Amendment 106

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 1st November 2021.

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Lord Moylan:

Moved by Lord Moylan

106: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—“Retention by the police of personal data relating to non-criminal conduct perceived to be motivated by hostility(1) The processing of relevant data by a police authority in accordance with Article 6(1) of the GDPR and section 35 of the Data Protection Act 2018 is not lawful unless it is undertaken in accordance with regulations made by statutory instrument under this section.(2) In this section, “relevant data” means personal data relating to a data subject which is based in whole or in part on the perception by another person that the conduct of the data subject was motivated wholly or partially by hostility or prejudice towards any group of people sharing a characteristic and where the conduct in question is unlikely to constitute a criminal offence.(3) In this section, “a police authority” means—(a) a person specified or described in paragraphs 5 to 20 of Schedule 7 to the Data Protection Act 2018;(b) a person acting under the authority of such a person.(4) Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of the processing of information—(a) pursuant to an ongoing criminal investigation;(b) for the purposes of the internal administrative functions of the police authority.(5) Regulations under this section must—(a) identify different categories of personal data and processing of the personal data in question;(b) include provisions by reference to each of the various categories of processing and personal data as to—(i) the person or persons whose authority is required for the processing of the personal data;(ii) the notifying of the data subject of the processing of the personal data; (iii) the period for which the personal data can be retained (including provision for the granting of authority for extending that period);(iv) the disclosure of the personal data to third parties;(c) have particular regard to the importance of the right to freedom of expression and the extent to which that right is adversely affected by the processing of relevant data by any police authority.(6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.(7) In section 113B of the Police Act 1997, after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) An enhanced criminal record certificate must not give the details of a relevant matter to the extent that doing so would result in the disclosure of relevant data as defined at subsection (2) of section (Retention by the police of personal data relating to non-criminal conduct perceived to be motivated by hostility) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021.”(8) In this section—(a) the terms “personal data”, “data subject”, “processing” and “the GDPR” have the same meanings as under section 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018;(b) the term “characteristic” includes but is not limited to any protected characteristics under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010.”

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 106, 326 and 330 in my name. In doing so, I have been requested to offer the apologies of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, who wished very much to speak on this amendment and whose name is on the list of supporters, but he was not able to be here because of professional obligations.

Amendments 326 and 330 are essentially minor consequential amendments; the meat, if you like, of the debate on these amendments is in Amendment 106. These amendments concern non-crime hate incidents. They are a subject of controversy and much debated, but I hope to persuade your Lordships’ House that this amendment is largely not controversial because it is essentially procedural in character and does not change current practice for recording those crimes.

With so many distinguished lawyers having indicated that they wish to speak in this debate, I hesitate to start by giving a brief summary of the legal background, but I shall do so tentatively and subject to their correction. A hate crime is a crime—it may, in principle, be any crime—that is conjoined with a motivation, on the part of the perpetrator, of hatred towards a particular or specified group. That hatred needs to be perceived either by the victim or by one of a number of other groups of people acting reasonably—for example, a witness, such as a police constable or whatever. It is an alloy, if you like, of a crime and a motivation.

But what happens if one part of that alloy is missing—if there is evidence of a motivation of hate but there is actually no crime or no action that constitutes a crime or meets the threshold for bringing a prosecution? That is the essence of the non-crime hate incident: a hate incident that occurs without being conjoined with a crime. Such non-crime hate incidents are often recorded by the police, and, if the perpetrator is known, they are recorded against their name, so to speak: they go to a record in the name of that person. At the moment, all this happens under guidance issued by the College of Policing. This guidance is quite extensive and elaborate, if you choose to look it up, but it has no statutory force or democratic supervision, and it is inconsistently applied between police forces.

I think that most noble Lords would agree that this is not a satisfactory position. The bulk of this amendment—all of it, apart from one subsection that I will come to shortly—effectively obliges the Home Secretary to issue guidance within six months of the passage of the Bill and to take account of certain matters in doing so, one of which is the human right to freedom of expression. It does not tell her what the guidance that she issues should contain or prevent her from adopting the existing guidance wholesale, should she wish to do so, but it brings the whole matter under political oversight for the first time. Because it is proposed that this should be done through a statutory instrument made under the affirmative procedure, it brings it to the attention, and makes it available for the comment, of both Houses of Parliament. So democratic accountability will be brought to this process for the first time, and I think that that can only be widely welcomed by Members of this House.

This amendment does not explicitly affect police practice in relation to any current police investigation. It does not apply to any police action in relation to hatred expressed towards an individual as opposed to that motivated by hatred of a group. Cases of stalking and things of that character directed at an individual would not be caught by the amendment.

That deals with the bulk of the amendment—all the parts of it—except subsection (7) of the proposed new clause. I am going to come to that separately because it is slightly different. Subsection (7) prohibits the police from including this data, if they have recorded it, when responding to requests for an enhanced criminal record check. As I say, it has a slightly different character to the rest of the amendment, but it addresses what I—and many others—perceive as an injustice.

Other noble Lords may speak later, giving instances of that injustice by referring to particular cases. I would like to address what I regard as the principle of the injustice. If you are accused of a crime, you have the opportunity to state your case and protest your innocence in an open court in front of an impartial judge and a jury. That is not the case if you have a non-crime hate incident recorded against your name. There is no process that those who believe themselves to be innocent of that allegation can pursue to clear their name apart from judicial review which, as we know, is an expensive and arduous process and not available to most people.

This can attach a stigma to a person’s name that will potentially last for the rest of their life. They will be stigmatised for many years for not committing a crime. That seems to be a real and serious injustice, but it is not merely abstract and, as other noble Lords may explain, particular cases illustrate it. Given that this is a largely procedural amendment that adds democratic accountability to a process, I hope it will find support on all sides of the Committee and, indeed, from the Government. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Sandhurst Lord Sandhurst Conservative

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow and support my noble friend Lord Moylan. If this speech is a little bit longer than I originally intended, it is to cover some of the ground that I understand would have been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven.

Making non-crime hate records has real-life consequences for an individual that are too important to be left unregulated. As we have heard, non-crime hate records are kept when no crime has been committed but the police decide that they have grounds for concern about how that person might behave in the future. Once such a record is made, it can remain for ever, without review. It will be disclosed in an enhanced criminal record request. It does not take George Orwell to show where that can lead. I suggest Sir Robert Peel would have been astonished.

I turn to the real-life case of Harry Miller of Lincolnshire. In 2018 and 2019, he posted tweets about transgender issues on Twitter. He holds gender-critical views but denies being prejudiced against transgender people. To quote from the judgment in the subsequent judicial review:

“He regards himself as taking part in the ongoing debate about reform of the law”.

Mrs B, a transgender woman, read the tweets and regarded them as transphobic. She reported them to Humberside Police, which recorded this as a non-crime hate incident. She was the only person to complain. A police officer visited Mr Miller at work to speak to him—in his workplace—about these tweets and left Mr Miller with the impression that he might be prosecuted if he continued such tweeting. In a subsequent press statement, an assistant chief constable raised the possibility of criminal proceedings if matters escalated. Imagine what that felt like for Mr Miller. He, however, applied for judicial review.

Mr Justice Julian Knowles, in a very fine and lengthy judgment, found that the police’s action towards Mr Miller disproportionately interfered with his right of freedom of expression. He reminded us that free speech is an essential component of democracy and of these words in the unpublished introduction to Animal Farm:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

As the judge stressed, true free speech includes

“the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative.”

On the facts, the judge concluded that the tweets were lawful and there was not the slightest risk that Mr Miller would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet. That is the judgment in the High Court. Further, he said the police visit to the place of work, coupled with the subsequent press statement, combined to create a disproportionate interference with Mr Miller’s right of freedom of expression. He found that this had a potential chilling effect.

Therefore, the police should not continue to record non-criminal speech without proper oversight—that is what we ask. There must be clear criteria applied by all police forces uniformly. At present, the College of Policing lays down guidelines, but they are no more than guidelines: a police force is free, in principle, to depart from the guidelines. Indeed, the current guidelines state that:

“The recording system for local recording of non-crime hate incidents varies according to local force policy.”

That is not acceptable. These records, by definition, are of a non-crime; they are subject to no time limits; and the guidelines do not provide for mandatory periodic review, whether after one year, five years or 20 years. This is too important to be left to varying and uncertain police practice. Policy and practice in this field cannot properly be left to the wide discretion of different police forces. It should be for the Secretary of State, answerable to Parliament, to decide when, if at all, and in what circumstances and how such records may be made and kept.

A person’s reputation is of inestimable value. If a confidential record is made that he or she has spoken or behaved in a way that someone else has perceived to be motivated by hostility but which does not amount to a crime, that individual becomes a marked man or woman when a request is made by a current or prospective employer for an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check. As matters stand, that mark or stain can remain for ever, so what is at stake is very serious. This amendment will ensure that regulations set a definitive framework to ensure fairness; to ensure a consistent and fair process of selecting and recording personal data, identifying the different categories of personal data and its processing, identifying the persons whose authority is required for such processing, ensuring they are of suitable rank, the notification of the individual who is the data subject, how long the data may be retained and with what reviews. If someone is to be denied employment, we must be confident that the basis for this is sound and properly managed.

We have heard from my noble friend that the provisions will not apply to the processing of information pursuant to ongoing criminal investigation, nor for the purposes of administrative functions of the police authority. There will be no interference with operational policing. These amendments are needed to ensure that freedom of speech and opinion is not subjected, as the European court has said, to the heckler’s veto, and to create a proper balance between public safety, freedom of speech and protection of reputation.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 3:45 pm, 1st November 2021

My Lords, I have added my name to these amendments. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Sandhurst. In the light of their comprehensive description of the purpose of these amendments, I can be brief.

Much of the data with which the amendments are concerned relates to freedom of expression. Views are expressed or opinions are stated which offend or annoy other people but do not constitute criminal offences. The views or opinions may relate to religion, transgender issues, Brexit or a whole range of other sensitive and controversial questions. Sadly, many people have lost the willingness to discuss and debate; to say, “I disagree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it.” In today’s world a more typical reaction to opinions with which you disagree is to take offence, to demand a safe space, or to complain that your identity has been challenged or that your truth has been denied. Even though no crime has been committed, the police are asked to record the grievance and to retain the data.

I agree with the noble Lords that for the police to have an unregulated power—that is what it is—to retain and use data about such exercises of free speech deters the vigorous debate and discussion on which a free society thrives. It may be appropriate, in some circumstances, for such data to be retained and to be used. None of us is disputing that. But that should be according to law, authorised by Parliament and not just by the discretion of police authorities which choose to apply, or not to apply, guidance from the College of Policing.

I hope that the Minister will consider these amendments constructively and that she will be able to give them the Government’s support, whether in a revised version or otherwise, on Report.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support the proposed new clause and I will give it all the support I can. The arguments put forward by my noble friends are, frankly, unarguable against.

There are three propositions that I think are affronted by this notification of non-crime hate incidents. The first is the chilling effect on free speech. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, illustrated that very clearly. One has to be assured of the right to express one’s views without the risk of having this notification made against one.

Secondly, one has to recognise that these are very long-standing notifications, which can have a seriously prejudicial impact on individuals. That is thoroughly undesirable, especially as the individual has no right of appeal or an effective way of challenging. Judicial review, for most people, is not an effective way of challenging.

Thirdly, there is the point made by all noble Lords who have spoken so far. There is no statutory guidance; it is local police policy which influences the way these notifications are made. That is inherently unjust, having regard to the impact that this could have.

Finally, I welcome very much that the regulations are to be made by the affirmative procedure. However, as I have said in this House and elsewhere on many occasions, while that is a good thing in the sense that the comments made by your Lordships and those in the other place can be heeded, we do not have the power to amend the statutory instrument. I have long argued that this House and Parliament in general should have the power to amend the contents of statutory instruments. This is a good example of where that would be beneficial.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I enthusiastically endorse these amendments and thank the noble Lords, Lord Moylan, Lord Pannick, Lord Macdonald and Lord Sandhurst, for raising this crucial issue. The issue of non-crime incidents has been of concern to a number of us for some years and it is good that it is getting some parliamentary attention at last. I particularly credit those organisations and publications that have persistently raised it in the public realm and whose research informed my remarks, especially the Free Speech Union, of which I am on the advisory council, the anti-racist campaign Don’t Divide Us, and Spiked online.

Too many avoid the issue because it is rather tricky and contentious. One of the reasons it is difficult to raise is because nobody wants to look as though they are being soft on hate incidents. However, I am concerned that this in itself has led to a degree of chilling self-censorship and allowed some confusion to arise about what is and is not a crime when the police are involved.

When the public hear the phrases “hate”, “hate crime” or “hate incident”, they instinctively think of, for example, someone being beaten up because of their skin colour or being harassed in the street because they are gay, and they are appalled and shocked. We assume the worst kind of bigotry and our instinct is that something must be done. However, it is not so clear cut. According to the hate crime operational guidance issued by the College of Policing, hate crime is often an entirely subjective category, based on the perception of the alleged victim; I will come back to this.

What is extraordinary about the guidance on hate crime is what the police consider to be successfully tackling hate crime. The guidance says:

“Targets that see success as reducing hate crime are not appropriate”.

That completely befuddled me. The guidance says instead that the measure of success for the police is

“to increase the opportunities for victims to report”.

I fear that, in this act of enthusiasm to get more people to report hate, the police have muddied any clear distinction between what is criminal and what is not.

The focus on reporting initiatives led earlier this year to rainbow-coloured hate crime police cars patrolling local areas, with the aim of giving communities the confidence to come forward and report hate crime. However well-meaning, such awareness-raising initiatives often encourage people to come forward and report things that are not crimes at all. In fact, earlier this year, a police digital ad van trawled around the Wirral, warning that

“being offensive is an offence”.

Actually, being offensive is not a criminal offence. After a backlash, local police clarified that this was an error. Why did the police get it so wrong in terms of what is a crime?

This is not an isolated incident. A few years ago, Greater Glasgow Police tweeted an ominous warning:

“Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend.”

This was posted alongside a graphic that warned social media users to consider whether their treats were true, hurtful, unkind, necessary and then, right at the end, illegal. Then there was the South Yorkshire Police Hate Hurts campaign, which asked people to report any “offensive or insulting” social media posts to police officers. None of these is a crime and, in relation to a Bill named the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, it is a concern if the police do not know what is or is not a hate crime, so much so that Cheshire Constabulary recently admitted to conflating crime and non-crime in its hate crime statistics.

This amendment can potentially start unpicking this muddle, because the source of the confusion about what is or is not a crime lies in the creation of the category of non-crime hate incident. As we have heard, this category was established by the College of Policing and its guidance encourages police officers to overreach and police non-crimes. It is worth telling noble Lords how this is posed in the guidance. The NCHI guidance states:

“Where it is established that a criminal offence has not taken place, but the victim or any other person perceives that the incident was motivated wholly or partially by hostility, it should be recorded and flagged as a non-crime hate incident.”

Note the use of the word “victim” to describe the reporter or accuser, when no evidence exists that any crime has been perpetrated against him or her. The victim has to claim only that some action or speech was

“motivated wholly or partially by hostility”.

“Hostility” itself is a vague and subjective term. The guidance continues:

“The victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.”

Furthermore, any other person’s perception can be the basis for this, which is even further removed from any real incident, let alone crime.

Finally, the guidance notes:

“Police officers may also identify a non-crime hate incident, even where the victim or others do not.”

Why? It is because:

“Victims … may not be aware that they are a victim of a non-crime hate incident, even though this is clear to others.”

I find this a kind of dystopian, Orwellian, nightmare world. Imagine untangling your way through that; your name, unknown to you, can appear on a database intended for recording details of criminal offences and be subject to checks by vetting officers when you apply for jobs, as we have heard from noble Lords.

I hope noble Lords can see the dangers here. The subjective nature of the NCHI guidelines creates a real possibility of abuse of the system by people acting in bad faith. The NCHI guidance means that unfounded, spurious and malicious reports can be filed and never tested, let alone the fact that this data gathering distracts the police from pursuing real criminals. I was contacted by one person ahead of this debate, who said, “I had a visit from the police because a member of staff offended another member of staff, who works for me. No crime was reported. The police spoke to me for 40 minutes. In the meantime, the 200 pallets that I reported stolen the week before did not generate a phone call or visit.” Then there is the chilling effect of NCHIs on free speech, as other noble Lords have vividly spelled out. NCHIs can act as a threat, a kind of surveillance of free speech, by people who say it will eventually lead to crime. Anyone who is following the fate of gender-critical feminists, who are constantly accused of hate by a particular brand of trans activist, will understand just how damaging that is to free speech.

This Government tell us all the time that they are keen to oppose cancel culture. I fear that these NCHIs inadvertently contribute to that censorious climate of denunciation and the toxic climate of hate, which we are all keen to combat. I therefore urge the Government to consider these amendments carefully and remove this contradictory anomaly, which, I fear, brings the police and criminal law into disrepute.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I was not going to speak on this, because there are much bigger issues coming up later, but I had seen this in a reverse way. It is not completely clear, if you do not have a QC’s training or legal training of any sort, whether this amendment is trying to help or hinder the collection and retention of data.

To me, this seems like a good opportunity to talk about misogyny and other abusive behaviour that falls short of a criminal offence but none the less should be recorded on a person’s police record. The biggest benefit of retaining that data is that it might help in the future investigation of criminal offences. For example, if someone is a notorious misogynist but it has never reached the threshold of criminality, this will help the police’s line of inquiry if said person is later a suspect in a violent attack against a woman. As we all know, the justice system is biased very strongly against women committing crimes.

What I did agree with from all those offering support for the amendment is that proper oversight is absolutely necessary. There should be some regulation about this, because some of the anecdotes mentioned seem ridiculous. I still have not decided whether I support this; it would depend on how it dealt with proper oversight.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated 4:00 pm, 1st November 2021

My Lords, I was not going to speak to this amendment, but like the noble Baroness who spoke before me, having listened I am so minded. I will study the amendment very carefully, but a balance has to be struck. That is always most difficult on issues of human rights and freedom of speech.

We have to deal with the reality that hate speech, whether intended as hate speech or not, can often incite physical acts of violence. During the pandemic we have seen not only homophobia—as a gay man I have a particular interest in that, but my interest is in all physical hate crimes—but an enormous rise in physical hate crimes, some of them reported as happening on the crowded Underground or in domestic situations, because people are in much closer quarters than they would otherwise be.

My reason for speaking is to add a note of caution about how we proceed. I will study the amendment in detail, as I said, but we must respect that speech that could be defined as hate speech, or perhaps is not, can often encourage individuals to take actions against people who they feel should not be within their communities or do not belong.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Moylan’s amendments in this group. Somehow, we have ended up in a position where freedom of speech—a precious part of our way of life—has been seriously constrained by something the police have invented themselves around perceptions of hostility. I find it incomprehensible that the Government have allowed the police to carve out this territory unchecked. Why has the College of Policing—a wholly unaccountable body—been allowed to invent a wholly new form of recording of behaviour that, by definition, is not criminal? Can my noble friend the Minister explain how we got here?

The recording of non-crime hate incidents is not trivial. It drains police resources from the other things they should be doing: reducing knife crime; actually solving crimes rather than recording them; or making women feel safe on our streets—just a few of the things that ordinary people think are more important. As we have heard, those who have non-crime hate incidents recorded against them are often completely unaware that it has happened, which, if nothing else, is a denial of justice. The information can be kept indefinitely and, most chillingly, can be reported to third parties under the Disclosure and Barring Service. This means that the police have created for themselves the ability to wreck people’s careers.

We live in a society where the expression of views that others disagree with is becoming dangerous. The case of Dr Kathleen Stock is the latest example of this. Disagreement is too often and too rapidly equated with hate or hostility. The mere existence of non-crime hate reporting fuels this intolerance. The police are actively encouraging non-crime hate reporting by giving a platform to people who claim to be offended by the views of others. It is a cancer in our society that we should eliminate before it becomes dangerously pervasive.

Amendment 106 is a complex amendment and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Moylan for his clear introduction of it. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not hide behind a critique of the amendment but engage positively with the substance of the issues that my noble friend and others have raised.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

Having listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, read out as to the current guidance given by the College of Policing, and given the balance referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, it seems that the very first thing is that the guidance should be scrapped. It should not be waiting for the conclusion of this rather long-winded Bill. Somebody should be getting in touch with the college and either telling those there not to give any guidance at all or getting the Government to tell them in the meantime the sort of guidance that could go forward pending this excellent amendment, which I support.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

My Lords, I did not participate in Second Reading on the Bill, but I did get some correspondence that explained to me what was going on, and I just could not believe it. I am not going to repeat the arguments which were so eloquently put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the supporters of the amendment but I could not believe it. As an employer, I am required to do criminal record checks and if I got a response that said someone was guilty of hate crime, I am afraid their application would go straight in the bin. Yet we discover that people can be put on such a list without their knowledge, as my noble friend Lady Noakes said, and that their name will stay there indefinitely. That of course does not apply to people who have actually been convicted of crimes, so they are in the worst of all positions.

Then there is the arbitrary nature of this recording, so I wondered how big a problem this is. I am told that there have been 119,934 of these incidents recorded by 34 police forces and that 2,130 of them were done by children. It is extraordinary that this could be happening and is part of a wider concern where our free speech is being undermined. I went on Twitter; I think I lasted about three months. I have spent 40 years offending and upsetting people with the things that I said. So far as I know, I am not on a list as having committed a hate crime.

However, the essence of our democracy is that there should be free speech and that our police should be in the business of finding out what the evidence is, not turning into the people who conclude and are, in effect, prosecutors. I will not detain the House but among the examples given was someone who expressed the view that trans women should not have access to women-only spaces. Well, I believe that; is it a hate crime? Am I not allowed to say that? The fact that someone could be put on such a list indefinitely offends against our democracy.

I am sure my noble friend the Minister will have a brief, because all Ministers always do. I am sure she will have her brief from the Home Office—I worked in the Home Office for a while—and it will say that the amendment is not perfectly drafted and that some provision elsewhere could cover it, and all the rest. I hope she will throw that away and give an undertaking not only to bring forward a government amendment but, this very day, to get on to the College of Policing and end this absolute outrage.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I think I am probably quite woke, and proud to be so; none the less, I support the broad thrust of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, subject to a couple of caveats. The first caveat is a slightly light-hearted one. As a serial offender, I gently say to noble Lords and friends across the Committee that the overuse of adjectives named for great writers does not always help the cause of human rights. We have all done it: “Dickensian” for socioeconomic rights and “Orwellian” or even “Kafkaesque” for civil liberties. “Chilling” is similar. In fact, an online wit once said of my overuse of these terms: “That Chakrabarti woman finds everything chilling. She sees refrigerators everywhere.” That is just a gentle point about the way we frame this.

I support the broad thrust of this, but the problem is not just about allegations of hate. It is about soft information, as it is sometimes called, or allegations that are not capable of sustaining a criminal charge and should not sit on databases for years and years, or indefinitely. This problem has been growing for many years with the rise of the database state and the potential to hold all sorts of data, even if it never matures into a charge. That is dangerous.

In my previous role as director of Liberty, I saw many cases of this kind. Not all involved free speech. I remember one woman who had allowed her small children to play in the park while she went to a kiosk, and people thought they were unattended. She was cautioned by the police because she was at the borderline, they thought, of neglect, but there was no question of pursuing a charge. None the less, this data sat around for years and was hugely detrimental to her when she sought to work in positions of care.

This is not just about the glorious culture wars that have got everyone to their feet today. It is not about your views on trans inclusion or not, but about whether so-called soft information or police intelligence that never matures into a charge should sit unregulated, off the statute book, as a matter of police discretion and administration. Whatever our views on the free speech point, we surely have to agree with procedural point that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, was right to make clear.

I remind noble Lords that free speech is a two-way street. It is not just about the woke and so-called cancel culture; it is also about protesters who feel that they attend demonstrations and sit on police databases for many years just because they have been caught on CCTV. We in your Lordships’ House would do a great service to the nation if, whenever we consider these so-called culture wars that centre around identity politics and in particular free speech, we remember that it is a two-way street. It is people on either side of very contentious arguments who sometimes want to “cancel” each other, and we should remember that.

My final point is a substantive one about the way I urge the Minister to take this forward. Given that the concern is about not just hate incidents but all soft information that may be held indefinitely, can the Minister’s response today—or on Report, with, I hope, substantive government safeguards—be comprehensive and address not just non-crime hate incidents but all soft intelligence and all police data about individuals that could be to their detriment going forward, whether it touches on free speech rights or other rights such as Article 8 rights to privacy and autonomy? Can this soft information that has been held administratively by the police be on the statute book and brought under proper regulation and control?

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Chair, Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill [HL] Special Public Bill Committee, Chair, Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill [HL] Special Public Bill Committee, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, the issue is very simple. We surely have to decide whether hate crime and non-hate crime, and all their different manifestations, should be left to police guidance, or whether the issue is far more important than that and should be brought under the process of Parliament—legislative control and legislative process. To me, the answer is perfectly clear: the latter.

Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative 4:15 pm, 1st November 2021

My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, I shall attempt to be very brief indeed. My understanding of the law is that it should bring about a degree of certainty in society and a degree of reconciliation. I fear that the Bill as it stands does neither: in fact, it does the opposite. It has the perverse impact of making division and intolerance more likely because it points the finger of accusation at people who have done no wrong. As such, it seems to me to be an intrusion too far. The perverse consequence of trying to stamp out hate plays into the hands of the oversensitive and the intolerant, and actually gives strength to those who want to damage others by making outlandish or, indeed, even malicious accusations.

Two weeks ago, we stood in this House paying tribute to Sir David Amess. The Chamber was filled with voices of alarm that social media and everything else had fuelled intolerance and injustice. These provisions might well be misused to pour petrol on those flames. The test of innocent until proven guilty is turned on its head: that is unacceptable. When officialdom is given the power to police the thoughts of the people, it crosses a dangerous line. I have said enough; I said I would be brief, but I am following in the footsteps of some very powerful speeches. I wholeheartedly support these amendments, and I hope that the Government and the Minister are in listening mode.

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Conservative

My Lords, I want to make a point about something that is not directly related, but which I found quite odd. A few weeks ago, I was arrested for speeding. It was the first time in 40 years that I had actually done anything wrong while driving. Interestingly, the notice I received clearly said that the fact that I had no other points on my licence was irrelevant because that would be unfair to others. I do not understand how, if you have been a good guy and have never done anything wrong, that cannot be a positive factor, yet in this Bill we are accusing people and putting them immediately in the negative, even though there is no serious proof. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I too support these amendments, for all the reasons given by the noble Lords who tabled them. Of course, the principal amendment seeks regulations and lacks specificity. It does not seek to define all the circumstances for retaining, recording, using or disclosing personal data relating to hate crimes or non-criminal hate incidents or otherwise. That is sensible, and it is now for the Government to accept the principles that underly this amendment and come forward with proposals. Of course, I accept the caution which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, brings to the question of regulations that are unamendable; nevertheless, this is a complex area that needs a complex response.

The principles engaged are important. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out, this amendment is not concerned with established hate crime or in any sense with defending hate crime. It starts from the principle that personal data deserves protection from the arbitrary retention, use and disclosure by the police, enforcement agencies and authorities generally, and the converse principle that disclosure should be subject to the rule of law and to principles of accountability—points made by many in this debate, and briefly but eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, a few moments ago.

The conduct with which these amendments are concerned is not provably, still less proved, criminal—a point made by many. They seek to control the arbitrary retention, use and disclosure of personal information, based on a subjective perception of a citizen’s motivation, in the absence of solid evidence or proof. It is subjective, one notes, because it is often based on the subjective view of another citizen—no better informed, necessarily, than the citizen about whom the information is then held.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, spoke on the basis that subsection (7) was in a different category from the rest of the clause. I prefer the way that the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, put it, when he set out the principles that underlay the whole of this amendment. It is not often that I find myself agreeing with almost everybody in the House, including, at one and the same time, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—but I do. Even on this occasion, although I understand the hesitations voiced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, she and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, accepted the need for regulation in this area.

The amendment is directed at achieving sensible limitations on the retention, use and disclosure of data to others. This is an area where the Government ought to act and that has become controversial, with the emergence of guidelines that are, frankly, offensive to justice and parliamentary democracy. I therefore invite the Minister—I believe that I speak for the House in doing so—to return to the House with proposals that accept the principles that we have enunciated and will give rise to amendment of the Bill, to its vast improvement.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, it is unusual to have such unanimity across the House in Committee on something that is superficially a very complex matter. I agree with two noble Lords in particular. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was very succinct: he said that the information that the police retain should be subject to parliamentary or government control and not to police guidance. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in being cautious about regulation and having a full role for Parliament in any rules that are introduced.

I am sure that this is a very complex matter. I have just been wondering whether, in my role as a sitting magistrate in London, I would see this information. I obviously routinely see the police national computer—PNC—list, which includes convictions, cautions and bail conditions. If we go ahead and have a “bad character” application for a trial, additional information may be disclosed to us—to do with allegations of, say, a domestic abuse nature.

I was also thinking about my role sitting as a magistrate in family court, where I routinely see allegations that have not been substantiated in any court but have been recorded over many years in social services reports. I think that it is right that I see those allegations when we as a court are making decisions about the way that children should be treated in the context of a family court.

I give those two examples, which are different to what noble Lords have spoken about, to acknowledge the complexity of the situation with which we are dealing. I am sympathetic to the points that have been made by noble Lords, but I am also sympathetic to the Government addressing this with an open mind. I will listen with great interest to what the noble Baroness says about whether they propose bringing back any amendments at a later stage of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has been very constructive. I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for tabling the amendments. I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for promoting the need for balance, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his concluding words.

I say at the outset that the Government do not disagree with my noble friend’s view that people should not be inhibited from saying what they think, provided that it does not transgress the legal framework that this Parliament has put in place. Noble Lords would all be concerned if the activities of the police were—even if inadvertently and quite possibly for the best of motives—having an adverse effect on particular individuals who had committed no crime. If that possibility were having a chilling effect, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, or causing people to temper their quite lawful remarks, that would be a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.

That is my starting point. I will try to set out some of the background to the issues raised by the amendments that are before noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Noakes asked: how have we got here? It is a key legacy of the Macpherson inquiry, set up to consider the issues surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and is intended to give the police the means to understand tensions within communities before they escalate to serious harm.

As the name implies, the data pertains to incidents that are not crimes. It can include location data to know where repeat incidents of apparent tension and hostility might occur—for example, outside a place of worship. In this respect, the data is vital for helping the police build intelligence to understand where they must target resources to prevent serious crimes that may later occur. The importance of such intelligence has been illustrated where its use could have prevented real harm. The tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter, subjected to persistent hate and abuse and where the police failed to draw the links to repeated incidents of harassment, is a prime example.

Of course, non-crime hate incidents may also include the collection of personal data. Some of these records will include an accusation of hate crime that has been made against a person but was not proven. I know there has been concern that such data might appear in enhanced criminal record checks, which are required for jobs such as working with children and vulnerable adults, and that a person could be inappropriately disadvantaged for expressing a sentiment that is in no way criminal.

Precisely to guard against that possibility, the disclosure of non-conviction data in such checks is covered by statutory guidance issued by the Home Office to chief officers of police. This makes it clear that the police should disclose such information only after careful consideration and when it is proportionate and relevant to the job in question. Data of this kind can be disclosed only on the say-so of a senior officer, who should also consider whether the individual concerned should be given the opportunity to make the case that the information is not shared. Individuals also have the right to request an independent monitor to carry out a review of whether information is relevant to the role for which they are applying.

In practice, it is rare for the police to disclose non-conviction information of any kind: only 0.1% of enhanced certificates included such information in 2019-20. However, I fully understand that the public are concerned with how the collection of non-crime hate incident data might infringe fundamental liberties, particularly free expression, and may harm a person’s future prospects. However, I do not think that it is as simple as saying that the issue could be resolved through the introduction of more stringent regulations governing the processing and disclosure of data. We need to avoid unintended consequences through any reform of this practice. First, we need to ensure that we do not tie the hands of police in collecting the non-personal location data that I describe, and which can be vital in building an understanding of hotspots where serious harm might occur; this takes us back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, about balance.

Secondly, it is important to remember that the process of determining whether a crime has occurred is not always linear or simple. While the law on hate crime is clear, the process of determining whether an offence was committed may not be. The use of non-crime incident recording can exist in the grey space between the police making initial inquiries and making records such as this, and a decision to take no further action due to lack of evidence, or where a suspect cannot be identified. Non-crime hate incident records often form part of the normal record-keeping of early criminal investigations.

The data recorded may prove material to establishing a pattern of conduct when an investigation is reopened, or where further criminal complaints are made. Simply put, suggesting a clear dividing line between work to tackle crime on the one hand, and this form of data collection on the other, is not entirely accurate. The data is part and parcel of crime prevention. It must, however, be fair and proportionate to the harm that it is seeking to avoid. The public must also have faith that it does no more than strictly necessary to tackle this harm and preserves free speech. I set this out to make it clear that this is not a simple issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, nor one that can be solved just by the stroke of a pen.

However, as I said at the start of my remarks, the Government have considerable sympathy with the intention behind my noble friend’s amendment. Earlier this year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote to the then acting chief executive officer of the College of Policing, and to the relevant lead in the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to ask them to explore further and consider whether there are realistic and credible options for reforming non-crime hate incident recording to improve personal data protections for those connected with incidents which do not lead to a criminal charge. That is to address the question raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and to agree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. I am happy to say that the College of Policing has given this issue serious consideration and come up with some suggestions which the Government are now considering. The college has also pointed out that there is ongoing litigation which is very pertinent to this issue. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate for me to set out a definitive position on what happens next. To all noble Lords, I say wait and see. We will need to see how the litigation pans out and to engage in ongoing dialogue with the College of Policing.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee 4:30 pm, 1st November 2021

My Lords, I am not a lawyer, but can the Minister explain why she thinks that this is a matter for the College of Policing and not for Parliament and the Government?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I am simply pointing out that the Home Secretary has been in touch with the College of Policing to see if this issue can be improved and reformed further. I was saying, “Let’s count nothing in and nothing out.” I hope that my noble friends Lord Moylan and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean will take comfort in my right honourable friend the Home Secretary having identified a problem for which she is seeking a solution.

There will be more to be said in the coming months, but I hope that for now I have said enough to reassure my noble friend Lord Moylan and that he will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend invited the House to wait and see. Can she give us some idea of how long that wait might be?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I can certainly promise my noble friend and noble Lords who have been involved in the debate this afternoon that I will go back and see if I can put a timeframe on it.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

My Lords, when I tabled these amendments, I had no idea that they would find universal approbation in all parts of the House or attract the support of so many distinguished legal figures. It is quite humbling to look at the list and see my noble friends Lord Sandhurst and Lord Hailsham, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss—all highly distinguished figures in one department of the law or another. Indeed, I may have missed some speakers whose careers I am not equally familiar with. They are all united on two fairly straightforward points: first, that the operation of the current system of recording can cause genuine harm, unjustly, to particular individuals; and secondly, that this process should be subject to statutory and parliamentary supervision. Really, that is the essence of the entire case for supporting these amendments.

There were many speeches, for which I am grateful. I do not have time to thank everybody but it was an excellent debate, with speeches made by many people who, like myself, do not have any pretensions to legal expertise, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, my noble friends Lady Noakes, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Dobbs, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

Did I make a mistake there? Sorry. I am very grateful to everyone who has spoken.

I particularly draw attention to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. They both made a very important point, which is that it can be useful to the police in preventing crime in the future to have access to this information and, in certain cases, to retain it. I do not pretend that the drafting of the regulations envisaged by these amendments is going to be simple. It will have to take account of the important points that they made. But these amendments do not prejudge the weight to be given to those various factors when the Government come to draw up the guidance envisaged. I am very sympathetic to the points they made.

I would like to give everybody a gold star for their speeches, except possibly my noble friend on the Front Bench, who sadly struggled; it is a matter of bitter regret to me that goes to my heart. My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean put his finger on this: she struggled to explain, and did not really even attempt to explain, why these provisions should not be the subject of statutory supervision. She gave an example of harassment of an individual as to why this information should be retained. In my explanation of the amendment, I tried to point out that it would not affect harassment of individuals in individual cases. But if she feels that is not sufficiently clear in the amendment, I would be happy to accept further amendments from the Government that would make it abundantly clear. I hope that deals with one of the points she made.

My noble friend also said—and this is always an argument for doing nothing—that we must beware of unintended consequences of more stringent regulation. We have not asked for more stringent regulation or indeed for less stringent regulation; we have simply asked for proper regulation by properly constituted bodies. We are leaving it very much in the hands of the Home Office and my noble friend to come forward with something that they think appropriate.

I am very encouraged—if I can give some consolation to my noble friend—by her remark that her colleague the Home Secretary recognises that there is a problem and that some indication of some possibility of action was implied by that. Taking heart from that comment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 106 withdrawn.

Amendment 106A not moved.

Schedule 3: Extraction of information from electronic devices: authorised persons

Amendment 107 not moved.