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.