The Bishop of Manchester asked a question on how the government plan to realise the turnaround priorities set out by the new police commissioner, during a debate on criminality within the Metropolitan Police on 1st February 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, this is more than a series of bad apples; I am sure that there is something rotten in the culture and structures in policing that comprehensively and immediately needs to be addressed. We have the nine turnaround priorities that the new police commissioner has set out. Can the Minister set out how the Government will assist with and ensure those priorities are realised as a matter of urgency?
On 22nd November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in the second day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Manchester spoke regarding two sets of amendments: firstly, in support of amendments to Clause 9, pertaining to access issues around abortion providers, and secondly in opposition to clauses remaining in the bill which would grant excessive police powers, particularly regarding the right to protest.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I rise to address Amendments 85 to 88, 90 and 92, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans has added his name. He regrets that he is unable to be in his place today. I also have sympathy with a number of other amendments in this group.
It is a heated and emotive debate on this clause, and it was heated and emotive when it was added in the other place. The danger is that we get dragged into debates about whether abortion is morally right or wrong. Indeed, I have had plenty of emails over the past few days, as I am sure other noble Lords have, tending in that direction. As it happens, I take the view that the present law on abortion strikes a reasonable balance; in particular, it respects the consciences of women faced, sometimes with very little support, with making deeply difficult decisions.
On 1st November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, highlighting concerns that the bill would grant excessive powers to the police:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I think many of us in this debate will have a feeling of déjà vu. No matter how many pieces of legislation come through here granting the police additional powers, it seems that they are never enough. It seems we are always one more public order provision away from solving the problem.
Along with other noble Lords, I want to support the police and the rule of law. We are grateful for all the police do; they stand in our place and, very often, have to take very difficult decisions. But we already have the Public Order Act 1986, which grants the police powers to place restrictions on protests and to prohibit those which threaten to cause serious disruption to public order. We already have the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which introduced the offence of aggravated trespass. We have the offence of obstruction of a highway and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which allows for civil injunctions to prevent protesters demonstrating in a way which causes harm or harassment. As recently as last year, remarkably extensive powers, including on noisy and disruptive protests, were granted in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
On 31st October 2022, the House of Lords discussed a question for short debate tabled by Lord Lexden, asking whether the government planned to review the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioners. The Bishop of Southwark spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate and setting out for us with his habitual clarity the issues at hand. I am particularly saddened to hear that the good name of a distinguished former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has been traduced in the way that the noble Lord has described. However, I wish to approach this debate with a different focus.
Any hierarchy, any delivery of service, any public-facing organisation is fraught with multiple expectations and with the frailties and capacities of those who lead. For instance, diocesan bishops have wide discretion but are constrained by resource, custom, law, synodical structures and vocation.
The issues around effective delivery and of accountability in policing are very old. Historically, constables were at the direction of magistrates, who continued to sit on watch committees and police authorities until recent times. However, the growth in the size of forces and their operational complexity fuelled a sense of operational independence, away from political interference and amateur direction. It also allowed for co-operation at a national level where crime issues crossed county borders. Direct local accountability was seen to threaten professionalism, and it threatened the fight against crime nationally.
On 4th April 2022, the Bishop of Oxford asked a question during a debate on facial recognition technology and policing:
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former board member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. I wonder if the Minister would comment on the vital importance of establishing public trust and confidence in the deployment of FRT and indeed any new technology, especially in such a sensitive area as policing. A range of concerns have been raised about rapid deployment, governance and bias by the CDEI, the European Union and the makers of popular documentaries. Yet, in the face of this, the Met and South Wales Police have both announced a ramping up of the use of FRT. Does the Minister agree that it is time to slow this down and for urgent parliamentary scrutiny and better governance of the police’s use of facial recognition technology?
On 24th March 2022, the Bishop of Manchester asked a question during a debate on the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I want to echo from these Benches our concern for the Daniel Morgan family, and also to reiterate my interest in policing ethics at both force and national level, as set out in the register.
I am particularly interested in the comments on vetting made in the report. In Greater Manchester we commissioned our own investigation into the force’s vetting procedures a few years ago. While on the whole that was satisfactory, as the report here has done, it identified that people from UK minority ethnic backgrounds were disproportionately getting vetted out of the system, both at recruitment level and promotion level.
The Bishop of Leeds asked a question about the difficulty of saying “No” to the police on 22nd October 2022, during a debate on an incident 2020 in which the Metropolitan Police had strip-searched a schoolgirl in Hackney:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, there is an underlying question here that came up in the Sarah Everard case: how do you say no to the police? What do the Government plan to do to encourage and support schools and public authorities in addressing that question?
On 22nd March 2022, the House of Lords debated Commons amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bishop of Manchester spoke twice in the debate, first voicing his concerns regarding serious violence reduction orders:
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 10th January 2022, the House of Lords debated the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the fourth day of the report stage. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in support of a group of amendments relating to the implementation of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs):
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I support Amendments 90H, 90J, 95A, 95B and 95C, to which I have added my name. I also signal my support for other amendments in this group which also seek to control more tightly how serious violence reduction orders will operate. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my work on policing ethics, both for Greater Manchester Police and for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, as set out in the register of interests.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has indicated, Amendment 90H seeks to ensure that an SVRO can be applied only when a bladed article or offensive weapon is used to commit an offence, not simply when such an item happens to be present and in the possession of the defendant. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has indicated, as presently drafted, the Bill requires no substantive link between the weapon and the offence. An individual could, for example, commit a road traffic offence while driving home from a church picnic, with their used cutlery on the passenger seat next to them, and the prosecution could ask for an SVRO.
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