Leading for the Liberal Democrats in Parliament on the Police Justice Bill today – which means pressure! What always astonishes me is that although it takes months for a Bill to wend its way through the legislative process in both Houses of Parliament, when it is due to come to the Chamber, it is so utterly rushed. Third reading in the Lords on the Thursday, Hansard published on Friday (needed so you can read up on what was said, what happened and why etc) and back in the Commons for Lords amendments on the Monday. So frantic weekend preparing – but even then you don’t know what amendments will be taken in what order – as that only came through at lunchtime today.
The big issue was extradition – because we on the Lib Dem side believe that – in a nutshell – our treaty with the USA means they can extradite our citizens much easier than we can get theirs. The Without going into the nitty gritty that had the lawyers in the house slavering – it’s not fair! Oor extradition expert, David Heath, did a great job on extradition
The rumours were that the vote would be close – possibly even a defeat for the Government. And given the number of Labour ministers in the lobbies (including Tony Blair – who often does not vote) I guess the Labour whips must have thought they might lose. It was close – but not that close. Close enough, however, for it to be likely that the House of Lords will have another go on this when the Bill goes back to them.
I then battled on Conditional Cautions – where the Government is creating (in my view) a two-tier justice system as you will be given a choice to pay a fine or go to court. If you pay a fine (i.e. if you can afford it) – then you not only avoid the nasty business of going to court, but you also evade a criminal record. I call this Labour’s Pay & Go policies.
Then it was the powers that the Home Secretary wants to directly intervene in a failing police force. There used to be independent inspection – which if negative would trigger intervention. The Government had conceded that some independent inspection should still be involved – but there are no criteria for what constitutes ‘failing’ or ‘last resort’. Given the Government’s sensitivity to bad publicity, you can just imagine something going wrong and getting them bad headlines over a crime incident. And then in order to look active and in charge – the Home Sec ‘intervenes’. The operational independence of the police in my view would be seriously compromised. The last thing we need is any more politicisation of the police.
On police mergers the Government agreed to the five test that we and the Tories put forward – making the case, public and proper (not just statutory) consultation, adequate parliamentary time, addressing the funding etc. So no vote needed on this one!
And last but not least – prison inspectorates. We had already had a great victory in the Lords. The Government’s defeat meant they came back at the last minute with 20 pages of amendments to Lords Third Reading stage abandoning their proposals to merge five inspectorates together. I had laid such a similar amendment at Committee stage in the Commons – but the Government didn’t budge. Sadly we rely on the Lords to right wrongs! Anyway – there were a few details that pulled back power to the Home Sec again – and away from the independent inspectorates. So the Tories managed to get amendments down on these – but the Government defeated us.
I also just about managed to meet my constituent Caroline Sharpe – part of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer lobby today. And she was very successful in lobbying me (and I was very happy to be lobbied as so many women fail to get screened). I am going to see if I can get a letter out to those areas in Hornsey & Wood Green where screening take up is so poor. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone (or more) who has breast cancer. I have several friends – and my mother had it too. Early detection and the new treatments can change the prospects of survival dramatically. Also – as Caroline pointed out – Herceptin is easy to get if you go privately as are new forms of chemo – which up your chances. Our state system has to improve in its treatment of these types of diseases. It used to be that the difference between going private or state was just that you got a nice private room and food – but the clinical treatment was the same – and in the end it is the clinical treatment that really counts. Now there appears to be a clinical difference – then we need to agitate for the NHS to be able to provide the best possible.