Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 11:05 am on 22nd March 2022.

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Lord Rooker:

Moved by Lord Rooker

Leave out from “House” to end and insert “do insist on its Amendment 58”.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, contrary to what we have just heard, this issue was not discussed in the House of Commons when it was sent there. The Minister said about three or four sentences, which I will refer to in a moment.

This is a piece of enabling legislation, which will save hours of parliamentary time and slotting for parliamentary time in due course. I am reminded of the late Alf Morris; once when someone said to him, “We’ll kick that into the long grass”, he asked, “How long is the grass?” and the answer came back: “Can you see the giraffe?” That is what I am trying to avoid.

Amendment 58 seeks to place the new section after Section 114B in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Section 114B(1) states:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations apply any provision of this Act which relates to investigations of offences conducted by police officers to investigations of labour market offences conducted by labour abuse prevention officers.”

That was the bit that the Government put in the PACE Act to help over exactly the same problem with the gangmasters. Amendment 58 is taken from subsection (1) of that part of the legislation.

In a public presentation last Friday of the Food Standards Agency’s new five-year plan, the current chair, Professor Susan Jebb, said:

“We are pursuing greater powers for the National Food Crime Unit”.

This amendment does just that. There is no pressure on timing. The Secretary of State “may” act. It is pure enabling.

During Oral Questions in February last year, I raised the issue of food-related crime and the resources devoted to it. The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, pointed out that the FSA constituted the National Food Crime Unit in 2014 and that Ministers were in dialogue about increasing its powers. In a supplementary answer, he went further and said that

“its investigatory powers could be enhanced and its impact improved. That is the view of the Government, industry and the police”.—[Official Report,22/2/21; col. 614.]

So what is the problem? We have had dialogue for over a year and have got nowhere. Ministers have been too slow on this.

The Food Crime Unit’s work is about tackling serious organised or complex cases of food crime. The original assumption when the unit was set up, which was after my term at the FSA, was that 10 full-scale investigations could be managed by the crime unit in a year. Data from the first quarter of 2020 shows that more than 30 operations were opened, in addition to 40 pre-existing ones.

The Food Crime Unit and the FSA can already use the powers in RIPA and the covert human intelligence sources legislation and it can also access the PNC and ANPR. But in key respects it cannot get into serious cases without the support of hard-pressed police officers and local government, and delays owing to competing higher-risk police priorities have already proven detrimental to a number of Food Crime Unit investigations.

The unit needs the powers in PACE to go direct to the courts rather than have the police doing it at one remove. The officers from the Food Crime Unit are in a position to answer questions from the Bench about the application that police officers drafted in at the last minute, unfamiliar with the case, cannot. I have to say that, in my experience, the police have never taken food crime seriously. That was my experience at MAFF from 1997 to 1999. The police admit that it is not a high priority. Therefore, if food crime is to be taken seriously, the unit needs the powers.

There have been well-documented cases where the police have been unable, unavailable or reluctant to apply for warrants on behalf of the unit. There have been delays while the unit had to wait for police officers to become available. Exactly these problems arose with the gangmasters authority and the Government acted, as I pointed out, by amending PACE. The gangmasters authority has secured the powers. I do not know all the detail today, but the gangmasters authority was run and managed by ex-police officers. In fact, I think that the first chair or chief executive was an ex-chief constable. The lack of these powers is affecting staff in the Food Crime Unit and is a real constraint.

Officers in the Food Crime Unit—I repeat what I said in January; I have not spoken to any of them—are well qualified to present cases direct to the courts. They consist of ex-police officers of very senior rank, ex-National Crime Agency officers and ex-police intelligence officers. We are not talking about unqualified people. The unit cannot do its job

“relying on the kindness of the police to lend their powers in important cases”, as the former chair of the FSA, Heather Hancock, said.

The issue was considered by the National Audit Office in its report, Ensuring Food Safety and Standards, in June 2019. It said in paragraph 13:

“The regulatory system lacks the full range of enforcement powers to ensure businesses supply safe food.”

It went on to say that the Food Crime Unit

“does not yet have the statutory enforcement powers it needs to investigate … such as powers of search and seizure.”

That is what this is about: getting a warrant to do that work without having to queue up. The FSA wants the powers, the National Police Chiefs’ Council agrees that it should have the powers and the NAO agrees. The Government imply support by answers they have given.

I have worked in both the Home Office and the FSA over the years and the grapevine tells me that there is a big reluctance in the Home Office to acquiesce to a Back-Bencher initiating change. This a silly and not adult politics. The amendment is in effect a framework for the Government to build on. There is no need to queue for valuable parliamentary time. It does not require them to act now but it saves us from having to queue later.

There was no discussion in the Commons on the issue. On 28 February, the Minister, Tom Pursglove, after agreeing that

“food crime is a serious issue, costing billions of pounds each year,” described Amendment 58 as putting

“the cart before the horse”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/22; col. 803.]

The Minister, not I, said that food crime is costing billions of pounds a year. It makes you wonder why we are hanging about all this time with the Government having dialogue.

Speaking of horses, has anyone wondered why no court action was taken over the horsemeat issue in 2013? Thank goodness it was not a food safety issue, although we did not know that at the time. No company has ever sued another on the issue. Why? The answer is to avoid washing the dirty linen in public. This shows how vital it is to have an independent regulator, as industry cannot be trusted to do it itself.

Although the FSA is a government non-ministerial department, it has independence from day-to-day control of Ministers. From my experience, Ministers of all parties —I am the only FSA chair who has experience of Ministers from both Labour and Tory Governments—do not like it when they cannot pull the levers. As such, the FSA and its work by evidence and science—that is legally required in Section 1 of the Act that set it up on behalf of consumers—operating in an open and transparent way, is not the top of Ministers’ list for action, as Ministers do not get to pull any levers. The present Secretary of State, who answers to Parliament on behalf of the FSA, is no exception.

We have moved on from 2010, when the plan of the incoming team was to abolish the FSA. The announcement was all set for 12 July 2010—it still generates 50 pages on Google due to the briefings. The FSA has had over 20 years’ experience and is part of the fabric of generating confidence in food. It is crucial that we maintain confidence. We still get food-borne illnesses: each year, there are 15,000 hospitalisations and, sadly, food poisoning leads to the death of 150 people. We are nearly 10 years away from the horsemeat issue and there will be another one round the corner. Will we be able to move fast enough when the time comes? The clear answer is no. Therefore, we need to push these powers.

The Minister said that the FSA will consult. The FSA can consult all it likes—rightly so—but whatever the outcome of the consultation, primary legislation is needed to allow Food Crime Unit officers to use the PACE legislation of search and seizure. It is as plain as a pikestaff that we ought to pass this enabling legislation.

I make one final point to every Member of the House of Lords who has ever served as a Minister or an official. I can guarantee that each one of them will remember one occasion when they wanted—I quote myself—to save the Government from themselves. I had those moments. I recall doing a Bill with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, when we became convinced, due to exposure in your Lordships’ House, that it would not work as planned. We blew hot and cold each day in Committee and on Report. We told the powers that be in the other place, but to no avail. It required Eric Pickles—now the noble Lord, Lord Pickles—entering government in 2010 to put that policy out of its misery. I do not need to identify it, but it is an example. We were trying to save the Government from themselves and this is another good example today.

Why wait on the issue? Send it back to the other place. The Government can then modify it and add the bits from the gangmasters clause to the back end. There is no requirement on time. It solves the problem of queueing for parliamentary time in the future and it shows that the long grass is not so long. We will then get some action, because the dialogue has gone on without any success for far too long. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 11:15 am, 22nd March 2022

I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. It is insane that we do not have this. Food crime is complicated and difficult. Food chains are very long with no roles of responsibility. It is not like selling an egg to your next-door neighbour and then they end up sick; the egg has probably travelled 1,000 miles and nobody really gives a stuff about what happens at the other end.

There are lots of categories of food crime: illegal processing, which can mean the unapproved slaughter or ingestion of food; waste diversion, which means you send waste food back into the supply chain; adulteration, which is fake food; substitution, which is what happened in the horsemeat scandal; misrepresent-ation, which is endless and to do with marketing saying, for example, that pork has come from a happy pig when, in fact, it came from some pig reared in Poland in a miserable condition; and discount fraud. It is very common, widespread and difficult to deal with.

The fact that we bring only a tiny number of prosecutions, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned, is a scandal, but it is one that we can fix. The FSA has a brilliant new chair in Professor Susan Jebb, who is gagging to go and to get on top of this. It would do more than just sort out crime; it would also bring safety and responsibility. It would stop this massive dispersion of food into all different places.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned the horsemeat scandal of however many years ago. At that point I was working for the current Prime Minister as chair of the London Food Board. He rather jovially suggested that he and I should go up to Trafalgar Square and eat a horsemeat burger. We did not, because it probably would have got him into even more trouble than usual. However, the point is that at that moment we all saw the chains. Some of that horsemeat had passed through no fewer than 15 hands as it travelled around, each time making a little bit of money. Every moment is a moment for adulteration. I cannot understand why the Government are not happy to accept the amendment and to put it in the Bill. We would then have a much brighter future for all of us.

Photo of Lord Cunningham of Felling Lord Cunningham of Felling Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee B, Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee B

My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend—indeed, my very personal friend. He and I wrote the White Paper on the Food Standards Agency. It was necessary then and it was the right thing to do. The public had lost confidence in politicians of all parties and we had to create a new and independent organisation. That is what we did. Believe me, I cannot for the life of me understand why Ministers object to the proposal. It is already in legislation, so what is the problem?

The reality is that food crime is a global occupation. The European Union is concerned about it, as is the Government of Australia. In the United States of America, the Department of Justice recently fined a Brazilian company $110 million for trying to rig the beef market. For that matter, it also tried to rig the chicken market there. We need these powers to combat that level of organised and very sophisticated criminal activity in food markets. I do not know why there is any hesitation about this. If America can do it, we can. Australia is looking very closely at the activities of this same food company intervening in the Australian market. It already has two subsidiaries here in the UK. I have drawn this to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon. The reality is that, unless we strengthen the Food Standards Agency, these people will fiddle, rig, and have criminal activities in our food markets. We cannot stand by and allow that to happen. As I said at the outset, I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment. I urge noble Lords on all sides of the House to support it too.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 11:30 am, 22nd March 2022

My Lords, in his opening remarks my noble friend spoke to Amendment 89, and I hope that it is in order to introduce a more consensual note to this debate by welcoming Amendment 89. The first subsection of the new clause states:

“The Vagrancy Act 1824 is repealed.”

This shows the value of your Lordships’ House. When the legislation came to this House, there was nothing in it at all about the Vagrancy Act. But an all-party campaign, led by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who had hoped to speak to this amendment, inserted an amendment that would have repealed the Vagrancy Act in its entirety. That went back to the other place and, following a very constructive meeting with the Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams, and Minister Eddie Hughes, a satisfactory compromise was reached that is set out in Motion J and government Amendment 89, which, as I said, begins:

“The Vagrancy Act 1824 is repealed.”

My noble friend explained that there may be sections of the Vagrancy Act that need to be kept and therefore that total repeal is subject to a review, with an undertaking that it will be repealed in its entirety, subject to that review, within 18 months. I am most grateful to my ministerial friends for their constructive approach and I wonder whether the Minister, when he winds up, can say when the review that he referred to will be completed, and when we can have the assurance that there is nothing in the Vagrancy Act that needs to be kept and that, within the total span of 18 months, it will be repealed in its entirety. On behalf of all those who supported the campaign led by the noble Lord, Lord Best, I say that we very much welcome the outcome of our discussions.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop

My Lords, I echo the thoughts that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has just shared. I declare my interest as chair of the Manchester Homelessness Partnership board and as co-chair of the national police ethics committee, because I also wish to speak to the Motion regarding serious violence reduction orders.

I support the Vagrancy Act repeal, as I know my right reverend and most reverend friends on these Benches do, and have sought to see that included in previous Bills. I am grateful that it is now on track and I look forward to working with Ministers and others to ensure that we avoid any unintended consequences and do not simply recreate the old Act in more modern language.

On serious violence reduction orders, I am deeply concerned about knife crime. In fact, in Greater Manchester we are holding a summit on the afternoon of Friday of next week and I would be delighted if the noble Baroness the Minister could join us on that occasion, if her diary permits. As one of those who sponsored Amendments 114 to 116, I am grateful that we now have an expanded list of things that the review of the pilot must include and I am grateful for the assurances that we have heard today that the list is not exhaustive.

I still have concerns that these orders may prove unworkable, that they may put vulnerable women and girls at greater risk or that they may damage community relations with police through their disproportionate application. At worst, I think that all those things could happen, but for now I am willing to accept that the review is in good faith. Again, I look forward to seeing how the lessons learned from it will be taken fully on board and incorporated into any subsequent national rollout of SVROs.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Motion A1. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on his introduction and support his amendment. Organised food crime costs billions and the police have far more urgent priorities to deal with. Food-borne illnesses cost money in lost earnings and even in some cases result in death. In the current food shortage scenario, it is open season for the unscrupulous to take advantage and exploit the public by producing and selling adulterated food that is not fit for human consumption. They avoid prosecution while the police are completely overstretched. This amendment would assist the FSA to act to prevent future food scandals. I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and urge the Government to accept this very sensible amendment.

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

My Lords, we support Motion A1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Compared with other important issues that the House is considering today, it is a relatively minor one. None the less, it will save no time if we abstain, so if the noble Lord divides the House, we will support him.

On Motion J, although the repeal of the Vagrancy Act is very welcome and something for which Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for many years, it is unfortunate that the Government are still insisting on delaying the repeal of the outdated and unnecessary Act until replacement legislation is in place, as we believe that existing alternative legislation is sufficient. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, I heard the Minister say that the Government will commence, not conclude, repeal in 18 months—I wrote it down. If I am right and the noble Lord is wrong, can the Minister tell us how long it will take to repeal the Act in its entirety?

On Motion L, serious violence reduction orders will allow the police to stop and search people without any suspicion that those targeted have anything on them at the time they are stopped and searched that they should not have in their possession. It is another form of stop and search without suspicion, which is notorious for being ineffective. It is even less effective at finding weapons than stop and search based on suspicion and it is disproportionately focused on black people, even compared with stop and search based on suspicion. As a consequence, it is notorious for the damage that it causes to the relationships between the police and the communities they are supposed to help. The Government’s own impact assessment shows that these measures will disproportionately impact black communities and fly in the face of the Government’s response to the report by the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The police need to work together with communities suffering serious violence to build trust and confidence and to demonstrate that they are on the side of the community—not using powers disproportionately against it, as these new powers, by the Government’s own admission, will continue to do. Even Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services says that the disproportionate use of powers against certain communities is “undermining police legitimacy”.

Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, we have concerns. We believe that serious violence reduction orders are likely to make serious violence worse, as they further alienate the very communities the police need to co-operate with to identify the perpetrators. However, we have reluctantly agreed to see how SVROs, arguably a manifesto commitment, work in practice in a limited number of pilot areas. We supported an amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on Report that would have strengthened the proposed pilot evaluation and prevented SVROs from being introduced beyond the pilot phase until a report on the pilot had been laid before Parliament and both Houses had agreed to the rollout.

The Minister has given assurances that the pilot will be independently evaluated and that the Government will not continue with the scheme if it proves, as we suspect, to be ineffective or counterproductive. The evaluation must include crime reduction outcomes and community impact assessments. Given those reassurances and the Government’s strengthening of the pilot evaluation, we have agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, not to insist on her amendments, but we will be watching the pilots very carefully and listening to the communities affected, whose trust and confidence in the police is essential if knife crime is to be tackled effectively.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

There are three issues in this group and I wish to say something about all of them. Starting with Motion A1, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, for sending me a copy of his letter of 22 February to my noble friend Lord Rooker on Lords Amendment 58, which relates to the Food Standards Agency. As the letter says, the amendment gives powers available to the police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to the National Food Crime Unit of the Food Standards Agency. However, the Commons disagreed with the amendment, giving this reason:

“Because it is premature to confer new search and seizure powers on the Food Standards Agency until the accompanying accountability arrangements, including in respect of the handling of complaints about the exercise of such powers, have been determined.”

Yet Lords Amendment 58 does not lay down a specific date or timescale by which powers available to the police under PACE have to be given to the National Food Crime Unit. It simply says:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations apply any provisions of this Act to investigation of offences conducted by officers of the National Food Crime Unit in respect of search and seizure.”

If I am right, the Commons reason suggests that the Commons and the Government never actually read the terms of Lords Amendment 58. That is surprising, since the letter from the Minister to my noble friend Lord Rooker states that

“the Government agrees in principle that these powers should be conferred upon NFCU officers in order to support their vital work tackling food crime.”

There is no argument about whether the powers should be given, but simply over when they should be given. Lords Amendment 58 would give the statutory authority to the Secretary of State to give those powers but leaves it up to the Secretary of State to decide when the time is right. So what is the problem with the amendment?

The letter from the Minister goes on to say:

“Food crime is a very serious issue and empowering the NFCU to investigate these offences independently will ensure that their specialist knowledge is put to best use and that the burden on police forces is reduced”.

Yet the Commons and the Government have disagreed the amendment. The Minister goes on to say that

“further work is required to fully work through the implications of these proposals to ensure that any exercise of police powers by a non-police body is necessary, proportionate and legitimate and that suitable governance and accountability arrangements will be in place”, and:

“For these reasons we have tabled a motion to disagree with Lords amendment 58”.

But Lords Amendment 58 does not say that the Secretary of State has to do it; it would simply give the Secretary of State the necessary statutory power to do it if and when the Secretary of State so wishes, which is the point being made by my noble friend Lord Rooker. Frankly, the Government really are struggling to think of a credible argument why Lords Amendment 58 should not be accepted.

The powers currently available to the Food Standards Agency under food law relate to the enforcement of regulatory matters. The NFCU investigates cases of serious crime, often involving offences such as fraud. However, the FSA’s existing powers do not sufficiently equip the NFCU to investigate these crimes fully and lawfully, and to collect evidence to the higher standard needed to prove criminal intent, without the support of partners in the hard-pressed environments of policing or local authorities.

As part of the FSA, the NFCU already has access to sensitive law enforcement powers around directed surveillance, securing communications data and the management of convert human intelligence sources. But NFCU officers have not yet been given essential investigatory powers, including the power to apply to courts for warrants to search premises and seize evidence, or to interview suspects without police officers present. The unit has to rely on the support of partners, including the police forces, to carry out these activities. This means that the courts are not hearing from the experts familiar with the cases, which can increase the likelihood that warrants are not authorised.

As I understand it, competing demands on police time have led to delays in several NFCU investigations. At present, the NFCU needs the police to go to court and swear warrants on its behalf, so investigations are delayed if the police decline or take time to do so, or if the court refuses to authorise the warrant, which is more likely if the person swearing it cannot answer questions about the case. The NFCU also needs the police to be present when warrants are executed, which can lead to delays in the unit being able to carry out searches or seize critical evidence if the police have other priorities. As I understand it, the evidence seized then needs to be taken into police custody before it can be transferred to the NFCU. These issues can and do create delay, which is a problem in running a live investigation and trying to gather evidence before it is moved or destroyed.

I understand that NFCU investigations have been impacted by all the issues to which I have referred. I am also advised that the FSA’s view is that these additional powers are essential to enable the National Food Crime Unit to properly investigate and pursue complex food crime cases. As has been said, this was also identified as a gap in its systems to keep food safe in the independent review by Professor Elliott in I think 2014 following the horsemeat scandal.

In the Commons debate on this Lords amendment, the Minister said that the chairman of the Food Standards Agency had written to the Minister for Crime and Policing on 11 August 2021, expressing concern that the existing powers of the National Food Crime Unit were insufficient for their purpose. The Minister responded in October by expressing support for the request and indicating the Home Office’s intent to work with the NFCU to find a suitable legislative vehicle.

Well, we have a suitable legislative vehicle: it is this Bill. But five months after the Minister’s reply to the chairman of the Food Standards Agency expressing support for the request, we appear to have had very little action. It is time for action now, and my noble friend Lord Rooker has made the case for achieving that objective of action by proposing Motion A1, his amendment to government Motion A: that this House

“do insist on its Amendment 58”.

I turn to the other two matters referred to in this group. First, on the repeal of the Vagrancy Act, the Government have given a concession on this, as has been said. They have brought forward their own amendment, which will repeal the Vagrancy Act. In the Commons, the Minister said the Government agreed that no one should be criminalised simply for sleeping rough and that the time had indeed come to repeal the antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824. The Minister said that the Government were planning to bring forward replacement legislation in the next Session to ensure the police had “the tools they need” to intervene where necessary. So the Government will delay commencement of the new clause for 18 months while the legislation is introduced and scrutinised. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked what exactly was going to happen in the 18 months, and I, too, await an answer from the Minister on that point.

We welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the terms of this amendment and have finally decided to act. Likewise, we pay tribute, as the Minister did, to the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and those who have worked with him on this issue—not least for ably moving the amendment and winning a vote in the middle of the night on Report, which was some achievement.

My only question follows on from what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. Could we have an assurance from the Minister that this is not going to be kicked into the long grass due to the plans for delayed commencement, and that the Government will get on with improving support for those who find themselves sleeping rough on our streets?

On the issue of serious violence reduction orders, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, led on this on Report and we gave our support. The noble Baroness led on amendments that would strengthen the pilot of these orders, requiring it to proactively report on a number of concerns, and would require a vote in Parliament following the pilot before the orders could be brought in. The Government opposed the amendments but have brought forward Amendment 116A in lieu, which provides a non-exhaustive list of matters that must be covered in a report on the pilot. The Government say that the pilot will be robust and that an assessment of it will be covered by an independent regulator.

We are disappointed, as I said, that the Government have not accepted the reasonable amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on serious violence reduction orders. Prevention of crime is obviously a priority for our Benches and, I am sure, for all noble Lords in this House, and we considered this part of the Bill carefully. But the Minister is aware of our concerns that these orders may reduce trust in the police disproportionately and will not actually reduce crime.

As my colleague Sarah Jones MP said in the Commons, some years ago there was a similar scheme and knife crime prevention orders were lauded by the Government as the answer to crime. But they have not even been brought into force, presumably because they are hard to make work. What we are all trying to do is pass good law and bring into force only initiatives that actually prevent crime and protect communities. That is why the quality of the pilot is so important.

Having said that, we welcome the fact that the Government have moved slightly and included a list of areas that must be included in the assessment of the pilot, including the impact of the orders on reoffending and an equality impact assessment—of sorts. I ask the Minister whether the Government will promise a debate in Parliament after the pilot concludes. It would be appreciated if that undertaking and guarantee could be given when the Minister responds.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 11:45 am, 22nd March 2022

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his comments and to all noble Lords who participated in this short debate. I will try to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that we fully recognise the need to make quick progress with the consultation on extending Police and Criminal Evidence Act powers to the Food Standards Agency and then to introduce the necessary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The noble Lord very properly pushed me on a credible argument for this. I refer back to one of the paragraphs in my opening remarks: we specifically need to work with the National Food Crime Unit, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services on establishing a formal independent oversight framework for the NFCU’s exercise of these powers and the potential for the NFCU to be brought under their respective jurisdictions. The noble Lord referred to gangmasters; that is what happened with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. That is likely to require other legislative changes in addition to those provided for in Amendment 58. The issue is one of linked legislation. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will monitor this closely and I will ensure that he is kept informed of all developments. I hope that, on that basis, he will not press his Motion A1.

My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham asked about our commitment to commencing the repeal of the Vagrancy Act just as soon as we have consulted on and legislated for replacement legislation. The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, asked me precisely when. Perhaps it would help to clarify this if I read out what the Minister said in the Commons:

“On the undertaking that I was asked to give about the Vagrancy Act, let me say that 18 months is a maximum. If we can act faster, we will, but intensive work will obviously be required to get us there.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/22; col. 855.]

My noble friend Lord Young asked about the consultation. All I can say is that it will take place this spring.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, quite rightly asked why the House will not necessarily have a debate on the SVRO pilot. We have done this because, subject to the Bill receiving Royal Assent, we expect the pilot to take two years, having started in early 2023. It will then take some two or three months to complete the evaluation. That timetable firmly takes us beyond the life of this Parliament. I hope that the noble Lord understands that it would not be right for me to commit a future Government or Chief Whip to provide parliamentary time to a debate on the report of the pilot. That is not within my gift or anyone’s gift. But we have said that in principle we endorse the case that has been made for such a debate and we understand the concerns. Therefore, we commit to sending all noble Lords the terms of reference for the independent evaluation of the pilot once they have been finalised and to lay a copy of those in the Library of the House.

In conclusion, I hope that, in the light of the Commons amendments in lieu providing clarity in the Bill on the matters to be addressed through the pilot and the observations about affording this House the opportunity to debate the pilot report, the noble Lord, and indeed the whole House, will support Motion L when we come to it.

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

I am still confused, despite what the noble Lord read from Commons Hansard. There will be consultation and replacement legislation, but will the repeal start in 18 months’ time or will the Vagrancy Act in its entirety be repealed in a maximum of 18 months? I am still not sure.

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

I go back to the statement that I just read: 18 months is a maximum for this issue to be resolved.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, I will make two very short points. All the issues that the Minister has talked about could be dealt with in the regulations—that is the whole point. The issue of parliamentary time is the giveaway.

From time to time, the House is fortunate to have one or more of its Members on the board of the FSA, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who was the founding chair of the FSA. He is tied up in committee this morning, but I have his authority to say that he will vote for this Motion. Currently, we have someone sitting in the Chamber who, as a member of the board, has inside knowledge of the crimes that the Food Standard Agency’s National Food Crime Unit is dealing with. However, because the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is a member of the board, he cannot speak in this debate—but he will vote for the Motion.

Ayes 181, Noes 157.

Division number 1 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments — Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Aye: 181 Members of the House of Lords

No: 157 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Motion A1 agreed.