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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:46 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:46 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, when the Prime Minister promises not to send a letter to the EU requesting an extension and does, and when he promises no border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and then agrees a deal that would put such a border in place, the primary consideration becomes one of trust. Whether it is promises about ending free movement, ensuring the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, supporting our police or tackling violent crime, I suggest that this Government’s promises should not be trusted.

Sometimes this becomes apparently only when you look at the detail. The Home Secretary says free movement between the EU and the UK will end on 31 October when, in fact, this House has already passed secondary legislation which, in the event of no deal, would allow EU citizens unrestricted access to the UK and its employment market, with the only requirement being a day trip to Boulogne every six months, which would be impossible to enforce. Can the Minister say what would happen to free movement in the event of a deal and us going into a transition period? Would free movement end on 31 October?

The Government say they are committed to ensuring that EU citizens resident in the UK have the right to remain, yet on 9 October 2019 only 929,600 of the 2.7 million EU citizens living in the UK had been granted full settled status. That is just over one-third of them. The best way of ensuring that resident European Union citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed so much to, the United Kingdom, have the right to remain is for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union, and that is what the Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring through a confirmatory referendum or, if the public vote for a majority Liberal Democrat Government at the next general election, by revoking Article 50.

Further on Brexit and immigration, more than 20 organisations, including the Refugee Council, are currently in receipt of funding from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund to deliver a range of services aimed at supporting the integration of refugees in the UK. Can the Minister confirm this funding will cease immediately if the UK leaves the EU without a deal? Do the Government not think that the integration of refugees is important?

On Brexit and crime, it was the conclusion of the National Crime Agency lead on Brexit that the UK will be less safe and less secure if we leave the European Union, with or without a deal. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, said, we will no longer have access to the European arrest warrant, for example. Any measures that the Government introduce,

“to arrest individuals who are wanted by trusted international partners”,

will be problematic. Extradition will take months, if not years, compared with weeks under the European arrest warrant. Remands in custody pending extradition over such an extended period are likely to be granted only in the most exceptional cases and, even if suspects are detained, it will create additional strain on an already overloaded prison system.

The Government say that they are committed to strengthening public confidence in the criminal justice system. That confidence starts with the certainty that offenders will be caught, and that requires an effective police service. The Home Secretary says that she will put criminals in fear, but it is innocent members of the public who are in fear, as the visible uniformed presence on our streets has all but disappeared.

On policing, the Government promise 20,000 “new” police officers over the next three years. We have lost 20,500 police officers since 2010, 4,800 special constables and over 7,000 police community support officers—the backbone of community policing. That is 12,300 fewer uniformed officers than in 2010, even after the Government’s promised 20,000 “new” officers.

It is not just about numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned; it is also about the loss of experience and the loss of diversity. Historically, there has been a much higher proportion of black and minority-ethnic officers among specials and PCSOs, whose numbers have dropped 30% and 42% respectively since 2010. Public confidence in the criminal justice system is not about an overwhelmingly white police force exercising stop and search with no reasonable cause to suspect any wrongdoing. That results in communities feeling overpoliced and underprotected.

We need to restore community policing with officers who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. We need to get communities and the police standing shoulder to shoulder against the knife carriers, rather than create a climate where suspicionless stop and search makes some communities feel that they have to fight the police as well as the criminals. What targets are the Government setting in relation to the recruitment of black and minority-ethnic police officers in this drive to find 20,000 new officers, and how realistic is that target of recruiting 20,000 new officers in three years?

A few years ago, I met a PCSO who wanted to be a police constable. PCSOs have no power of arrest, are not trained or equipped to deal with violent offenders and never get involved in violent demonstrations. That PCSO told me that he could not afford the drop in earnings to the starting salary of a PC. PCs run towards danger and put their lives on the line for us every day they are on duty. He was on £30,000 a year as a PCSO. A PC at that time was on a starting salary of £17,000. With the erosion of police officer pay and conditions under this Government, no wonder 22,367 police officers have left the police service in the past three years.

To increase the size of our police forces by 20,000 over the next three years, we will have to select, recruit, train and equip over 42,000 police officers, if wastage continues at the same rate. That is 14,100 police officers a year—50% more than in the last financial year. In fact, in the past 20 years the police have never been able to recruit more than 13,100 officers in any one year. The recruitment, selection and training resources are simply not there, and the money that the Government are promising will not be enough to recruit, train and equip the officers that they are promising to deliver.

The Government say that they are committed to addressing violent crime by making serious offenders spend longer in prison. It is the prospect of being caught, not the length of the sentence, that cuts crime. We need a real violent crime strategy with objectives, targets, co-ordinated implementation of what has proven to be effective and proper long-term funding for initiatives that work, not a patchwork of piecemeal projects and a multitude of funding pots. As the Children’s Society put it in its briefing on this Bill,

“the Government runs the risk of implementing short-term ineffective responses to youth violence and knife crime. The current government approach to tackling youth violence through knife crime is punitive—The Children’s Society believe this approach is fundamentally misguided”.

More than anything else, we need to invest in our young people, addressing adverse childhood experiences and providing safe and healthy alternatives to criminal gangs and an education system that excludes no one. The Liberal Democrats will invest in our police, youth services and education system to ensure a fair society where even the poorest and most vulnerable feel safe.