convicted and cautioned was discriminatory and homophobic. I want to make sure that all who were criminalised in this way and had to suffer society’s opprobrium, and the many more who lived in fear of being so criminalised because they were being treated in a very different way from heterosexual couples, actually understand that we offer this full apology. Their treatment was entirely unfair. What happened to these men is a matter of the greatest regret, and it should be so to all of us. I am sure it is to Members across the House. For this, we are today deeply sorry.
This is a historic and momentous step, one of which we can all be justly proud. I pay particular tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mr Gyimah, who is the Minister responsible for prisons and probation, for the work he has done in government to make this happen. For his campaigning from the Back Benches, I would particularly like to mention, among others, John Nicolson.
These Lords amendments improve and enhance the Bill, so I wholeheartedly commend them all to the House.
I rise to speak to this large group of amendments. In moving on to making what I hope will be brief remarks, I have to say how disappointed I am that the Government were not willing to move on the question of parity of funding, which is an issue not just for groups of families involved in Hillsborough, but, as Mr Walker pointed out, for individual families whose family members die in police custody. This relates to the previous group of amendments, but I wanted to make that point.
Some amendments in this group are welcome. We support the new emphasis on the independence of the new Office for Police Conduct, given the central role it will play in ensuring that the police are held to appropriately high standards. I am glad this has finally been recognised by the Government, and I pay tribute to the work of my noble Friend Lord Rosser.
We are also pleased that anonymity for victims of forced marriage will now be extended to Northern Ireland, following the request by the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice. There is also a number of sensible and straightforward improvements to the regulation of firearms, including a clarification of the laws around antique firearms, and alterations of the definition of airsoft guns that should improve public safety.
I also welcome the Government’s support for amendments to clause 28 that make it possible for investigations into the most serious misconduct to take place more than a year after the relevant officers have left the service. Credit is due in particular to my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham for his consistent arguments in favour of this reform. Families and communities who have been the victims of injustices in the past can be reassured that, in future, time need not run out on the service’s own disciplinary procedures.
Amendments 94 and 300 grant police officers the power to order a person to remove an item of clothing that is disguising their identity if a senior officer gives them oral permission to do so. This is obviously a practical measure, but we want some reassurance that this power will not be applied indiscriminately to Muslim women who are simply observing their religious beliefs, yet get caught up in the investigation of a crime. We would like the Government to consider ensuring that it is made absolutely clear in police training that the sole proper use of this power is to remove items of clothing that are purposely worn as a disguise. I ask the Government to look again at the language of the 1994 Act and to clarify to prevent such abuse.
The amended Bill also contains provisions for posthumous pardons for the victims of unjust laws that have subsequently been repealed. The Minister made a gracious reference to the work of John Nicolson, who has tabled a private Member’s Bill on the issue. There is much to welcome in this set of amendments. My noble Friend Lord Kennedy, along with Lord Sharkey, Baroness Williams and others, played a key role in the debate. Lord Cashman made the amendments more comprehensive in scope by including the many men who had been unjustly targeted, and Lord Lexden supported the extension of the legislation to Northern Ireland. Those contributions would have enormously enriched any legislation on this topic.
Labour Members are pleased that the Government have apologised, and support the pardons for wrongfully convicted gay men who have now died. Placing an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on victims of injustice was clearly wrong. We also praise the expertise that has featured in the process and the debate. Although we believe that the Government could have gone further—especially in relation to the issue of pardons for people who were convicted under sexual offences legislation in the past purely because they were homosexual—we do not oppose their amendments.
Mindful of the fact that this is the last group of amendments we shall discuss before the Bill returns to the other place, I want to pay particular tribute to the expert views that have contributed to its progress. Many retired and serving police officers have made excellent contributions both here and in the other place, along with many learned members of the judiciary, and that has been reflected in the quality of the debate. It is important to note the expert nature of those contributions because in recent months some disdain has been expressed for expertise, although when it comes to police and criminal policy, expertise does not go amiss.
I want to speak briefly about Lords amendment 114. Let me take this opportunity to thank the Minister, the current Secretary of State in her former guise as a Home Office Minister, and the Prime Minister in her previous role as Home Secretary for the work that they did with me in making the amendment possible. Provision for parity in law between people who let off fireworks, flares and smoke bombs at football matches and people who do so at music festivals is a step in the right direction. Every year hundreds of people are maimed and injured by flares, and I appreciate all the Government’s efforts. The amendment provides a good example for any Member who is thinking of trying to introduce a ten-minute rule Bill. It proves that laws can be changed in that way, as long as Members work closely with Ministers—and, in this case, Home Secretaries.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for thanking all who have been involved. He should be thanked as well, not just for the work that he did on his own account but for his work in bringing organisations together, so that they could act constructively to produce a workable provision.
I think it extremely important to work with industries when introducing new laws, to prevent any unintended consequences that might have a knock-on effect on them.
This is very positive news. During the next festival season, people will be able to go and enjoy themselves, and parents sending their kids off to festivals around the country will be safe in the knowledge that throwing flares is an offence. I hope that the amendment will discourage the lunatics from doing that next year, and, once again, I thank Ministers for all their work.
I rise to support amendment 135, and I am delighted the Government have accepted Baroness Finlay’s amendment.
I am a barrister and have represented many bereaved families and public authorities at coroners’ inquests, but I had not expected this fairly niche area of legal practice to feature so prominently in my constituency casework after being elected as an MP. Shortly after I was elected, an incredibly dignified lady called Rosalind asked for my help because of inordinate delays in the west London coroner’s court in issuing her husband’s death certificate, which meant the insurance company was holding up funeral arrangements.
There were certainly problems with the service standards at that coroner’s court, and unfortunately there still are, and I raised them both with the court and in this House. But that case would not have even been before a coroner’s court had Rosalind’s deceased husband not been the subject of a deprivation of liberty safeguard or DOLS and had he not died in a care home.
Section 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requires that a coroner hold an inquest in certain defined circumstances such as a death in custody or otherwise in state detention—another example is a violent or unnatural death. In cases that do not fulfil those mandatory criteria, the coroner has discretion about whether to open an inquest, depending on the facts.
Since the Mental Capacity Act 2005 came into force, the definition of whether someone is detained or deprived of their liberty has been tested in the courts numerous times. In 2014, the Supreme Court considered the appeal of P v. Cheshire West and Chester Council, and P and Q v. Surrey County Council. In those cases, the Supreme Court gave a very broad definition of deprivation of liberty. The result of that decision has been that authorisations now have to be sought for deprivation of liberty in many more cases than they used to. That includes most cases where a person suffers from dementia and is in a care home, where they are not detained in the way in which we would use that word, but they would be prevented from leaving if they tried to do so.
In one care home in my constituency, 90% of residents are now subject to DOLS, and on the current interpretation of the law there would have to be an inquest in each of their cases, even if, as is likely, they died of entirely predictable natural causes in their sleep. This has caused not only a huge upturn in the work of coroners’ courts, but upset to many families who have to go through the trauma of an inquest after the trauma of losing a loved one.
I raised this problem, I think for the first time in this House, in a Westminster Hall debate on
I should make it clear that this amendment in no way precludes inquests being opened into deaths in care homes or hospitals where DOLS apply. Those inquests will only not be mandated; coroners will be able to open them at their discretion and the matter could be referred to the coroner by a family or by a member of staff at a care home or by anyone else.
When I got the first of my many cases in this area, I went to see the Chief Coroner for England and Wales. He was very helpful. I have read his 2014 and 2015 annual reports, both of which refer to this problem and to the massive increase in demand on coroners’ time caused by it. I am sure from having read his reports that the Chief Coroner would support this amendment or an amendment that has the same effect.
I commend the Government on accepting Baroness Finlay’s amendment, and I commend her on introducing it in the other place and Members of this House who have supported it. Finally, I commend Rosalind and Brook House nursing home in New Malden on first raising this problem with me. I hope they are satisfied that a piece of constituency casework that they brought to me has culminated in a change in the law.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 23, 25 to 95, 97 to 133, 135, 143 to 158, 160 to 301, 303, 304 and 306 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
That Ms Diane Abbott, Victoria Atkins, Nic Dakin, Andrew Griffiths, Brandon Lewis and Amanda Milling be members of the Committee.
That Brandon Lewis be the Chair of the Committee.
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Christopher Pincher.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.