Amendment 292Q

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 24th November 2021.

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Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

292Q: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—“Fast-track public space protection orders In the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, after section 61 (variation and discharge of orders) insert—“61A Fast-track public spaces protection orders (1) A local authority may make a fast-track public spaces protection order where the following conditions are met—(a) the public space to which the order will apply is a school within the local authority area,(b) activities carried on, or likely to be carried on, in the vicinity of the school have had, or are likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life for pupils and staff,(c) the local authority has provided for a five-day consultation period, and consulted—(i) the leadership of the school to which the order will apply,(ii) a chief officer of police of the police area in which the school to which the order will apply is located, and(iii) other such persons as the local authority considers appropriate, and(d) consent for the order to be applied has been granted by—(i) the leadership of the school to which the order will apply,(ii) a chief officer of police of the police area in which the school to which the order will apply is located, and(iii) the leader of the local authority which will make the order.(2) A “fast-track public spaces protection order” is a public spaces protection order which immediately imposes prohibitions or requirements as provided for under section 59.(3) A fast-track public spaces protection order may not have effect for a period of more than 6 months unless extended under this section.(4) Before the time when a fast-track public spaces protection order is due to expire, the local authority that made the order may extend the period for which it has effect if satisfied on reasonable grounds that doing so is necessary to prevent—(a) occurrence or recurrence after that time of the activities identified in the order, or(b) an increase in the frequency or seriousness of those activities after that time.(5) A fast-track public spaces protection order under this section may not be—(a) extended for a period of more than 6 months(b) extended more than once.””Member’s explanatory statementThis probes the need for fast-tracked exclusion zones around schools, in response to anti-vaccination protesters targeting schools, pupils and teachers.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to move Amendment 292Q in my name. Before I speak to it, I will refer to the other amendments in the group, particularly Amendment 292S in the name of my noble friend Lord Bassam. It deals with an incredibly important issue: he seeks to change the relevant offences for footballing banning orders. I think that we all remember the horror when we witnessed the racism that English football players, in particular, experienced at the end of the Euros. We all condemned it and thought it disgraceful. I say this to my noble friend: I hope that the football world and the public more generally hear about the amendment that he has tabled, because sometimes they think that we do not get the world in which they live. We abhor the racism that our professional footballers, in this instance, face, as well as the racism often experienced in many other spheres of life. It is totally and utterly unacceptable to everybody in this House and beyond. My noble friend’s amendment is very good. I know that it is late in the evening, but it is an important amendment and I wish him well with it.

I wish my noble friend Lord Faulkner well with his Amendment 229U. Including it in this group is an interesting selection—having scrap metal included here makes for an interesting group of amendments. Can the Minister perhaps explain how that happened? I think that we would all be interested in the answer.

To move on, the purpose of Amendment 292Q in my name is to express

“the need for fast-tracked exclusion zones around schools, in response to anti-vaccination protesters targeting schools, pupils and teachers.”

As the Minister will know, this builds on the public space protection orders already legislated for in Section 61 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, so the principle of the need for public space protection orders has already been agreed by the Government. However, as I pointed out with reference to certain figures, this amendment seeks particularly to say, regarding the way in which those orders operate under the law at the moment, that they need to be fast-tracked. I know that the Minister will have read the various parts of the new clause that we are proposing, but it is the fast-tracking that is essential. Whatever the rights and wrong of the existing legislation, it simply cannot be applied with the speed necessary to allow school leadership, the police and local authorities to deal with some of the many problems that they have had.

In moving this amendment, I thank my friend Peter Kyle MP for his work. As the Minister will probably be aware, in Westminster Hall in the last day or two he has highlighted the particular problems that schools in his constituency in Brighton have faced and the need for something to be done about it. In particular, he talked about anti-vax protesters outside schools spreading dangerous information to children—something that we all agree is utterly unacceptable.

I looked for figures, and the ones I managed to find are from the Association of School and College Leaders. I think noble Lords will forgive me for a minute if I read out some of the statistics, because they are pretty shocking; I was shocked by them. According to the ASCL survey, nearly eight in 10 schools had been targeted by anti-vax protestors. I add that most of that was by email, but the fact remains that they have been targeted. Protests outside schools have been reported in Glasgow, Cardiff, London, Telford, Leicester, Manchester and Dorset, so this problem has been experienced right across the country. I ask noble Lords to imagine for a moment the teachers and members of staff at these schools, the parents and grandparents of children attending them, and the children themselves. Some of these children are very young—admittedly, many of them are in secondary school—and are having to deal with some of the misinformation and protests going on in the immediate vicinity of their schools.

The Association of School and College Leaders found that 420 schools had experienced protests. Of 526 responses from schools eligible for the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15 year-olds, 13% had reported seeing demonstrators outside their school, in the immediate vicinity. I think there is a point to be made about it being in the immediate vicinity. Eighteen schools said that demonstrators had gained access to the school, which is obviously particularly worrying, and 20 had received communications threatening harm.

What my amendment seeks to do is to say that this is unacceptable. There is legislation available, but it has taken too long for that legislation to be enacted. Even where the police, school leaders and local authorities want to take action to deal with this problem, it is taking far too long, and the children, parents and pupils at those schools are experiencing that difficulty.

I finish by saying that many media outlets have started to pursue this campaign, particularly the Mail, but it is sickening that anti-vax protestors in protests outside schools are spreading dangerous misinformation to children. The uptake of the vaccine among children is far too low, and the Government would wish to accelerate the rollout. Everything must be done to get those who are eligible to be vaccinated as soon as possible—and who knows where that will go in the coming weeks and months as the Government roll out their vaccination and booster programmes, wherever that takes us.

We are facing a public health emergency, and the last thing we need is for our children to be targeted by the irresponsible activities of a few people. I think the Government need to act to fast-track the existing legislation. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Coaker for congratulating me on my amendment before I have spoken to it. I think that is a bit of a rarity in your Lordships’ House, but I will take it from wherever it comes.

My Amendment 292S covers racism in football and, in particular, online offences. As the explanatory statement to the amendment says:

“This would add online offences, specifically posting racist abuse aimed at football players, to the list of relevant offences for which a football banning order can be made.”

It would add offences under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 to Schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989, which controls banning orders, where these messages are sent to a member of a football team and involve racial hatred.

In speaking to my amendment, I should enter a bit of history. Back in 2000, I was the Home Office Minister, sat where the noble Lord is this evening, and I had to introduce to this House what was effectively emergency legislation covering football-disorder related offences. The banning order regime that it brought in was aimed at dealing with violent and disorderly behaviour and racist activity at football matches. This was on the back of extremely poor behaviour by England football fans at the Euro 2000 competition. Such was the international outrage at the behaviour of our own fans, I believe that if we as a Labour Government had failed to act firmly, England would have been banned from competing in the subsequent World Cup in 2002.

The legislation was linked to a brilliant campaign led by Kick It Out, which rightly attacked the racist behaviour then prevalent on the terraces in many football clubs. The Home Office played a supporting role and worked closely with the football leagues and clubs to link the legislation and anti-racist campaigning to try to change the whole culture and atmosphere in and around football. A report, authored under my name, brought forward a whole range of proposals and measures which clubs responded to positively. This led to widespread changes in behaviour over time.

The legislation was hugely successful in driving out violence at football grounds and games. Since then, English teams competing in European competitions as national sides and club teams, and on the wider international stage, have been largely trouble-free. Banning orders work and have been instrumental in making going to watch one’s favourite team a pleasure, not a pastime in which you fear for your personal safety. They have also had an impact on the incidence and reporting of racist hate crime for football matches, not least because clubs now have a weapon in their armoury when tackling racists and racist thuggery in their communities.

Of course, back in 2000, we did not have Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook in the way we do now. The legislation we framed then to deal with racist abuse and violence was not designed to cope with the digital age and online abuse, hence my amendment today, which is long overdue and which many of my colleagues across all parties and in both Houses have been urging on the Government.

Indeed, back in the summer, after England footballers suffered appalling abuse, the Prime Minister, responding to a question from Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Opposition, during PMQs on 14 July, said:

“Today we are taking practical steps to ensure that the football banning order regime is changed, so that if a person is guilty of racist online abuse of footballers, they will not be going to the match—no ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses.”—[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/21; col. 362.]

On 20 October, when pressed about the online harms Bill, the Prime Minister said that the Government would ensure that the Bill

“completes its stages in the House before Christmas”,

and then corrected himself by saying that they would

“bring it forward before Christmas”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/21; col. 746.]

My honourable friend Jo Stevens has raised the issue of this online abuse directly with the new Secretary of State at DCMS, but has yet to receive a response. I make it plain that we on our side stand ready to support the online harms Bill, which should include this measure.

I hope the Minister can simply say that he will accept today’s amendment into the Bill. If the argument against it is that it is in the wrong place or Bill, I say simply that there can be no harm in putting it in this Bill now, given that the sort of abuse we are looking at here goes on week in, week out, in, around and after football games, and needs to be stopped. By adopting the measure here and now, the Government would be sending a strong message that would be well received across the sporting world and particularly in football.

Moreover, it would be achieved on the back of cross-party agreement and with a high degree of public unanimity. It would also bring to a close the wavering uncertainty that surrounds this issue and the Government’s intentions. Finally, it would go some way to repairing the damage caused by the mixed messages that emanated from the Government and Ministers in the summer, when some were quoted as saying that fans were right to boo players taking the knee as part of their campaign against racist abuse.

This amendment gives the Government and the Minister the opportunity to deliver on the Prime Minister’s own promise that there would be no ifs, buts, exemptions or excuses when bringing forward football banning orders which focus on online racist abuse of footballers. This evening is the Government’s opportunity to deliver on that promise.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:45 pm, 24th November 2021

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Coaker, I was a little surprised to find my amendment grouped with two very different amendments, both of which I am happy to support. If I were not such a collegiate person, I would probably have asked for my amendment to be degrouped and debated separately, but I suspect that the Government Front Bench and your Lordships would not have regarded that as a particularly friendly gesture at this time of night and at this late stage in the Bill.

I wholeheartedly support my noble friend Lord Bassam’s amendment. He will recall that I was a very new Member of this House in 2000, and, having previously been involved in tackling football violence, I was very pleased to give him every possible support in the measure that he took. His description of the difference it made was absolutely correct.

My amendment is something completely different. It introduces an offence of receiving cash for scrap metal by amending Section 12 of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 and would effectively close a loophole in that Act. Noble Lords with longer memories will recall that cash was removed as a means of payment with the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Its provisions created a criminal offence which prohibited all scrap metal dealers from paying for scrap metal in cash. This was reinforced in 2013, with the introduction of the SMDA—the Scrap Metal Dealers Act—and that was a significant step forward in tackling the scourge of metal crime, which was having a devastating effect on our national infrastructure, heritage, transport operators, public undertakings and communities across the country.

That legislation made it more difficult for criminals to convert stolen metal into cash and removed the opportunity for sections of the scrap metal industry to avoid taxation and launder money. Serious attention was paid to enforcement by the metal theft task force and Operation Tornado, led by the British Transport Police, and in the face of falling commodity prices, levels of offending fell and generally remained fairly low until about 2019. But then values of commodities increased significantly, and enforcement was switched to other priorities.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council metal crime lead is Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Doyle of the BTP. He requested a review of the 2013 SMDA to see how it could be improved to meet the new challenges that did not exist when the Act was written. He set up a group of representatives from all the sectors hit by metal theft and drew up a priority list for updating the legislation. The one suggestion that was universally supported was the introduction of an offence of receiving cash for stolen metal. The introduction of an offence of receiving cash would discourage those who would not normally be involved in any form of criminality, and make it more challenging for those who are.

I am afraid that metal crime is now on the rise again. It is being fuelled by ever increasing commodity prices: copper is at an all-time high, and the projections are that it will continue to rise over the coming years as demand increases. Catalytic converter theft has also emerged as a growing problem, with rhodium rising sixfold in value during the last couple of years. We know that cash continues to be used within sections of the industry and, because of reduced enforcement activity, its use has increased in line with these rises in commodity prices.

As with football violence, referred to by my noble friend Lord Bassam, the emergence of social media marketplaces and online platforms has given rise to an explosion of criminal activity linked to metal crime. A quick search on these platforms reveals page after page of adverts offering to purchase metal, catalytic converters and other items linked to metal crime for cash, with effectively no questions asked.

This amendment would allow a greater degree of leverage with the online platforms to have listings and accounts removed because they would be operating in contravention of the law. The money launderers would find it much more difficult to convert their cash into legitimate assets and it would add an additional layer of difficulty for those who continue to deal in cash.

The Minister, who I am pleased to see back in her place on the Front Bench, will recall that I raised the issue of metal theft in an Oral Question which she answered on 14 October. She was good enough to follow that up with a meeting on 9 November, also attended by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, who I am also delighted to see in his place. I thank him for signing my amendment this evening.

Last Thursday, I attended a demonstration in Worcestershire, by the West Mercia Police, of a number of sophisticated initiatives to track stolen items as varied as farm trailers, four-wheel drive tractors and bicycles. I discussed this amendment with the new chief constable, Pippa Mills, who wishes me to tell your Lordships that she supports a change in legislation that acts as a further deterrent to metal thieves or dealers in stolen metal and enables the prosecution of those involved in metal theft.

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

My Lords, despite being an anti-racist—

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

In view of the very positive nature of the Minister’s comments at our meeting a couple of weeks ago, I hope her noble friend can give some hope that the law will be changed in line with the terms of my amendment.

Photo of Lord Birt Lord Birt Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. He and I sit together on the APPG. This is a highly organised crime committed by gangs and it has a devastating impact not only on our national infrastructure but on many—primarily rural—communities. In the year to March 2020, 36,000 metal thefts were recorded by the police. Just last week the Countryside Alliance, as a result of FoI requests from police forces, identified that 1,500 lead and metal thefts since 2017 were from churches. Theft of lead from church roofs can have a devastating impact on local communities. I have had direct experience of that, which is why I joined the noble Lord’s group.

As the noble Lord said, adverts offering “cash for scrap” are now widespread. The 2013 Act made it illegal to pay cash for scrap metal but not to receive it. This amendment closes that glaring loophole. I very much hope that the Government will support it.

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

My Lords, I apologise for taking the instruction to hurry up rather too literally.

Despite being an anti-racist and a football fan, I have serious free speech concerns about the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Balsam—

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

I am making too many mistakes and I am sorry. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, suggested, online abuse will be thoroughly debated in the online safety Bill, when I will lay out my concerns and listen to further discussion on this.

For now, I want to focus on Amendment 292Q, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which I am rather concerned about. Civil libertarians have warned us recently about public space protection orders increasingly being used to carve out more and more public space away from the public, effectively privatising it and excluding citizens from the public square. Therefore, I am concerned about an amendment that tries to fast-track these very orders. I was struck by the explanatory statement from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the amendment is aimed at anti-vaccination protestors who target schools, pupils and teachers.

I, too, worry about hardcore anti-vax sentiment in society. However, in the interests of accuracy and not to allow misinformation to flourish, some protests at schools have comprised fully vaccinated parents who were specifically worried about the use of the Covid vaccine on children, a sentiment echoed by some in the JCVI at least. It would be wrong to characterise these protests as anti-vaxxers per se. Also, while the amendment was discussed in relation to anti-vaxxers, it could be used against any protest. Would other protests be targeted by the amendment?

I am rather worried about education authorities having to make politically contentious decisions about who is allowed at the school gates. I am thinking of the instances in the build-up to COP 26 when there was a lot of leafleting of schoolchildren by environmental activists advocating eco school strikes. Personally, I have qualms about encouraging political truancy but, none the less, I support their right to leaflet, and I know that many young people appreciated talking to those campaigners.

What about the scenes last year at Batley grammar school with some Muslim parents and religious activists? Not only were those protests supported by a range of politicians, the protesters’ demands were conceded to, which has led to a de facto blasphemy law being allowed to interfere in the school curriculum and a teacher being driven into hiding. I do not support those protesters’ aims at all, and have spoken out against them a lot since, but I am minded to defend their right to demonstrate—although I appreciate that it is tricky.

I suppose my question to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is: who decides which political demonstration outside a school is acceptable? Would he ban all parents’ demonstrations, or just the ones he disapproves of? These are morally and politically delicate dilemmas, and I argue that legislative changes should not be rushed through.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 8:00 pm, 24th November 2021

In response to that and in support of the broad thrust of my noble friend Lord Coaker’s probing amendment—I think it is fair to call it that—I have long had concerns about public space protection orders in general, and I defer to no one as a civil libertarian, but there is a great tradition in human rights thinking for child protection. So my instinctive response to the noble Baroness is that it is not because the protesters are anti-vaxxers and I disagree with them, it is that it is at school. They are young and potentially vulnerable people, and it does not seem proportionate or fair to me that we as grown-up legislators in this place take greater protection for our immediate vicinity than we give to even primary school children up and down the country, regardless of the nature of the protest.

The point about free speech and freedom to protest being a two-way street is incredibly important, and I suspect that we will return to it in a forthcoming group, but on this issue, for me, at least, the principle is not that I think that this is dangerous speech or disinformation—it is out there anyway online, et cetera—it is that no young person, particularly a very young person, should be subject to an aggressive demonstration, whether or not it is one that I would approve of, on their way to or from school.

Some of us remember the Holy Cross school dispute in Northern Ireland some years ago. The reason why Her Majesty’s Government had to intervene with soldiers, and so on—it was tragic—was not to take sides in the dispute, it was to protect young children, who do not have the same robustness as an older person and should not feel scared on their way to or back from school. I would take that view whether or not the protest by adults from outside the school community was one with which I agreed—about the climate catastrophe or whatever else it happened to be.

It is so important at this stage in the evening, before we get to the next group, to introduce the concept of the two-way street in relation to free speech. So I support my noble friend Lord Coaker in the thrust of his amendment, about schools being special—particularly primary schools, but possibly also secondary schools; that will be up for more detailed discussion—and needing some level of protection from whatever kind of protest by people from outside the school community.

I add that caveat because I think children should be able to protest themselves if they want to. I would not want inadvertently to do anything that caused criminal sanction for children and young people who chose to launch their own protest about whatever it was.

I see this very much as a probing amendment, but the status quo, whereby we have these protections as legislators in the vicinity around the Palace of Westminster —and companies have greater protections from pickets than primary school children have from aggressive demonstrations from whatever quarter—does not seem right. Human rights principles are: always protect children first, and any interference then has to be necessary and proportionate. But equal treatment and the two-way street, particularly in relation to freedom of speech and the right to protest, are crucial.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who moved the amendment, which is about the need for fast-track exclusion zones around schools to prevent, in particular, anti-vaccination protests in the vicinity of schools.

If she will allow me, I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, I think after we finished on Monday night, how important it is to have her voice in the Chamber to test these sorts of issues. All I would say to her on this occasion is that the amendment talks about “activities carried on” that have

“a detrimental effect on the quality of life for pupils and staff”.

So it is not simply a question of banning any demonstration in the vicinity of a school. It would have to have that detrimental effect. I understand that that is a subjective judgment, but at least there is something there, rather than just a blanket ban on anybody protesting about anything at all.

Noble Lords will not need me to tell them that this is not about protecting children, perhaps older school-age children, from not being vaccinated. It is about protecting the whole community because, as we know from previous times in the pandemic, there is a risk of schoolchildren infecting vulnerable parents and grandparents. We also know from the health data that being double-vaccinated does not necessarily protect you completely from the worst effects of Covid, and in particular long Covid, although it gives you much better protection. On the news yesterday, an expert was talking about the fact that, although Covid has mild effects on children, it is not known how much they could be affected by long Covid. So this is not simply about a demonstration outside a school; this is a wider public health issue. However, I understand that, although that is what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is aiming at here, the amendment, if passed, would have wider implications than just for anti-vaccination protests.

Amendment 292S, from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, relates to online racism against footballers and enabling football banning orders to be made against those guilty of online racial hatred directed at a member of a football team. He is probably the best-qualified noble Lord to talk on this issue, bearing in mind his experience on the Front Bench in the Home Office under the Labour Government who introduced the banning orders in the first place, and the beneficial effect that they have had in rooting out racism in football. It is a serious problem.

Talking about a hierarchy of diversity is fraught with danger. But, as a gay man, I have always considered racism to be a far more serious issue than, say, homophobia. Some people might argue against this; but I could conceal my sexuality if people from a different planet did not know who I was or what my background was. But you cannot hide your colour; you cannot avoid racism in the way that some gay people, at least, could avoid homophobia; it would not be obvious to people.

I do not know of any professional footballers who have been open about their sexuality, because of their concerns about being open about it. Hopefully, as years go by and social attitudes change, some professional footballers will be open about their sexuality. They should be able to benefit from similar protection, so this legislation should not exclusively provide protection for racism, which is the major issue at the moment, while professional footballers’ sexuality is not. This is a good idea, and hopefully the Government will discuss how this can be taken forward.

This group is diverse—not in the sense of “diversity,” but in terms of the different subjects covered. Amendment 292U, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, highlights a loophole in the law. My understanding—although I am not sure as there was no explanatory note—is that it is unlawful for scrap metal dealers to pay cash for scrap metal, but it is not against the law to sell it on for cash. That is the loophole. A scrap metal dealer who surreptitiously acquires stolen metal could sell it on for cash, and the noble Lord’s amendment would disallow that. The payment would have to be made by a traceable means, thus clamping down in the other side of the transaction, which makes sense.

We have debated the issue of scrap metal and the impact on the railway system and churches, for example, and the problem with catalytic converters. As shortages of resources are exacerbated by countries coming out of lockdown and the demand for raw materials grows, scrap metal will become an increasingly important issue. Therefore, closing this loophole regarding the other side of the transaction seems sensible, and we support it.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for taking part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker asked if I could shed any light on the grouping methodology. No, I cannot, but I salute the collegiate nature of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for explaining what he describes as a probing amendment to tackle the issue of disruptive anti-vaccination protests outside schools. Like him, I stand by people’s right to protest, but as I am sure we will debate when we get to Part 3 of the Bill, this is not an unqualified right, and there is a line to be drawn. When crossed, it is right that the police or, in this case, local authorities should be able to take appropriate and proportionate action to protect schoolchildren and their parents, as well as teachers and other school staff.

The police and local authorities have a range of powers which can be used to manage protest activity affecting schools. This includes powers in the Public Order Act 1986 to manage protests, measures in the Education Act 1996 to prevent nuisance and disturbances on school premises, and measures in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014—as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—targeted at anti-social behaviour. The police also have their common law powers to prevent a breach of the peace.

Despite prominent media reporting, the scale of the issue is quite small. I concur with the noble Lord’s statistics, which I have seen. The issue has affected 68 schools in the various geographies he talked about, and the number of protesters ranges from one to about 20. But the statistics do not add any colour to the human experience people are suffering, so I take the noble Lord’s point.

These people typically hand out leaflets and display placards, with some serving “liability notices” or “cease and desist” letters to head teachers. The Government continue to closely monitor anti-vaccination activity occurring at schools. There is close working between the vaccine programme, the police, local authorities and other partners to gather intelligence and provide proportionate mitigations to keep people safe.

I understand that, on rare occasions, protesters have engaged in criminal activity, as also noted by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, such as behaving in an intimidating manner on school grounds such as to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Where criminal behaviour such as this occurs, the police already have the powers they need to deal with those involved and are dealing with any criminal behaviour.

We intend to bring in several new measures in the Bill that could help address this issue. Through the regulation-making power to clarify the meaning of

“serious disruption to the life of the community”,

we will specify that this includes where there is prolonged physical disruption inhibiting access to educational facilities. We are also enabling the police to place conditions on a protest if the noise from it causes or risks causing serious disruption to the activities of an organisation; this would include schools.

Finally, we are introducing serious disruption prevention orders, which will allow the courts to place prohibitions and requirements on people who have committed criminal protest-related offences and/or have a history of, for example, causing or contributing to serious disruption at protests. So, I hope that the noble Lord and the whole Committee will support these measures when we come to them.

On the noble Lord’s proposal for a

“fast-track public spaces protection order”,

we are not persuaded that there is a need for this, given the way that the existing legislation governing these orders is framed. This will address the noble Lord’s specific questions about the pace of the orders.

The amendment seeks to provide for a truncated five-day consultation period for PSPOs when relevant criteria are met. While the legislation already sets out certain sensible minimum requirements for making a PSPO, there is no prescribed minimum consultation period. As such, the amendment would make no material change to the pace at which a PSPO can be implemented.

Indeed, although it is recommended, there is currently no statutory requirement for local authorities to undertake public consultation at all on a PSPO. The legislation requires that the local authority consult the police, the PCC, any community representatives they consider appropriate and the owner or occupier of the land within the restricted area—in this case, the school in question. But it is within the gift of a local authority to conduct such a consultation within five days on issues where there is broad consensus and the evidence is in place.

The noble Lord could be forgiven for thinking that PSPOs have a lengthy minimum consultation period because councils often choose to carry out a public consultation, and they do so for good reason. PSPOs are designed to impose restrictions on what people can do in in public spaces. As any dog owner subject to restrictions regarding where they can or cannot walk a dog will tell you, these are often highly contentious matters, and we expect authorities to be cautious about using powers that restrict individual liberty.

If a local authority were to make a fast-tracked PSPO under this amendment, it would still be accountable in court for demonstrating that the restrictions placed are compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights—and in particular that any infringements of Article 10 and 11 rights are necessary and proportionate. Legislation explicitly permitting a fast-tracked PSPO would not change this, and the local authority could find itself subject to increased legal risks through not performing a more comprehensive consultation before imposing a PSPO.

It is also important to note that experience to date suggests that physical protests at schools are typically short in duration and rarely repeated at the same location, so the widespread use of exclusion zones is unlikely to be an effective response in practice. If repeated protest activities take place at one location, they can be considered as an option, alongside other policing and community responses.

In summary, I share the noble Lord’s desire to protect pupils, parents and school staff from aggressive anti-vaccination protests, but the existing powers to make PSPOs are already available to local authorities, and these will be augmented by the strengthened police powers in Part 3 of the Bill.

I turn to Amendment 292S, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—I commend his long association with this subject—has explained, seeks to extend the scope of football banning orders. I say at the outset that I do not believe that there is any difference between the noble Lord’s position and the Government’s.

I think that we were all shocked by the disgraceful online racist abuse of black England players following the Euro 2020 final in July. There can be no excuse for behaviour of that kind and it is right that people who perpetrate that kind of abuse online in connection with football should no longer have the right to attend matches. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, acknowledged, announced in the House of Commons within days of the Euro 2020 final that we intend to amend the legislation governing football banning orders so that they can be imposed on those who commit online abuse in connection with football.

I assure your Lordships that we are proceeding at pace to give effect to this firm and clear commitment. We are working through all of the issues that have been raised. As a former Home Office Minister himself, the noble Lord will understand that translating policy objectives into legislation is not always as straightforward as one might hope. His amendment is deceptively simple, but we believe that other changes are needed to the Football Spectators Act to achieve the desired outcome. We are making good progress, but this will take a little time to get right. We are also considering the options as regards the appropriate legislative vehicle. I do not rule out using this one, but I cannot give him the firm commitment that he seeks at this stage. What I can do is undertake to update him ahead of Report.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) 8:15 pm, 24th November 2021

Before the noble Lord moves on to the next amendment, thinking back to 2000, the football riots took place in Charleroi and elsewhere, involving some 600 or 700 England fans, and within two weeks the Labour Government swiftly moved to introduce legislation that has been effective for the last 21 years. I do not quite understand how a Government with a majority of this size have failed to act on the promise made by the Prime Minister on 14 July. It is a pretty simple piece of legislation, as the noble Lord gave voice to in his response. Why have they not been able to find the opportunity to put that promise, made very clearly in the House of Commons, into effect? They could do so in this legislation now. We will help the Government to do it by helping them to perfect the amendment and get it right. This is a serious matter. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made that point very well. It is time that the Government fulfil some of the promises that they make. This is a relatively simple one to do.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I reiterate that the Government agree with the noble Lord. I can only repeat what I said earlier: we are working at pace and I commit to updating him before we get to Report. I hope that there will be a helpful outcome.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has Amendment 292U on metal theft. This is an important subject and one that my noble friend Lady Williams recently discussed with the noble Lord, as he acknowledged. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Birt, for his contribution and his examples. I shall say a bit more about that meeting in a moment.

The Government recognise the impact of metal theft on infrastructure companies, including theft of cable from railway projects, construction companies and solar farms, as well as from heritage and community assets such as churches. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was introduced to tackle the metal theft that was affecting many people’s day-to-day lives at that time. Under Section 12 of the 2013 Act, it is already an offence for a scrap metal dealer to pay for scrap metal using cash. The 2013 Act also places requirements on scrap metal dealers to hold a licence, verify the identity of those supplying scrap metal and retain records of metal bought and sold. These elements, together with powers for the police and local authorities to enter and inspect the premises of scrap metal dealers, make the Act an effective tool to tackle the sale of stolen metal.

The noble Lord’s amendment seeks to extend the provisions in the 2013 Act to make it an offence for anyone to sell scrap metal for cash. Although I understand the intention behind this amendment and the desire to have additional powers to tackle those who see metal theft as a profitable crime, the Government do not consider this amendment to be needed. The amendment would broaden the remit of the 2013 Act beyond the responsibilities placed on scrap metal dealers. Should an offender encourage, assist or incite the cash purchase of stolen metal by a scrap metal dealer, they could be found guilty of an inchoate offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

I will set this in a broader context. The noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Williams had a very productive meeting, as he acknowledged, on 9 November to discuss this important subject. They were joined by members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Metal, Stone and Heritage Crime: the noble Lord, Lord Birt, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and Andrew Selous MP, together with a representative from the British Metals Recycling Association. I understand that it was a constructive discussion and I hope that the noble Lord was left in no doubt as to the seriousness with which the Government view this crime.

At that meeting it was agreed that enforcement of the 2013 Act is key to tackling metal theft. The Government are committed to supporting partners to increase the enforcement of the Act. The Home Office provided £177,000 of seed-corn funding in the last financial year to establish the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership. The partnership is spearheaded by the British Transport Police and was set up to better co-ordinate police forces and other agencies to tackle metal theft from rail, telecoms and utilities companies.

At the meeting on 9 November, concerns were also raised about the disparity between metal theft figures published by the Office for National Statistics and figures held on the police national computer. We are looking into this and my noble friend Lady Williams—who, by the way, expressed to me that she would have liked to answer the noble Lord’s amendment—will write to the noble Lord when we have clarification on this. However, let me be clear: no one is trying to play down the problem or argue that statistics somehow show things are not as bad as some suggest.

The all-party parliamentary group agreed to provide the Government with a paper setting out its recommendations for tackling metal theft. My noble friend looks forward to receiving this and we will give it careful consideration. The right reverend Prelate and Andrew Selous, who is a Church Commissioner, agreed to see what more could be done to gather data and intelligence about thefts from churches, particularly of lead roofs. That is something that I welcome. I am sure that your Lordships all share my concern about these attacks on our heritage and recognise the particular vulnerability of churches, many of which are in isolated and remote areas. We look forward to continuing to work with the noble Lord and others who have contributed to the work of this all-party group. I hope that he is in no doubt of our commitment in this respect.

In the light of my comments and the undertaking to give sympathetic further consideration to Amendment 292S, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for his reply, I will make a couple of comments about the two amendments not in my name. First, I think that we all heard clearly, in answer to my noble friend Lord Bassam and his amendment, that the Government agree with him. The question that my noble friend then posed was: when will the Government act to implement the amendment that he put forward and that the Government say they agree with? That is the key question.

I take the Minister’s point that he will do something before Report—unless I have misrepresented him—or consider it before Report. That is where we start to get into difficulty, because he has moved from doing something to considering it. If the Minister agrees with it, something needs to be done. We have gone past considering it; it is time for action. That is what my noble friend Lord Bassam was saying and I very much agree with him.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Faulkner will have heard the remarks about dealing with scrap metal, which—irrespective of whether it should have been in this group—is an issue. I think that he will be pleased that the Minister sought to answer those points.

With respect to my amendment, which of course I will withdraw—and I will come to a couple of the points made by other noble Lords—I think that schools will be interested that the Minister says powers are already available to them, notwithstanding the way in which he moved on to powers that we are yet to discuss. Of course, if everyone agrees with them, it will all be solved—that is for another debate later on. The Minister specifically said that powers are already available to schools, should they wish to deal with this issue. That is not how they feel. They feel as though it takes an inordinate amount of time to get anything in place. That is the whole point of what this amendment seeks to do. The Government need to consider how they reassure schools that those powers are available to them to deal quickly with problems that occur.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for their support for the amendment, in the sense of their recognition that it is a two-way street. I accept that it is not unbridled, unqualified support, but it is important.

On the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, it is not me imposing this or saying that schools should ban it. That is clearly laid out that it is for the leadership of the schools, the local police and the local council, along with any other persons who people see fit. Where considerable distress or alarm is being caused to young people in that particular situation and environment, they would then have the option to consider using this to protect them. The amendment refers specifically to schools, although I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it could be broadened out in some circumstances. I specifically tried to ensure that it was measured, constrained and used in particular circumstances, recognising that people of course have a right to protest. I suspect that many people would also have given leaflets outside schools in an appropriate way.

With those remarks, I thank the Minister again for his reply and thank all noble Lords for contributing to what is an important debate. I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 292Q withdrawn.

Amendment 292R to 292U not moved.