Brian Paddick: Police Bill is most authoritarian, illiberal Bill I have seen

The Police Bill is not just about curtailing the right to protest.  The new legislation allows the Home Secretary to force local authorities and other public bodies to hand over sensitive, personal information to the police, even against the informed judgement of professionals on the ground.  Liberal Democrats in the Lords will vote against this further extension of centralised power over local decision-making.

Part of the truly illiberal Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is not getting much publicity is a new duty on public bodies to give information to the police, so the cops can try to arrest their way out of the problem of serious violence.  What we actually need is a truly multi-agency, public health approach, where enforcement is only one part of the solution.  For example, when I went to Scotland I met a young father, whose partner committed suicide, who realised their son would grow-up without either of his parents if he did not turn away from violence, and with support, he has done just that.

Of course, if anyone has information that will help reduce or prevent serious violence, they have a duty to share it, and this Bill establishes a statutory duty on public bodies to share that information with each other, including the police sharing their information with others.  To the extent that the Bill removes barriers to allow the sharing of information, we support it.  In the wake of the horrific case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, the importance of information sharing is vital, although the changes in this Bill would not have affected that case.

Many professionals working in this area also have a duty of confidentiality, a duty the Government have, at least in part, recognised by exempting doctors from the duty to share information if it breaks patient confidentiality; there are existing rules covering situations where serious harm is likely to result if they don’t.  For youth workers, Youth Offending Team members and others who are building relationships with those involved, or at risk of becoming involved, maintaining trust can be equally as effective in reducing serious violence as passing information to the police.  This Bill would allow the Home Secretary to force them to break that trust.

The Government have accepted that those who need medical help may not see a doctor if they believe their sensitive personal information may be passed to the police.  But the Government does not accept that people, like the young father in Scotland who did not want his son to be orphaned, will be deterred from seeking help if they think what they tell social workers and others might be passed to the police.

Priti Patel is being given the power to force professionals, against all existing legal obligations, implicit duties of confidence and their own professional judgement, to pass confidential information to the police.  Even when the professionals, who know the individuals concerned and their circumstances and supported by their supervisors, believe this would be counterproductive, they could be overruled.  We will be voting to empower the people in the best position to make those judgements, rather than allowing central diktats.

This is the most authoritarian, draconian, illiberal Bill I have seen in my eight years in the Lords, although I have not looked at the Nationality and Borders Bill in detail yet!  So what of the so-called “Official Opposition”?  On the first vote on information sharing, to ensure Data Protection laws are always followed, Labour mustered only 19 votes out of 168 to support it.  If they had turned-out the same percentage of votes as we did, we would have won the vote, and on our vote on Monday, we expect them to abstain.  In the only other vote on this dreadful Bill, Labour voted with the Government.

If you needed any more reason to go to, or to phone the voters of North Shropshire, this is it.  Liberal Democrats are the only real opposition to this appalling Government, and we need Helen Morgan, and many more excellent Lib Dem candidates like her, to take their seats in Parliament.

* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013. He is joint President of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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