On 18th May the Bishop of Manchester spoke in the fourth day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, focusing on proposals for policing, building safety and conversion therapy.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, whose wisdom I look forward to hearing more often, for an excellent maiden speech. I also refer to my interests, stated in the register, in policing and housing.
A number of Bills mentioned in the gracious Speech will require our police to enforce new laws and regulations. We have already seen considerable disquiet expressed regarding what might amount to a very significant reduction in the ability of the public to engage in peaceful political protest, particularly where such protests directly or indirectly impact on others. I will reserve more detailed comments on this Bill for when it reaches your Lordships’ House, although I note the wise comments made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. For now, I want briefly to lay it alongside my experience of 12 months of rapidly changing coronavirus regulations.
On many occasions, the precise boundaries between regulations—matters that police can enforce—and guidance, to which they can only direct our attention, have been seriously blurred. Meanwhile, ministerial statements have put pressure on our police to issue fixed penalty notices, but the Crown Prosecution Service is quite clear that an adequate chain of evidence will be almost impossible to achieve.
I fear that the nine Peelian principles, which have shaped UK policing since 1829, are being eroded. Behind those principles, carved out in the years immediately after the Manchester Peterloo massacre of 1819, lies the central tenet that the power and authority of our police come from the consent of the public, not the power of the state. The will of the people cannot be collapsed into the ambitions and policies of the Government of the day, no matter what mandate or majority it may hold in the lower House of this Parliament. Our police must never be turned from agents of the public into agents of the state, let alone the enforcers of mere ministerial policy. I look forward to some robust debates in this House during the forthcoming Session.
I turn briefly to two other matters. Several weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, the Minister for Housing, assured me that he would arrange for national representatives of those living in unsafe apartment buildings to meet not only himself and his staff, as they have been doing, but representatives of Her Majesty’s Treasury. I know that the noble Lord has made strenuous efforts to fulfil that promise; meetings have been arranged but then postponed or cancelled due to the Treasury not being available. It is simply not good enough for a major department to delay and obfuscate in this way. I would be extremely grateful for reassurances, either in this debate or in writing straight after, that this matter will be promptly rectified.
Finally, I am grateful that legislation to ban conversion therapy is now under consideration. I share that sense of urgency of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who both spoke in the last few minutes, and pray that the necessary consultation will be focused and time-limited. The General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion to outlaw such therapy several years ago, and by massive majorities, including my right reverend friends on these Benches. However, I fear that too much emphasis may be placed on the methods such so-called therapies employ. Good criminal law concentrates on the impact on the victim; scrutiny as to the traumatic impact of the particular techniques used by perpetrators is far better entrusted to the courts, which can carefully weigh up the evidence in each case, rather than make it central to the legislation.
I look forward to our debates throughout what will be my first full Session as a Member of this House.