§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must announce to the House that, from 7 pm to 9.30 pm, there will be a time limit on Back-Bench speeches.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill has a simple aim: it is to aid the police and the courts in further reducing crime and the fear of crime. Crime is still too high, but we have sought to make considerable progress in reducing it. Last October's British crime survey showed that crime had fallen by 10 per cent. between 1997 and 1999, and it is worth bearing it in mind that that survey seeks to measure all crime committed against property belonging to individuals or against the person. It included a recording of a 4 per cent. reduction in violent crime overall. As we know from the recorded crime figures that were issued recently, recorded crime dropped by 7 per cent. between March 1997 and September 2000. Burglary and vehicle crime are now at their lowest levels for a decade.
No one is remotely complacent about overall levels of crime and disorder, not least against the background of the fact that crime doubled during the 1980s and early 1990s. Along with that, the proportion of people convicted of crimes fell by a third.
§ Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)
I think that everyone is pleased to hear about the reductions in crime from 1997, but they may be equally interested to hear about the reductions in crime from 1992 onwards. They were also substantial, but, in a curious way, the figures on that have slipped out of the Home Secretary's brief for this debate.
§ Mr. Straw
As I recall it, the reduction in recorded crime began in 1993 and not in 1992, but I am willing to concede that point. Interestingly enough, the reduction in crime as measured by the British crime survey, which measures overall levels of crime, did not start until 1995. If the right hon. Gentleman wants, I would be very happy to trade statistics with him about what happened during his period of office and what has happened under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Let us take the first three and a half years of each of the last Administrations. During the first three and a half years of the Thatcher Administration, recorded crime rose by 20 per cent.
§ Mr. Straw
Certainly the inheritance of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was a terrible one.
During the first three and a half years of the Major Administration, crime rose by getting on for 40 per cent., whereas during the first three and a half years of my right 35 hon. Friend's Administration, crime fell by 7 per cent. That is the best record of any incoming Administration for 50 years.
§ Mr. Major
I do not want remotely to make the Home Secretary unhappy, but he will concede that the trend had begun and continued. It is precisely because of the basis that the right hon. Gentleman inherited that he saw that continuing trend. After some years of the present Administration, crime does not seem to be falling at the same rate.
§ Mr. Straw
According to the most accurate measure—the British crime survey—the trend did not start until 1995. Indeed, the same statisticians who put those figures together warned me when I took office that all the demographic and economic factors were suggesting that crime would start to rise. I am pleased to say that it has not done so.
§ Mr. Straw
I know of the right hon. Lady's anxiety to start ranting, but will she hang on for one second? Despite the fall that occurred in the last two years of the Major Administration, all the evidence which has been published was that crime was likely to rise if we did not do something about it. I am pleased to say that we have done something about it.
§ Miss Widdecombe
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the following facts: over the last four years of the previous Conservative Administration, recorded crime fell by 16 per cent., and on the same measurement, the latest fall in crime is only 0.2 per cent? Could he listen? Since he is so fond of the British crime survey, will he please confirm that the fall measured by the most recent survey is less than that measured by the previous survey? Whereas we left steeper falls, he has presided over at best a slowing up and at worst a reverse.
§ Mr. Straw
I am answering the question. The right hon. Lady asks a question, usually at great length, and before one has the chance even to take a breath, she always twitters, "Answer the question." She sometimes may not like the answers, but I always do my best to answer the questions put to me—especially if I can follow them.
§ Mr. Straw
I am not playing for time in the least.
The figures are clear; I just gave them to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon. They show that, from about 1993, recorded crime fell. Crime was measured by the 36 BCS from 1995. As we are talking about the records of Governments, it must be said that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was a member of a Government who left two indelible marks. Even allowing for a tail-end fall, crime doubled under the previous Administration and the number of people convicted of those crimes fell by a third. That is why such public confidence in the Conservatives' efforts to make this country safe as existed in 1979 will not be restored for a very long time and why the public continue to have confidence in us.
We are about a major programme of reform and investment in the criminal justice system in order to ensure that the progress that we have made—as I say, crime is still far too high—continues at a greater pace.
We are investing 20 per cent. in cash terms over the next three years—a real increase of 12 per cent.—in policing. It will be the greatest increase for 15 years. However, with that investment, we need reform. The goal behind the Bill is to strengthen and to modernise law enforcement. The Bill contains a wide range of measures that will provide the police and others in the criminal justice system with improved powers to enable them better to enforce the law and to protect the public.
Part I deals with one of the most unpleasant aspects of modern life—the antisocial behaviour of a yobbish minority, which can all too often impinge on the quality of life of the law-abiding majority.
§ Mr. Straw
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little more progress.
The Bill gives the police new powers to issue penalty notices for a number of offences which are antisocial and which in some cases make life decidedly unpleasant for others. These offences, which are set out in the Bill, include being drunk and disorderly, and wasting the emergency services' time by making fraudulent 999 calls. Part I also targets the misuse of alcohol, especially by young people, in our society. The Bill includes a series of measures that will make it easier for local authorities to ban drinking in designated areas where it causes public nuisance or annoyance. These measures will give the police the necessary enforcement powers.
There are examples of innovative local authorities—not least Coventry and Liverpool—that have made use of existing byelaw powers to ban on-street drinking. However, as I discovered when I received representations about 18 months ago from an individual police officer who is responsible for drafting byelaws, the current process for obtaining clearance is rather convoluted.
We have therefore sought to establish a clear framework of powers that devolves decisions to local authorities. They will not have to go backwards and forwards to the Home Office to check whether the drafting is in order. If they wish in this context to designate an area within their town or city centre and to make use of on-street alcohol bans, they will be able to do so without going through the bureaucracy of coming back to the Home Office. I think that that will be widely welcomed.
§ Mr. Baldry
What is the point of the Government's bringing forward fresh legislation to deal with antisocial 37 behaviour when their last flagship Bill providing for antisocial behaviour orders led to legislation that is not working? Should not the long title of this Bill read, "We are approaching a general election and we should be seen to be doing something about crime"?
§ Mr. Straw
That is an absurd remark. The use of antisocial behaviour orders is working in my constituency, as it is in Hyndburn and Preston. More than 150 orders have been issued in large cities and in smaller shire districts. The hon. Gentleman asked a more serious question when we last debated ASBOs. Some local authorities said, "We cannot use them because they involve the criminal process." The Lord Chief Justice—I took the trouble to write to the hon. Gentleman about the decision—has made it clear in an important judgment of the divisional court that the process for obtaining antisocial behaviour orders is, as Parliament intended, a civil process, and one which is there to be used.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
At a conference that I chaired and at which my hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke the other week, the enthusiasm of people within the system—the police, local authorities and others—for getting on with the job and using the tools provided in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was palpable. People were keen to understand why antisocial behaviour orders had not been sufficiently used, and recognised that they now need to be used properly.
§ Mr. Straw
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make progress, as many hon. Members wish to speak. There will be other opportunities later in the debate and in Committee.
Other powers will permit the police immediately to close disorderly or excessively noisy pubs and clubs, and to prevent unlicensed premises from reopening following police action to arrest offenders.
There are new provisions to deal with under-age drinking, which require those selling alcohol to check the age of young people who may be, or appear to be, under 18. The police and local authorities will also be permitted to use young people to test-purchase to check that the law is being obeyed.
§ Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)
I want to ask the Home Secretary about test purchases. Many of my constituents feel that under-age drinking is fuelling much of the yob behaviour in my constituency. Just how soon will the police and trading standards officers have those new powers to authorise test purchases?
§ Mr. Straw
As soon as the Bill goes on the statute book, which I very much hope will be within a matter of months. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is little doubt in my mind that much—although not all—of the serious antisocial behaviour that takes place in our 38 town and city centres, and in many residential areas as well, is almost literally fuelled by serious under-age drinking. I am sure that I speak for the whole House—except those brought up in teetotal families, of which mine was not one—in saying that, to a degree, under-age drinking has been around as long as the licensing laws, but the problem has got very much worse in terms of the quantity of drink, and particularly the quantity of spirits, drunk by youngsters these days. The way in which plainly under-age youngsters are being targeted by the alcohol industry is a growing problem.
§ Mr. Straw
That is simply not true, but if the hon. Gentleman carries on saying that, I shall certainly not give way to him. I promise to give way to him in a moment.
Measures aimed at ensuring responsible behaviour by those selling alcohol will extend to all those working in pubs, rather than simply the licensee. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins).
§ Mr. Malins
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary, and take back everything that I said about him: he is very generous.
Most of the offences in the preamble to the Bill tend to be committed by under-18s. The real problem is with under-18s behaving in that way, wasting police time with phone calls and so on. But am I not right in thinking that the Bill does not apply to under-18s; that the penalties are only for over-18s; and that a great section of our youngsters are excluded from its provisions?
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman has caught an infection from his right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. He asks a question, wants an explanation and then offers me the answer before I have got it out. As drafted, the Bill's provisions on fixed-penalty notices—not other matters—apply to those who are over 18. We are happy to hear opinions from hon. Members on both sides of the House on that matter.
A balanced judgment was taken as to whether we should have fixed-penalty notices for 16 and l7-year-olds. However, the reforms to the youth justice system introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 are already on the statute book and working well, as I can testify. Until now, the opinion that we have received is that, on balance—I am not suggesting that this is a unanimous view—it is better to stick with those provisions, which are working well, rather than extend fixed-penalty notices down. However, I am open to argument and am happy to listen to the views of the hon. Member for Woking.
39 We have already heard about the Crime and Disorder Act, which established a wide range of measures and reforms primarily for dealing with low-level criminality, including ASBOs. Those orders are intended for use against those who are severely disruptive to their communities, and who do not heed repeated warnings unless they are backed by the threat of criminal charges. As I said, ASBOs have been very successful, with 150 granted already and many more applications in the pipeline. Conservative Members who disagree should look at the areas in which ASBOs have been successful. I should be interested to learn whether at the election—whenever that takes place—they will abolish that key tool, which helps to deal with a matter that they never dealt with in power.
By definition, those targeted by ASBOs will also be likely to resort to intimidation if there is a prospect of members of the public giving evidence against them in court proceedings or providing information for use in those proceedings. The Bill therefore extends to witnesses in other court proceedings, such as civil proceedings, the existing protection afforded by statute law to witnesses in criminal proceedings. It will make it a criminal offence to intimidate those giving evidence in civil proceedings, including a hearing on an ASBO.
As I have explained, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 set in motion radical reform of the youth justice system, featuring youth offending teams and a series of new orders that have been rolled out over the past two years. These measures are working extremely well overall: to date, some 7,814 orders under the Crime and Disorder Act and directly in respect of juveniles have been issued. That includes more than 200 parenting orders, about which there was scepticism when they were introduced, but which have worked well.
In addition to those orders, which have been successful, the 1998 Act introduced local child curfew schemes. At the time when that Act was debated, there was a view that those schemes would be more effective if extended to those under the age of 16, instead of to those under the age of 10, as the Act provides. Clause 43 of the Bill does just that, allowing curfews to be imposed on children up to the age of 15. It also enables police, as well as local authorities, to impose curfew schemes. We believe that these changes will increase the flexibility and use of curfew schemes, thereby helping to curb antisocial behaviour by children and young people.
A similar scheme in Scotland, the Hamilton child safety initiative in respect of children up to the age of 16, has operated successfully. Under the scheme, the police removed children from the "street environment" in what were perceived to be potentially harmful situations. Following the introduction of the scheme, 87 per cent. of parents of children returned home by police approved of the initiative. Crime and disorder complaints fell by 23 per cent. and crime associated with juveniles, including theft and vandalism, fell by 49 per cent. We have studied the experience in Hamilton to see how the scheme for England and Wales can be improved.
In the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 we took powers in respect of truants, and proposed a similar, although not the same, power for what have come to be called truancy sweeps, allowing the police and the local education 40 service to pick up kids who have been truanting and take them back to school or other appropriate accommodation. Again, there was scepticism when we proposed the powers, but they have been used in many parts of the country, including my constituency, and have proved extremely effective, both in getting kids back to school and in ensuring that fewer of those kids commit crime when they should be at school.
The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), and I have received many representations urging us to make two serious acts of criminality—kerb crawling and hit and run—arrestable offences. Kerb crawling is a crime already. The practice of kerb crawling can seriously disrupt and disfigure communities, but the police lack the power to arrest offenders and therefore lack the power to take DNA samples from them. In respect of hit-and-run drivers, the police do not have a general power to arrest them, which can often lead to drivers who have committed quite serious offences fleeing successfully from the scene of crime and not being susceptible to immediate apprehension.
§ Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The inclusion of the measure to make kerb crawling an arrestable offence has been warmly welcomed by the police and by local residents in my constituency. Both groups have said that it is an excellent example of the Government responding to the needs of people in an area where kerb crawling is a big problem. The only concern that has been raised relates to the strength of the penalties, particularly for persistent kerb crawlers. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the range of penalties that will be available to the courts?
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I wanted to catch the Home Secretary before he left the subject of child curfews and other general responses. Given that, by my calculation, we had 19 crime or police Bills during 18 years of Tory rule, and this is the seventh such Bill under almost four years of Labour rule, I do not take the simplistic view of the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) that a bit of legislation suddenly produces a reduction in crime. The situation is much more complex than that.
Fixed-penalty notices, child curfews and the proposals for extending the right to hold DNA samples are extremely controversial, and arguably not likely to be effective. Instead of setting out countrywide powers, as the Bill proposes, would it not have been better for the Government to pilot some of the proposals to see whether they work, and to present Parliament with measures that are not just ideas that sound good but ideas that might do good?
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman raised three different issues. First, curfews do not need to be piloted because it is for individual local authorities to decide whether to use them. They are based on a discretionary power, so one would have assumed that they would appeal to the 41 Liberals. We thought about piloting curfews—my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) will remember this—but we decided that it is almost logically impossible to pilot a scheme that depends on a local initiative.
Secondly, there is an argument for the piloting of fixed-penalty notices. After undertaking a consultation process, we came down on one side of that argument and decided not to introduce such pilots. However, we are not saying that the arguments favour only one view: we remain open minded.
Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned DNA. When suspects' rights are being dealt with, a single system must apply throughout the country. I do not see any basis for pilots. It would be different if the technology was not quite right, but it clearly works no matter where it is used.
The provisions that I have outlined so far deal primarily with relatively low-level crime. None the less, they deal with activities that can disfigure communities. Such behaviour can be profoundly disruptive and distressing and can lead to more serious offending if it is not checked.
The Bill's other provisions are aimed at more serious and organised crime. For example, it gives the courts power to confiscate the passports of convicted drug traffickers, which will restrict them from travelling overseas to continue their illegal trade after they have been released from custody—if such was the sentence that they received.
Part VII contains an important provision on the granting of bail. Like other hon. Members, I have received many representations from police officers who are concerned about bail. Sometimes, they have spent weeks bringing prolific offenders to court only for them to be granted bail and return to the streets to reoffend. It is not only magistrates' right, but their duty, to grant bail where they think it appropriate. Equally, however, it is their duty not to do so where all the evidence favours a remand in custody. The Bill seeks to encourage a responsible approach to the granting of bail by amending the Bail Act 1976 to require courts to give reasons for granting bail where the prosecutor makes representations against doing so.
Parts II and III include measures to strengthen the powers of law enforcement agencies. Part II deals with the disclosure of confidential information for the purposes of criminal investigations and procedures. It tidies up disclosure provisions in the 74 measures set out in schedule 1, which are diverse enough to include the National Savings Bank Act 1971 and the Diseases of Fish Act 1983. Part II also provides a statutory power for the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise to disclose information to other law enforcement agencies. That will allow a reciprocal flow of information between those bodies, the police and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.
Part III will further bolster the powers of law enforcement agencies by modernising powers of seizure. The Bill gives the police and other law enforcement agencies powers to seize material and remove it for sifting elsewhere. The new measures address two separate issues. They deal with the problems identified in the Bramley judgment, which brought into focus the difficulties faced by the police and other investigators when the material that they are entitled to seize is mixed with a collection of material to which that entitlement does not apply. 42 Sometimes, those investigating a crime may not know to which part their entitlement applies, especially when the material is stored electronically. In the Bramley judgment, the divisional court recognised the defect in the law, but said that it could be overcome only by making changes in primary legislation. The Bill removes those difficulties by giving police and other law enforcement agencies power to remove material from premises for examination where constraints of time or technology make it not reasonably possible to carry out the process on the premises.
In part IV, significant changes are made to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. One of the most important types of evidence used by the police in a wide range of criminal cases today comes from DNA samples. We have extended, in practice, this scope and use of DNA by substantial investment in the forensic science service and in the availability of scenes-of-crime officers. The police, in turn, are using DNA testing not only for very serious crimes but as a way of identifying prolific offenders such as burglars and car criminals.
In almost every criminal case, the first and overwhelming question before the police and the courts is the identity of the person who committed the offence. Who was it? Before the turn of the last century, when the first fingerprint standard was agreed by New Scotland Yard, identity could be established only through the testimony of witnesses or through the accused's confession. Over the past 100 years, science and technology has come to the aid of justice, moving in fingerprinting from visual comparisons of images on paper to digital capture and searching, with the ability to make more than 1 million fingerprint comparisons every second. However, the use of DNA profiling—first developed in 1985 and, happily, in this country—offered the most important forensic advance of the late 20th century.
DNA profiling is a very powerful tool—an objective form of evidence. Its values lies as much, if not more, in its ability to exclude the innocent as in its ability to convict the guilty. When the police investigate a case, if they do not proceed with a prosecution or the suspect is acquitted, they routinely retain all the records of the investigation, including the notes of interviews with suspects and other interviews. That has always been the case. The police would not dream of throwing away their memory on the offchance that the offender may or may not commit a further offence. Yet the law requires that the most objective and powerful forms of evidence—fingerprints and DNA—have to be destroyed if a conviction does not follow from the taking of the sample in question.
This has already led to serious miscarriages of justice. In two recent cases, R v. B and R v. Weir, compelling DNA evidence that linked one suspect to a rape and the other to a murder could not be used, and neither suspect could be convicted, because it turned out that at the time when the matches were made, the defendants had either been acquitted of another crime, or a decision had been made not to proceed with the offences for which the DNA profiles were originally taken. Under the existing provisions, the profiles should have been destroyed.
Those who believe that we should leave the law as it is, following the decision of the Law Lords in the case of R v. B, should, I suggest, look at the narrative of Lord Steyn in that case. Their lordships sought to bring the law as near as possible to common sense without actually 43 murdering the text of the statute, but they could not go the whole way. Lord Steyn pointed out that there were added injustices in the R v. B case. First, it was unjust to the victim and the community that compelling evidence against this man could not be used to convict him when everyone knew it existed. Secondly, the man was able to escape that conviction altogether only because of another trick—another offence—that he had played on the police. It turned out subsequently that, at the time of his arrest on this charge, he had already been convicted of affray. Had the DNA technology been available and in use when he was arrested on that affray charge and subsequently convicted, it would have been perfectly lawful to take a DNA sample from him and for that to remain on the record for ever. However, the sample was not taken.
As the law stands, to deal with such situations, when someone is convicted of an offence and a sample that could have been taken is not taken and he is arrested in respect of another offence, the police have powers to take a sample at that stage and retain it for ever. That should have happened in this case. If it had, there would subsequently have been a conviction for rape. However, the police did not know—and could not have known—of the original conviction because the defendant gave a false name, which put them off the trail for some time.
I accept that the use of DNA and fingerprinting must be carefully controlled, precisely because they are powerful tools. However, anyone who has visited a forensic service science laboratory, as I have, and seen the huge care that is taken, will know that it is virtually impossible for any scientist to know whether a sample is to be used to identify a suspect or a victim, and will appreciate the substantial safeguards that are in place. Furthermore, an important role is played by defence counsel in challenging the integrity of the lifting of samples at a scene of crime—by definition, a less controlled environment—and such issues sometimes have to be challenged by the courts.
Taking all those arguments together, I believe that the current state of the law is wholly unsatisfactory. We cannot continue to have cases such as that in which a man commits an act of violence—an affray—then a burglary, and then—as compelling evidence suggests—a rape. Such people cannot be allowed to continue to play games with the technicalities of the law, while rape victims go in fear of further crimes being committed by the person against whom compelling evidence exists to show that they committed a rape. The other case in question was a murder case—the most serious crime in the criminal calendar.
I say to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that the Bill is far from controversial. I notice that the briefing submitted by Liberty is very sotto voce and without a great deal of conviction on the issue. The public are ready for this change, as are the police and the victims' organisations.
We propose that, when a DNA sample is taken lawfully from a suspect—not under conditions of false imprisonment—it should remain available to the police, whatever happens at a later date in terms of a conviction or otherwise. We also propose separate changes in respect of the volunteering of DNA samples. The Law Society's briefing on this proposal was rather muddled. In many cases—in which innocent people have been eliminated 44 from inquiries and guilty people identified—the police have gone to all the men in a village and asked them to volunteer a DNA sample. At present, the police have to destroy those samples even if the volunteers say, "For God's sake, please keep the sample. I have nothing to fear."
In one such case, the present law caused immense problems. A serial rapist was operating and the police could not catch him as a result of their first investigation, so they had to destroy all the samples that they had collected. The man struck again, and the police had to go back to the volunteers to obtain further samples. They did not catch him that time either, so those samples also had to be destroyed, and further ones subsequently collected. In my judgment, and that of the police, that is ridiculous. Yes, the volunteers should have an absolute right to say, "You can use this sample only for this inquiry. You must destroy it afterwards." That should be the end of the matter. However, if the volunteers want to say, "Keep it," as I think most of them would, the law should allow that to happen, as we propose.
§ Mr. Straw
I have already given way, and I want to make progress.
I have not yet dealt with one important aspect of the Bill, which is the issue of animal rights, which has caused considerable concern among right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have already set out my views, but I shall briefly reiterate them. Peaceful protest is, of course, acceptable. However, seeking to disrupt, frighten and harass other individuals and their lawful businesses by the means that so-called animal rights people adopt is totally unacceptable in the kind of society that we want.
Some people have hesitations about this matter, so I want to place on record my personal thanks and admiration for the very difficult work undertaken by those who conduct research on animals. None of the people who conduct such research like doing it. They all wish that alternatives were available, and as soon as they are—and have attained an acceptable standard—those people will be the first to move away from those procedures and to start using procedures that do not involve animals.
The experiments are conducted in this country under legislation passed by the previous Administration, with which we have continued, in a regime that is tougher than any other in the western world that I know of. The consequences of being able to conduct such research are that a range of drugs and other procedures are now available that have ensured that many of us—including, I might say, myself—are able to lead a decent life, and that many people's lives have been extended. Many would simply have died were such drug therapy not available—no doubt many of those who masquerade as animal rights protesters among them.
Protecting such research is not an incidental, but of profound importance. For that reason, thanks to representations from the right hon. Members for Huntingdon and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), I quickly agreed that 45 Cambridgeshire constabulary, which is a small force, should receive an extra £1 million for this year to recognise the additional, and what all of us believe to be otherwise unnecessary, costs of having to police those terrible protests.
Furthermore, I told the House that we would conduct urgent consultations about changing the law. Those changes are not in the Bill for reasons that the House will understand. We are urgently consulting on two matters. One is a change to section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, which would make it an offence for people—even an individual—to protest outside people's houses. I have been on loads of protests, but I have never considered that any part of peaceful protest requires people to protest outside other people's private houses. When I was on demonstrations, we wanted to protest in the main street. Protesting outside people's houses is an outrageous piece of harassment. We have to deal with that.
The second change is to make the test in the malicious communications offences objective, not one that essentially allows people who send malicious communications to escape because the defence is subjective.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
I thank the Home Secretary: when he spoke about those who work in animal research institutions, he spoke for the whole House. I also thank him for redeeming the promise to introduce legislation, which will be extremely important to constituents of mine and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) whose properties have been fire-bombed. They have been harassed and intimidated in a quite disgraceful way. Will the Home Secretary be kind enough to make every effort to introduce the proposals in Committee so that they can be considered in depth rather than on Report, when there will be less opportunity?
§ Mr. Straw
The answer is, yes, I promise to do my best to do so, although the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps more familiar with the legislative process than I, and we are already consulting. We are very open about the consultation and want it to continue.
I do not happen to know people in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency or that of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon who have been involved, but I do happen to know those who were involved in similar animal experimentation in Oxfordshire. The distress caused to decent, law-abiding people is just unbelievable. Most Members of the House are willing to put up with a bit of protest against them. Certainly those in posts such as mine know that that is par for the course, but it is not par for the course for decent people who are not in public life and just want to go about their business.
§ Mr. Major
I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to speak about this matter at greater length, but it might be appropriate to put on record my unambiguous thanks to the Home Secretary for obtaining the money from the Treasury, which is not lightly done. No Chief Secretary lightly coughs up money; if he does so, he should not be Chief Secretary.
46 I also thank the Home Secretary for his willingness to accept representations about changing the law and to introduce such changes. I have more representations to make to him—some this afternoon, some later—but I say on behalf of my constituents that that willingness has been well received. The right hon. Gentleman has been supportive of the work that goes on both in helping to meet the extra policing costs caused by the demonstrations and in his determination to change the law—through the Bill, I hope.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
May I say how warmly my right hon. Friend's remarks will be welcomed in my constituency? My constituents include not only people who work at Huntingdon Life Sciences, but many scientists who work with animals on medical research. During the last week I have received more than 50 letters and e-mails from scientists, some of whom have been so intimidated and harassed that they have been afraid to put their addresses on the letters. I am very pleased about my right hon. Friend's determination to tackle this difficult situation.
§ Mr. Straw
I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not. I have been speaking for more than 40 minutes, and I want to finish my speech.
The Bill provides for a number of improvements in the training organisation of the police service, and includes other important measures. It draws together proposals to modernise a wide range of powers for the police, the courts and other law enforcement agencies. It also seeks to make changes relating to the funding and organisation of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. Overall, it seeks to enable those services to perform more effectively, and to tackle criminal behaviour better in the 21st century.
I believe that the Bill will substantially improve the tools available to those in the front line of the battle against crime and disorder, and I commend it to the House.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)
Let me make it clear—as my predecessors and I have done on other occasions during this Parliament—that, unlike the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary when they were in opposition, we always seek to give a fair wind to law and order measures if they are sensible. Although we have some reservations about parts of the Bill, therefore, we shall not divide the House at this stage. That does not mean, however, that we are content with the detail of all the measures proposed.
47 Last March, on Second Reading of the Bill that became the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the Home Secretary himself stated:As I have said before, no Bill that I have taken through the House has been perfect in all its particulars."—[Official Report, 28 March 2000; Vol. 347, c. 227.]Indeed, had it not been for the Opposition's attention to detail, that Bill would have gone through Parliament without the important amendments that were made to it—amendments that, for instance, introduced tougher sentences for child pornography offences, and made those who deal drugs to children subject to disqualification from working with them. Those are just two examples of the numerous Opposition amendments that the Government eventually accepted. I hope that the Home Secretary will view all the amendments tabled by the Opposition to this Bill in the constructive spirit in which they will be proposed, because the Bill is by no means perfect as it stands.
§ Miss Widdecombe
It has been suggested that that might be the title of the Home Secretary's autobiography. I would not normally repeat sedentary interventions, but I could not resist that one.
We have three main areas of concern. The first relates to what the Bill does not do. That is especially important, because this will certainly be our last opportunity to enact criminal justice legislation in the current Parliament.
The Bill is devoid of measures to tackle the wave of violent crime that is sweeping the country under this Government. It contains little to improve the rights and position of victims in the criminal justice system. [Interruption.] Labour Members think violent crime is funny: perhaps their constituents will note that.
The Bill contains nothing to improve the morale of the police, which is at rock bottom. The Home Secretary—no doubt at the Prime Minister's request—has included what he describes as headline-grabbing measures, but the approach, mirroring that of the Prime Minister, is more spin than substance.
We know from recent events that Ministers cannot remember everything, but the Home Secretary clearly takes pride in his own powers of recall. He will therefore doubtless remember his flagship consultation on the reform of the law against violent crime, a document issued as long ago as February 1998. The Home Secretary cannot claim to have undersold those proposals, describing them at the time asthe Government's proposals for reforming out-moded and unclear Victorian legislation.
I used the word "flagship" because that is the word that the Home Secretary himself used in his foreword to the consultation paper. Indeed, he was so keen to associate himself with those proposals that they were presented next to a photograph of him, with his own signature at the bottom.
48 The introduction to the document stated that the law in this sphere wasin urgent need of reform";and that:It is … particularly important that the law governing such behaviour should be robust, clear and well understood … That is what the draft Bill contained in this consultation paper does. It is intended to help not only practitioners of the law but anyone who finds themselves involved in court cases, whether as a defendant, victim or witness.
Given the importance attached to those proposals three years ago, the fact that consultation on them closed in May 1998 and the fact that a draft Bill emerged during the consultation, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what has happened to them? He himself has said that offences of violence arethe offences that most worry people".
At a time when violent crime is soaring—to the amusement of Labour Members—and the Government have themselves said that they have measures available to strengthen the law in this area, it does seem odd that, instead of those proposals on violent crime, we end up with a rather pick-and-mix Bill of which the centrepieces are the proposals from the right hon. Gentleman to salvage his failed child curfew schemes and the Prime Minister's now infamous £100 cashpoint fines for drunks.
That brings me to the first major issue in the Bill—fixed-penalty notices, which are there to spare the Prime Minister's blushes after the disastrous reception that his £100 cashpoint fines idea received in July 2000. The House will know that I am not opposed in principle to fixed-penalty notices—
§ Miss Widdecombe
Yes—unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who gets others to do his speeding for him.
We shall want detailed consideration in Committee of the way in which it is proposed that those fines will operate. In particular—this is our second major concern about the Bill—we must ensure that the system does not add to the bureaucratic burdens on police, and also that it is properly targeted.
Clause 8 appears to require the constable issuing a fixed-penalty notice to take the offender to a police station and provide a full witness statement with that notice, which will obviously have implications for police time. In that respect at least, the proposals are not similar to tickets for minor parking or speeding offences. I know that the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation have concerns about that particular point. The Justices' Clerks Society has also highlighted difficulties, not least with identification and the giving of false details to police.
Those are some of the procedural issues that have been raised already about the Bill's contents. How is a police officer going to know whether someone to whom he has given a fixed-penalty notice has had perhaps 10 or a dozen notices issued for the same offence in other parts of the country? Will there be a central record of such notices? What recourse will victims of criminal damage have if offenders are given fixed-penalty notices rather than being prosecuted? Will they still be able to obtain compensation through the courts?
49 The fixed-penalty provisions will now apply only to adults rather than to the over-16s, as originally envisaged. I note that the Home Office consultation paper said:A significant amount of disorderly behaviour in public places is committed by people under the age of 18.I am therefore somewhat surprised that the Government have targeted their fixed-penalty fines—which will apply only to over- 18s—at offences such as hoax 999 calls, trespassing on the railway, throwing stones at trains and spray-painting graffiti, when it is certainly the general impression that most of those offences are committed by juveniles rather than by adults.
As far as the proposals for alcohol-free zones are concerned, they appear, at first glance, to be little more than an extension of what is available to councils at the moment in the terms of byelaws. I would be grateful for clarification on that point. What is new about this? What is the power that is not already available to councils? We have concerns about the proposed procedures for imposing those bans, which are not specified in the Bill. Would an elected mayor, an individual executive member or even a council official with delegated authority be able to impose such a ban, perhaps by using the "behind closed doors" provisions of the Government's legislation, which encourages more secrecy in local decision making? Surely decisions such as that are best left to an open and accountable forum.
Perhaps the most crucial element in deciding whether or not the measure is effective will be the number of police officers putting it into effect. Given that the chairman of the Police Federation says that there isa sense of disorder and anarchy on our streets.that police numbers have fallen by more than 2,500 under the Government, and that violent crime is rising so alarmingly, will the police have the manpower or the time to enforce these bans effectively, in addition to issuing fixed-penalty notices and enforcing child curfew orders, especially if local authorities begin making them in large numbers?
§ Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)
Does the right hon. Lady accept that the experience in my constituency is not that police officers are not present when disorder occurs, but that they do not have the relevant powers to deal with some of these issues? It is primarily not a matter of police numbers but of what officers can do when they come across problems.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I must disagree with the hon. Lady, although I appreciate what is behind her point. If the police are dealing with one thing, they cannot be dealing with others. I went out recently with police in central London on a Friday night patrol, and the issue was not that they did not have the powers. It was that there were simply so many things that they might have investigated that they had to prioritise because there were too few officers. If extra powers are given to the police, will they be used if there are not enough officers, or if any extra numbers are deploying their time not on the streets, but in bureaucracy at the station? That is a valid point.
§ Mr. Michael
Does the right hon. Lady acknowledge that the police spend a great deal of time re-dealing with the same issue time and time again because they are not able to nip things in the bud? That is why the targeted 50 powers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) has pointed out, strengthen the position of the police, rather than waste their resources.
§ Miss Widdecombe
Theoretically, giving the police extra powers is usually helpful; in fact, it is nearly always helpful. However, the issue is whether there are enough officers and whether they have the time to be able to use their powers effectively. A clear example is the child curfew power; there has not been a single such order in the 28 months that they have been available. Yes, extra activity may be available to the police, but will it be possible, given the numbers we have at the moment?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Lady has not yet given way to him.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but he must take into account the fact that 10 out of 12 offences committed in this field are already arrestable.
§ Mr. Michael
Does the right hon. Lady acknowledge that many members of the public who approach police officers on these issues are told that there is nothing that the police can do because they do not have a power that they can use in practice? That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is right to introduce the power.
§ Miss Widdecombe
What the police say is that there are not enough of them to do the job. If 10 of the 12 offences are already arrestable, it cannot be that the police do not have powers of arrest. It is simply the case that there are not enough of them.
It would be helpful if the Government clarified how it is intended that the new police powers to close licensed premises are to work. The industry is concerned that the Home Office estimate of the annual cost of the proposals to business varies from £1.1 million to £60 million. The Home Secretary looks confused; his memory has failed him for once. He should look at his own regulatory impact assessment.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I thank my hon. Friend. I admit that I did not remember the precise page on which the figures are to be found.
That wide range of costs suggests that the Government have not yet worked out exactly how the powers are to be implemented in practice. The trade is also concerned that new duties are being imposed on licensees in relation to underage drinking, but no new offence of attempting to purchase alcohol when under 18 is being created. It is an offence to purchase it, but not to attempt to purchase it. Why have the Government chosen not to go down that route? There may be good reasons, but we need to hear them.
I wholly understand why test purchasing is desirable, but I hope that we can have an assurance that it will not be used unfairly, and that any child taking part in such an operation will be fairly easily identifiable as under 18.
51 Clause 43 contains the Home Secretary's latest desperate attempt to salvage his failed child curfews. He is in a hole and he just keeps digging. I remind the House of what was said on page 23 of the Labour party manifesto:Child protection orders will deal with young children suffering neglect by parents because they are left out on their own far too late at night.The Home Secretary himself said that the powers wouldprotect children under 10 from being drawn into crimeandserve the dual purpose of protecting the community and young children.In fact, as I have just said, in the 28 months since those powers came into force, not one order has been made; not one child, left out on its own far too late at night, has been rescued; not one community has been protected, contrary to the Home Secretary's promise.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) suggested three years ago upping the age limit, in Committee on the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), vigorously opposed it, yet now the Home Secretary himself is proposing it.
The problems that were identified three years ago with the orders applying to the under-10s, which have perhaps contributed to the failure of the policy to date, apply equally to the proposals in the Bill. How are the police to sort out, in a group of 15 and 16-year-olds, exactly who is 15 and who is 16? I am sure that the Home Secretary will admit that some 15-year-olds these days can look as if they are in their early 20s.
The Home Office has admitted that such a problem exists, as shown by the following quotation:There is always a difficulty for the police in determining age … Simply raising the limit would not remove the problem, but would change its focus."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 12 May 1998; c. 297.]Those are the words of the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. Perhaps the Home Secretary or the current Minister of State could address the problem that he so ably outlined.
As the Home Secretary's statement implies, the efficacy of the policy depends on the number of police officers available to enforce it. Labour's most senior councillor, the chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Jeremy Beecham, in an article entitled "Yob Crackdown Doomed to Fail: New Curfew Plans based on powers never used in the North", published in the Newcastle Journal last month, said:The move … is unlikely to be used … curfews are not the most important thing that could be done.
Perhaps the final word should go to the Prime Minister, who described these powers, when first proposed in. 1996 by the now Home Secretary, as "eminently sensible"—another eloquent comment on his judgment.
I acknowledge that clauses 80 and 81, relating to DNA and fingerprints, provide that those who give their samples voluntarily—for example, in a mass screening exercise in high-profile murder cases, as the Home Secretary said, or in cases involving serious sex offences 52 or offences against children—will have to provide consent in writing for the retention and further use of those samples.
I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to assure us once more that the clauses genuinely provide for informed consent, and that those who are tested will be told when they make their decision the exact way in which their samples will be used. That is especially important when dealing with those who may be vulnerable or lacking in mental capacity. Such people are screened in mass screenings.
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. Lady makes an important point, and I am happy to give the assurance that she seeks. The use of the powers depends on people coming forward voluntarily, and it is therefore important to maintain public confidence in the system. That must include giving clear information about people's rights when they initially volunteer.
§ Miss Widdecombe
We shall test that in Committee, but I am grateful for that assurance in principle. Before the Home Secretary intervened, I said that such an assurance was especially important when dealing with those who may be vulnerable or lacking in mental capacity. I hope that the provisions will not be drafted in such a way as to discourage people from coming forward voluntarily to take part in large-scale testing or to eliminate themselves from inquiries.
There is anxiety about the civil liberties implications of the proposal in clause 81 to allow the police to retain DNA samples without consent, even when a person has been found not guilty or when a prosecution has not taken place. Many people and organisations have expressed profound anxieties about that. The Home Secretary tried hard in his opening speech to dispel some of the doubts. Many of his comments are reassuring if the provision is used in the restricted way that he outlined. However, it will require further consideration in Committee, and I flag that up to the right hon. Gentleman now.
The Home Secretary and I—and, I suspect, most hon. Members—agree that the advances in DNA technology over recent years, and the DNA database that was set up under the previous Administration, have provided the police with an important tool in the fight against crime. We should therefore be extra careful before writing into law any measures that might adversely affect public confidence in the use of DNA by the police. I hope that the Home Secretary acknowledges that, and that we shall have a constructive debate on the matter in Committee.
There are also civil liberties concerns about the proposals on Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise records. It has been pointed out that a court order is required for the release of much confidential information which most people would regard as privileged. We want assurances from the Home Secretary that disclosure will take place only when it is manifestly required in connection with a serious investigation.
Will the Home Secretary also tackle the anxieties of the Confederation of British Industry? It fears that disclosure to overseas anti-trust authorities of information held by the Office of Fair Trading could lead to criminal anti-trust proceedings in other countries where competition laws are enforced in the criminal courts on a different basis.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Does the right hon. Lady object to the transfer of 53 information between the Department of Social Security and other Departments about social security fraud? How is the problem that she outlines different from that?
§ Miss Widdecombe
I have not objected in principle to the provision. I do not object in principle to the transfer of information between Departments. Indeed, I applaud it. I have often wished that rather more of it could be done and that it was more effective. I am raising a specific issue, to which the CBI drew attention, about the way in which information is transferred to other countries, where people might be vulnerable to prosecution because the law is different from ours. There might be a perfectly good answer that might reassure us. Even without one, however, the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages. However, we would be wholly lacking in our duty if we did not consider a major concern raised by the CBI. I did not say, "Will the right hon. Gentleman abandon his proposals?" I asked him to address the concerns expressed by the CBI. I should have thought that the answer to that was yes.
The Bill also provides the opportunity, by way of amendment, to tackle violence and intimidation against scientists and staff at facilities such as the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory and other research centres throughout the country. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—as are Members on both sides of the House—for the announcement that he made in that respect. However, will he also comment on the report in The Times today, which states:Measures drawn up by … the Home Secretary … will address only four of the main 20 tactics used to intimidate researchers"?Is he considering further the representations made to him by the Research Defence Society for even stronger action to prevent the harassment and violence to which workers at those facilities have been subjected? Perhaps the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), will be able to clarify the situation when he winds up the debate.
Today is the second anniversary of the introduction of the Home Secretary's special early release scheme—the home detention curfew programme—that has seen more than 30,000 convicted criminals released from prison before they served even half their sentence. That fact is far more indicative of the right hon. Gentleman's attitude towards crime and the criminals who commit it than any of his protestations about being "tough on crime", either today or previously.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to tackle disorderly conduct on our streets—but he has let out of prison thousands of offenders convicted of violent disorder, affray, aggravated bodily harm and grievous bodily harm before they served even half the sentence imposed by the courts. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to crack down on drug dealers and traffickers by handing out travel restriction orders—but his promises ring hollow when we know that, under his scheme, he has released 4,000 drug dealers and traffickers early. He says that he supports the police, yet under his policy more than 200 criminals convicted and sent to prison for assaulting police officers have been let out early.
That the Bill contains no provisions to ameliorate the worst excesses of that scheme—or, indeed, to abolish it altogether—is yet another indictment of the approach taken by the right hon. Gentleman. We shall introduce such provisions in Committee, on Report and, if necessary, in another place.
54 The Opposition will give the right hon. Gentleman the chance to admit his mistakes and to amend his Bill. However, we know—and, I suspect, the Home Secretary is even now beginning to realise—that the country will not be so ready to give him a second chance on polling day. The people of this country—having seen the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's policies—will make the ultimate amendment.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Apart from that final peroration and rant, it is disconcerting to follow so bewilderingly reasonable a speech from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).
The right hon. Lady ran amok only once or twice—once when she referred to the wave of violent crime sweeping the country. On that point, it is appropriate to quote from a letter that I received last Friday from the chief constable of Greater Manchester, which dealt with the crime statistics for our area. He stated:Violent crime rates have been exacerbated by a change in the counting rules, by the inclusion of incidents of common assault.We have experienced not so much a wave of violent crime as a wave of statistical reform. However, I do not blame the right hon. Lady for trying to profit from that. When I was shadow Home Secretary, I used what little ammunition I had at the time—she has even less.
That is further demonstrated by the fact that, in her interesting and, in essence, responsible speech, the right hon. Lady failed to refer to the criminalisation of drug use. We were waiting to hear more from her about her proposals on that matter, because the country took such a keen interest in them when she put them to the Conservative party conference last autumn.
I pay tribute to the police force in general and, in particular, to Greater Manchester police, especially the local police who work in my constituency and are so valued by my constituents. I also pay tribute to the concerned constituents of Gorton and elsewhere who do not simply express an interest in such issues and attend meetings about them, but are willing to have a go against criminals and to provide evidence and act as witnesses when there is such fear of intimidation. I am glad that the Bill will help to reduce the fear of intimidation among those who come forward as witnesses, although some fear will, of course, always exist.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary used the phrase "low-level crime" in his speech, but he was careful to say that, although much of the crime that affects our constituents may be described as such, it nevertheless has a serious effect on their quality of life, and on their sense of being safe in their homes, on the streets, in their neighbourhoods and when going about their lawful occasions.
Statistics can be looked at in many ways. The chief constable of Greater Manchester has been good enough to write to me about the statistics in our area and in the police division that covers my constituency. It is interesting that some of those statistics go against the common perceptions about crime. For example, under this Government, there has been a substantial reduction in the burglary of dwellings in Manchester's C division. There has also been a considerable reduction in vehicle crime. Most of our constituents would not believe that that was so from their experience.
55 Given that I have been a victim of burglary and vehicle crime during the past few months, I might contribute my own anecdotal evidence, but the fact is that the police are dealing with such crimes more effectively. The number of offences is falling because being caught is the best deterrent. Of course, we want the number of crimes to fall even further. That will happen, we hope, because despite the statistics offered by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, the Government have, in fact, given a great deal more money to the Greater Manchester police and the number of police in that force has increased.
I am sure that the chief constable and the men and women who work with him would say that the increase is not enough and that not enough people are being recruited to the force. However, Greater Manchester police has received a 15.6 per cent. increase in finance, and the number of police officers is steadily increasing. The chief constable has told me that the projected force strength for 31 March 2002 is 7,242—an increase of 389 officers since 31 March 2000.
Problems are being tackled, but those efforts do not always succeed by any means, and any hon. Member who is complacent about crime and the resources given to the police to tackle it would be ill serving his or her constituents. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the efforts of the police and the efforts of the Government in backing the police are showing results. We want more. My constituents will judge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Government not only by the legislation that they introduce and the will that they show, but by results and by what happens on their streets and in their neighbourhoods. I know that my right hon. Friend would not wish any other criteria to be used.
Of the many provisions in the Bill, I shall refer to only a handful. It should not need to be said, but I shall make it clear that the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens not only do not commit crime, but would never dream of committing crime. We are talking about a small number of people whose effect on society is out of all proportion to their number.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald referred to this point, and I very much welcome the provisions that will allow the police to designate those areas where drinking in public places disrupts the community. I often go for a quiet drink in my constituency, but not on a pub crawl; and I never have 14 drinks at one time. Most of the people who drink in pubs simply want a quiet night out and a drink with friends, but there is no doubt that behaviour takes place inside and, more often, outside pubs that disrupts local community life. I very much welcome the measures in the Bill that will enable the police to take a firmer grip of that problem.
The measures will give the police the power to close licensed premises. I hope that they will not have to use the power too often, but I have strongly in mind one pub in my constituency—I could, but will not name it—where the people who live nearby would clamour for such a closure to take place if need be.
I also welcome the Bill's provisions for the protection of witnesses. Some very tough people in my constituency are ready to come forward. For example, Irene Thorp— 56 who lives in Craig road, Gorton—is not very tall, but she is a giant in her courage and readiness to combat criminals even though she herself has been violently assaulted. She and other groups of concerned citizens in different parts of my constituency would be assisted if people were able to come forward with greater confidence that they would not be intimidated and that their houses would not be attacked. Therefore, I am very pleased with the measures that will enhance the protection of witnesses.
§ Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)
Before my right hon. Friend moves on from the issue of alcohol-related crimes, does he agree that many of them take place not where the alcohol is purchased, but at the sites of others businesses, such as the local kebab shop or taxi rank? The introduction of on-the-spot penalties is important to deal with such crimes.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, with one proviso. One stretch in my constituency—it is near where I live—has so many kebab shops that, if there were an outbreak of violence there, we would not be able to contain it however strong the curry. None the less, I agree with my hon. Friend's point.
I welcome another provision that my constituents have asked me for again and again in the meetings about crime that we hold all over the constituency. In that regard, I thank the priest of the Sacred Heart church who makes his church hall available. Numerous requests have been made for the extension of curfews to cover teenagers. The readiness of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to extend curfew provisions to people below the age of 16 will be greatly welcomed. I say again that we want not only the powers but for them to be exercised. I therefore very much welcome the ability of the police, on their own judgment, to impose curfews, if they believe that to be appropriate.
There is one provision among all the others that I welcome and which the police in my area will greatly welcome: clause 128, which requires reasons to be given for granting, as well as for declining to grant, bail. I recently had a meeting with the chief constable of Greater Manchester and Superintendent Brinnand, who is responsible for much of my constituency. The police are frustrated when they take effective and efficient action and get culprits to court, but the courts are excessively lenient not only in sentencing but in the way in which bail is handled. That deeply exasperates the police and therefore those whom they exist to serve. I shall give three examples of the way in which the police in my constituency do their job, but with the best will in the world, the courts are not backing them up as they ought.
I am sorry to say that in certain parts of my constituency large gangs of youths commit numerous violent street robberies and other antisocial offences. In one area, the problem was so serious that the police mounted an expensive operation specifically targeted at a gang of street robbers. Earlier this very month, the police observed four members of the gang assault a lone male and attempt to rob him. The offence was extremely violent and was observed in its entirety by several police officers—bearing out what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said. There was no question, therefore, of poor identification.
57 All four were charged with assault with intent to rob and remanded in custody until a court hearing was available. Two of the four were bailed by the court and robberies have since continued in the area. Both of those bailed were 21 years of age, with previous convictions for violence, and both are being investigated concerning further robbery offences in the area.
I give another example. A youth, whom one might almost call a child, since he is only 14 years old, is one of the two still in custody for the offence about which I have just talked. He has been arrested for more than 50 offences since 1997, when he committed his first robbery at the age of 11. Most of the offences are street robberies and others violent crimes. Most of them have been committed while he has been on bail. On numerous occasions, he has been remanded in custody or in the care of social services only to be released on bail to commit further offences.
Finally, I refer to another individual, whose name I have. I will not name him; I do not in any way want to violate police activity or any sub judice rule. The man is a prominent member of a gang that has been involved in numerous shooting incidents, including several murders. He was arrested and charged with numerous offences, including conspiracy to supply firearms and drugs, rape and kidnapping. Three female witnesses are under protection such is the danger from him and the gang. He is still being investigated for several murders and shootings. He was remanded in custody by the police but granted bail by a judge in chambers at the end of 2000. He was set stringent bail conditions, none of which he complied with.
Such were the fears of the police that a large police operation was set up to recapture him. He was eventually arrested at a cost of £30,000 of police money. The man remains in custody. He was one of 14 members of his gang who have been arrested and charged with firearms and drug offences since last year. Despite the best efforts of the police, the serious nature of the charges and continuing problems in the area in which the gang was operating, 11 of the 14 gang members, including the man to whom I am referring, were given bail by the courts. Ten remain large.
§ Miss Widdecombe
The right hon. Gentleman is rehearsing the inadequacies of the bail system. I agree with him. There is no disagreement on that. Does he accept, however, that the Bill will only compel a judge to give reasons? It will not restrict the availability of bail. If the right hon. Gentleman is serious about wanting to tackle the inappropriate use of bail, would it not be better to do what we want to do, which is to provide that one breach of bail conditions is enough, and that there must never be more than one chance?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I would not like to be as categorical as the right hon. Lady on this issue. Sometimes, when I listen to her, I think to myself, "I wish that I were as confident of anything as she is of everything."
The key feature is that the courts should use their judgment. Magistrates and judges know the facts. There are cases where the accused have a right to bail, but I do not want what might be called the profligate use of bail in circumstances such as those that I have described. I do not think that there is any serious difference between the 58 right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and myself. She will serve in Committee, and thank heavens, I will not. It will be for her to propose amendments and for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to deal with them.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work and for the close attention that he pays to the situation in my constituency and to legislation as a whole. I say on behalf of my constituents that we look to ever-increasing results. We do not want only some crime statistics to be improved; we want them all to be better. We want villains like those to whom I have referred not to be let out on bail. We want them to be sent to prison with long sentences so that they are not a danger to the community. As the Bill is moving towards that situation and has many good provisions, I welcome it. As always, in my sycophantic way, I congratulate my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)
There is a great deal in the Bill with which I can agree and to which I offer a fair wind. I would have happily said much of what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said. Indeed, in some instances I did so some years ago. I am delighted that we share a view. He mentioned in passing that he was a shadow Home Secretary. He was too modest to say that he was a first-class shadow Home Secretary. I always admired his work. I trust that one day he will be able to resume that eminent role, and that day may not be too far away.
I shall concentrate on what is in the Bill and on what I hope the Home Secretary may be inclined to add to the Bill in Committee. For years, Huntingdon Life Sciences in my constituency has been conducting Government-licensed experiments on animals to help research into cures for human ailments. The vast majority of local and political opinion on both sides of the political fence has been outspoken in favour of the research—not least, perhaps, because the Thalidomide Trust is based in my constituency. If experiments to the same depth as are now undertaken on animals had previously been conducted, the thalidomide tragedy might well have been avoided.
At Huntingdon, and at other places, experiments are taking place in an effort to try to find cures for cancer, AIDS, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, asthma and other life-threatening ailments. I strongly support that valuable and necessary research. Others, however, do not: animal rights activists have opposed all of it. Some of them are animal lovers who wish to demonstrate peaceful opposition to something that they find distasteful. I believe that they are wrong, but they are entitled to their views. We have a long tradition of tolerance of peaceful protest, even concerning views with which we personally tend to disagree.
However, the animal rights movement is not composed wholly of such peaceful protesters—far from it. It is led and guided by what I can only call an anarchist minority using the tactics of urban terrorism. It is worth illustrating briefly some of the things that have happened in Huntingdon. Activists have fire-bombed cars outside my constituents' homes; they have attacked cars by throwing concrete blocks at them; and they have assaulted employees physically by spraying cleaning fluid in their eyes. There have been threatening phone calls by day and night and abusive letters—having seen some of them, hate 59 mail would be a more apt description—as well as direct, terrifying threats to kill or maim employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences.
Those threats are made against ordinary people carrying out their work, licensed, as necessary, by successive Governments. That is by no means all that the animal rights activists have done. They have used other unpleasant tactics: they have ordered services or purchases in the names of employees working on experimentation; published false advertisements in their names; and even, distastefully, ordered a hearse to collect the body of a loved one from someone's house.
It is easy for us to understand how distressing that thuggish behaviour can be. I stress that it is by good fortune alone that no one has yet been killed by those anarchists. One day, however, if those people continue to act as they have been doing, somebody will be killed. They have held demonstrations, sometimes large ones, outside private homes, including mine—but, unlike my constituents, I am pretty well protected. There have been large demonstrations in Cambridgeshire, not least in the city of Cambridge, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) will know. They are carefully planned and generally controlled by their leaders, not at the demonstrations themselves but some way away on mobile phones. Although far from the action, the leaders are intent on creating maximum disruption.
I accept peaceful protest, but such actions go far beyond peaceful demonstrations. The activists use similar tactics against secondary targets, especially if they think that they will be weak-kneed enough to give in to their threats. None of that behaviour is acceptable, and we need changes in the law—in the Bill, I hope—to protect innocent employees, companies, directors and shareholders alike. I had an opportunity to thank the Home Secretary for his actions on that front a few moments ago. I also express my thanks to the noble Lord Sainsbury for his action in helping to bring about the financial rescue of Huntingdon Life Sciences from the difficulties that it had run into, predominantly as a result of those demonstrations. Lord Sainsbury did an excellent job and I am most grateful to him.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
It is not only at Huntingdon that the effects have been felt; staff in many other places are fearful. Many research companies are internationally owned, and it is important that it be clear that we are taking active steps to deal with such things, because investment decisions are being made about the future location of that research.
§ Mr. Major
The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I intend to turn to that point later. We are of one mind on this issue.
I understand that the Home Secretary has some proposals in mind. I strongly welcome his willingness to take action, although I have not yet had the opportunity to study his proposals in detail. It is essential that we soon amend existing legislation to prevent violent activists from maintaining personal information that enables them to target individual employees, directors and shareholders. Such targeting is unpleasant and often frightening for people going about their ordinary business. They are not 60 used to the targeting that people in public life sadly become accustomed to these days. They are people going about their ordinary life, for whom the experience is extremely frightening and unpleasant. They are going about their lawful business, which has been licensed by Parliament. They must have protection from such harassment.
I shall briefly touch on some of the changes that are necessary. We must look at ways to make it possible for all directors and shareholders potentially at risk—not every director and shareholder, but those who could arguably be at risk from the activists—to register their interest in a company such as Huntingdon Life Sciences in a fashion that protects their private addresses from public scrutiny. Of course, the registrar should have their private addresses, but we should consider the various options for preventing that information becoming generally available to people who will misuse it.
That will not be easy, and the change will need to be carefully managed, but there are a number of ways in which it could be achieved, and I hope that the Home Secretary will incorporate one or other of them in the Bill. I look forward to discussing that with him on another occasion. I regard the change as extremely important, for I have seen the anguish caused by what has happened.
I come to the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). After Huntingdon Life Sciences obtained new financial backers from abroad, and the protesters were frustrated in their bid to close down the company and its work, one of the leading activists appeared on the media claiming that his movement would soon identify the new financial backers and target them.
I cannot recall the exact words that that activist used, but I recall the flavour of them, and I recall the gist of what he said. It was, I thought, a threat: "We have friends even in America, and we will get them." As I heard the interview, that seemed, given the activists' record, to be a threat of promised violence which ought of itself to be an offence, not something to be uttered with impunity time after time in various parts of the media.
We need also to borrow from trade union legislation and make it an offence—the Home Secretary touched on this—to protest against individuals in their homes and, in addition, to prevent secondary activity, such as protests against financial institutions or pension fund investors, and the staff who work for financial institutions or pension investors.
The present laws are shown by the new problem to be inadequate on a number of fronts. The harassment legislation certainly needs amendment, not least to make it more appropriate for the police to use it to prohibit the incitement of harassment and intimidation. At present, it is ineffective for that purpose. I have had some experience of trying to frame ways of dealing with such problems, and I understand only too clearly the difficulties that the Home Secretary and his Ministers will have in framing legislation to cover these points. It will not be easy, but it is possible and we must reconsider existing legislation.
61 The Malicious Communications Act 1988, for example, illustrates the problem. The Home Secretary touched on that earlier. Section 1(2) of that Act states:A person is not guilty of an offence … if he shows—(a) that the threat was used to reinforce a demand which he believed he had reasonable grounds for making; and (b) that he believed that the use of the threat was a proper means of reinforcing the demand.That dates from some way back, and I can imagine the sort of late amendment that was rushed through to make sure that the Bill met its timetable. Every Minister has had experience of that, but let us consider what the provision says. It says that a threat is not an offence if there were reasons to make it to reinforce a demand. What nonsense is that?
Threats against individuals are not justifiable in any circumstances. In any event, without wishing to be flippant. I should have thought that the precise wording of that subsection was so woolly that it would make it possible for any taxpayer to indict the Inland Revenue under it. Unless the Home Secretary amends it, people may take that advice and do so.
We clearly need to examine existing legislation to deal with emerging problems. Many other changes need to be made, but discussion of those may not be appropriate for a Second Reading debate in which many hon. Members want to speak. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for agreeing to see me so that I may put some detailed suggestions to him. I look forward to that meeting.
I shall touch on one other point, in conclusion. It would be immensely helpful to the industry, to which the Minister and his team have recently given such support, if in his winding-up speech this evening, the Minister of State could confirm the following points unambiguously: first, that the present UK legislation governing the introduction of new medicines demands that they be tested on animals before human trials can occur; secondly, that animal tests are also demanded by regulatory authorities to ensure the safe manufacture, transport and use of agrochemical s and other chemicals; thirdly, to confirm that, in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 enforced by the Home Office inspectorate, as the Home Secretary said earlier, the UK has the strictest regulations governing the conduct of animal research that can be found in any country in the world; and fourthly, that the current legislation demands that in safety testing, researchers must assure the Home Office that no non-animal alternative tests are available before authority is given for any testing on animals.
I ask for those points to be unambiguously made by the Minister of State, because each and every one of them is perverted by those who oppose the research, and much public opinion accepts the rebuttal of those points. It would be immensely helpful to have them clearly and unambiguously stated by a responsible Minister.
§ Dr. Ladyman
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I never thought that I would be able to say that I agree 100 per cent. with his speech, but will he go a little further? Much of what he said has been about the threat to animal experimenters. Will he go on to say that we need to make sure that the changes to the legislation cover attacks on all scientists? Much of what the right hon. Gentleman says applies to people in GM research, the nuclear industry and many other fields of scientific endeavour.
§ Mr. Major
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right, and I am happy to endorse that. He must forgive me if, having 62 seen what has happened in my constituency over the past three years, I focused on the problems there, so that my constituents are aware that the Government take the problems seriously—as, indeed, the Government do—and intend to take action. However, the hon. Gentleman is right and I endorse everything that he said.
The companies carrying out scientific research on animals are not operating casually outside the law. They operate within a tightly regulated and strictly controlled environment. They are doing work that they have been required to do by successive Governments. Their work is necessary to protect public health, to advance medical research, and to safeguard and improve the well-being of every citizen. They are carrying out work on behalf of the public and in the interests of the public, and they deserve the legislative protection of this House.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) on an outstanding and thoughtful speech. It is a privilege to follow both him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), whose contributions have shown the importance of the debate. It may not catch the headlines that other debates in the House sometimes catch, but if the media regard this as a less than all-important debate, I am certain that our constituents will not agree.
I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton from the time when I was a young magistrate. As the then shadow Home Secretary, he listened to us and understood the obstacles that were placed in the way of our doing what the public and the criminal justice system needed. I dare say that if my right hon. Friend had been Home Secretary 15 years ago, instead of shadow Home Secretary, we might not have had to endure some of the pain that we have gone through in the criminal justice system in recent years.
I am rather sad that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was not more constructive. She said that she did not oppose the Bill, but all her language—including body language—spoke of arrogance and opposition. As shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary demonstrated that one can look serious on crime and disorder only by being serious on them. I am afraid that the Opposition have not yet learned that lesson.
§ Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)
Did my right hon. Friend share my concern about the lukewarm reception given by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) to the extension of curfew schemes? He will have received the same Local Government Association briefing as has been submitted to me. Is he pleased that the LGA has welcomed the introduction of curfews for the under-16s? The measure begins to address an age group that is more likely to be involved in public disturbances than the under-10s. I know that he has experience of the joint problem-solving groups so will he acknowledge their important role in implementing the provisions?
§ Mr. Michael
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I shall deal with curfews in a moment, as they are an 63 important aspect of the Bill. However, I should like first to set out the context of a Bill that is about crime reduction and a wide range of criminal justice issues. At first glance, one might think it is a minor Bill but it is not, as it complements and advances the programme of reform that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has consistently pursued for a number of years.
The Bill takes us forward to the next stage in four different ways: it helps to continue the creation of a comprehensive approach to cutting crime; it helps to fill the gaps in the mechanisms, including sentences, that are used to deal with crime and the causes of crime; it makes progress on nipping problems in the bud, especially in respect of young offenders; and it focuses on cutting crime. The latter does not necessarily follow from crime measures, as it must be ensured that legislation, intentions and policy perspectives are carried through in practice. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will agree that it is vital to keep our eyes on those outcomes at every stage of the process.
The Bill contains a programme of sustainable crime reduction which falls well within the pattern of crime and disorder audits and strategies that are currently maturing. I mentioned in an intervention my delight the other week when I heard some 120 people from the police, local authorities and so on having a debate about continuing to push down crime. Three or four years ago, none of them would even have dreamed of having such a debate. That is a tribute not only to the decisions taken at that time, but to the way in which the ministerial team and the various professions that are involved are pushing the process forward, week after week and year after year.
The Bill deals with many important issues. The need to provide full reasons in respect of bail is far more important than the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald seemed to think. Currently, those responsible for decisions on bail must give reasons for refusing it, with the awareness that their decision might be tested. Surely it is an effective counter-balance for them to have to give reasons why bail should be granted. Such a measure will bring back into balance an arrangement that has been unbalanced for many years. It has previously been far too easy to test the intention of the court to refuse bail and to push for larger numbers to be given bail because that is the safe decision. A balance will now be in place.
Witness protection is crucial and the Bill is an important step forward in that respect. I am concerned that the antisocial behaviour orders involve something of a drift with regard to the bringing of matters to court by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and with regard to the court itself, which can demand the test of the criminal law. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary knows and as the Bill intends, it is the civil test that must be applied. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will take this opportunity to remind the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts that it is the civil test that must apply. That practice is necessary specifically to ensure that people do not face the onerous burden of having to risk danger by coming to give evidence, as it will enable the court quickly to place the order, the breach of which becomes the criminal punishment.
64 The Bill also deals with drugs and violent crime, on which it is excellent to see progress. Having heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton mention the Greater Manchester police, I should like to speak about my constituency. I am certain that the police there will welcome the detail of the Bill with enthusiasm. I am especially pleased about the commitment shown by the police service, which is currently led by Tony Burden, who is president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Cardiff county local authority has also shown great commitment. In particular, I pay tribute to Gordon Houlston, who has taken a lead role. Safer Cardiff is bringing together a partnership approach, and I mention Barbara Natesagara in that regard. Unusually—although it should not be unusual—a great contribution has been made by Professor John Shepherd, nurses, other care staff and voluntary organisations in identifying people who experience violent crime and in trying thereby to avoid repeat offending. The health service's involvement in that partnership is a crucial step forward and should be encouraged.
As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald suggested, the issues with which the Bill tries to deal seem intractable. However, examples of progress, such as the reduction in violent crime in Cardiff and the other steps forward to which my hon. Friends have referred, show that circumstances are improving and that effective action can be taken.
The Bill contains some important steps to speed up youth justice. I pay tribute to the continued pressure exerted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the ministerial team for delivery on reduction of the time that it takes to get youngsters to court. That commitment is being carried through into practice. Goodness knows it is a difficult one to fulfil, as anyone who has tried to do so will confirm. I pay particular tribute to Gillian Beranksi and her team in south Wales. When I met them the other week, I was delighted to see not only that they are getting on with the job, but that they are so enthusiastic. It has been good to see CPS lawyers working with the courts and the police to deliver and improve quality of justice, as well as deliver faster justice.
The enthusiasm of magistrates was also encouraging. I suppose that I was a bit ground down by the time that I entered the House. Indeed, it sometimes seemed that we could never speed things up. I can tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that magistrates feel liberated at being part of a system that is working and delivering. We should applaud that progress. Such development will occur in all parts of the country. All the partners need the tools, but the message is that they are up for it.
We were wary of curfews from the beginning. I remember the advice that I offered the Opposition in the Standing Committee that debated the Bill that became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. My advice then was that the curfew should be first established for under-11s, after which we could go on to consider the question of ages. Concerns were expressed about massive numbers. It was suggested that we would be overwhelmed and that youngsters would be so constrained by curfews that the measure would be an onerous burden. Of course, none of that happened. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald recognised that, but she was not as generous as she might have been.
65 I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is making two changes on curfew orders. First. the Bill gives the police the same powers as local authorities. Secondly, it increases to 16 the age at which they can apply. Those changes are crucial for a reason that has not been mentioned: they will end the culture of prevarication and excuses. Too often we hear that people are frustrated and angry about the continued harassment that they experience in their streets and the bad behaviour of groups of young people late at night. Such groups are often small, but they grow quickly if they are not nipped in the bud. Too often people come to me or to their respective Members of Parliament and say that nothing is being done. They say that they have talked to the police but are told that no action can be taken. Now, the instrument is in place and it can be used for young people of up to the age of 16.
§ Mr. Heald
We broadly agree about this issue now. However, would the right hon. Gentleman care to contemplate why child curfew orders have been such a failure so far? Not one has been granted. Why does Labour's most senior councillor, Sir Jeremy Beecham, say that the extension is unlikely to be used and that curfews are not the most important measure that could be taken? There seems to be lack of enthusiasm on the subject from some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues.
§ Mr. Michael
I am glad to hear the grudging admission that the Opposition are now in favour of child curfew orders, and that they broadly agree with us. I wish that they would give a little more thought to the subject.
§ Mr. Michael
In a moment; let me develop my thought first. I will return to Sir Jeremy Beecham in a moment.
I do not think that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) has understood the curfew order or the system. We need to ensure that this is not a bureaucratic process. As set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it is not. The local authority—now it could be the police or the local authority—has to set out a scheme. It will have to make simple rules to the effect that, in certain circumstances, it will apply the scheme to young people in an area. It is a warning that the authority is serious; it is a warning to young people that unless they start to behave better, they may lose their liberty. Will the loss of that liberty to be out late at night be onerous? I have never understood why seven-year-olds should be out at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Such a step does not need to be onerous if the measures are used appropriately. First, curfew orders need not be used if partners can succeed with other powers. This is where I agree with Sir Jeremy Beecham. I think that, for many areas, the existence in the background of the curfew power will be sufficient to allow steps to be taken locally, for co-operation to be won with the local community and for something to be done. There are examples of where this has been achieved. Hamilton has been referred to on many occasions, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, in framing guidance, will be looking to the acknowledged success in the Hamilton area.
The measure will succeed if the ground is well prepared. It is not a case of saying, "We want you all to stop coming out at night." The police and the local authority have to discuss the problem that they are facing and how to target the orders to get rid of the problem. 66 Why is the curfew order needed? Let me give one example. In my constituency, we were discussing the disorder on an estate and a lot of people in the room were saying, "Those youngsters are out of control. Something needs to be done about them. We' need to stop them creating havoc around the estate." One woman got up and said, "My little Johnny is one of those youngsters." Everyone said, "Johnny isn't too bad, he's a good lad." She said, "He's a good lad, he's a nice lad, but he's 6 ft 6 in and I'm 5 ft 2 in. His dad left home some years ago. I can't make Johnny stay in if he wants to go out; he says that everybody else is out, so why shouldn't he be?"
The curfew orders are about giving authority back to parents and communities, not about being excessively onerous. The more we can carry on without the need for specific curfews because people have understood the message and the community is being given back authority, the better it will be. Those are the sort of circumstances in which it is important for this mechanism to be used. Communities and parents need to be given back authority. They have to know that they have the support of the local authority and the police, as they have the support of the Government.
My final point is about partnership. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will assure us that it is not intended that the police could go off at a tangent and impose curfews at will, any more than it was the intention that local authorities should be able to do so, nor that the consultation is simply a matter of going through the form. We expect the police, local authorities and communities to work together, do we not? We expect them to co-operate and to address the real issues of their area. Then the result will be liberating rather than onerous.
The crime and disorder partnerships work. Why is that? First, they focus clearly on a problem. They make sure that they have the facts through the crime and disorder audit. Secondly, they focus on outcomes—they want to see crime going down. Thirdly, they operate through a partnership that shares responsibility. In that case, the police and the local authority both have that responsibility. That is not appropriate for the curfew. It is likely that if both bodies had the responsibility, neither of them would exercise it. That is why I think that the proposed dual mandate is right. Otherwise, it would be a recipe for neither to make a move, and we need both of them to move together.
We must have that partnership. Use of the curfew must be set within the framework of the crime and disorder partnership.
§ Mr. Heald
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He has not really answered my question, and I would like him to. Why has not a single child curfew order so far been made? My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) proposed in the Standing Committee considering the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that curfew orders should apply up to the age of 16, which is what is now proposed. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this shows that the procedures for child curfew orders are too leaden and bureaucratic and that something must be done about them?
§ Mr. Michael
If the hon. Gentleman prayed in aid everything that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) proposed in Committee, he would be 67 defending an awful lot of indefensible measures. No, it shows nothing of the sort—it shows that they have not been tested. It shows that although we have heard a lot of rhetoric about the police not having the powers to deal with young offenders, those powers have not been tested. However, we accept that the younger age group has been targeted while the older age group really needs to be targeted. With the combination of the curfew extending to the age of 16 and the antisocial behaviour orders that can be targeted at the older age group, the tools are there to do the job.
As long as we hear in a couple of years that there are no more problems with youngsters on the streets causing mayhem late at night, I will not want the test to be how many curfew orders have been imposed; I will want it to be standards of behaviour in the community, protection of the public and communities that are strengthened by this measure and a proper understanding of it. I suggest that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire seek to understand the reasoning behind the measure and how it fits in with the reasoning behind the crime and disorder strategies that have been so successful but which have not had the enthusiasm and support from Conservative Members that we might have hoped for. Such strategies are based on the evidence of need; they target the appropriate groups, share support and are clear about outcomes. We can see from the enthusiasm of the partners in the crime and disorder strategies that those aims can be achieved.
I hope that in the guidance, the Home Secretary will point to the strength of partnerships as the core for creating stronger, safer communities, cutting crime and nipping things in the bud in respect of younger offenders. In particular, we do not want local authorities saying, "Let the police do it" or the police saying, "Let the local authority do it." We want them both to have the powers and to share the responsibility so that they do what is necessary, where the community wants it. That will build on the culture of sharing responsibility and effectiveness that we have started to build. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister shares those views and wishes the police and local authorities to push forward together. Let the philosophy be, "Together, let's do it."
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The Government have now clocked up about 30 Home Office Bills since they came to power. I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that there may be some merit in the fact that, for a change, there has not been a lot of sound and fury surrounding the Bill. Instead, there has been a welcome degree of discussion of the issues, some interesting and some also controversial. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I disagree with him about child curfews. He put the case for them, and I will put the case against them. There is much debate still to be had.
This is a long Bill, with 132 clauses and eight schedules. It is another example of a Bill that is much longer than it should be. It is probably a response to last year's request from the Prime Minister to give him something eye-catching before the election. Headline-grabbing, eye-catching ideas were looked for all over the Home Office departments. There are some things in the 68 Bill to do with police powers; it changes a few offences here, a bit of procedure there. It is a Christmas tree decoration Bill—the baubles are on the tree, because the Government need something to show in the window. The reality is that the Government wanted measures that made them look as though they were doing something in the run-up to the election. They have not had quite the success that they expected in their first three and a half years, given that the former shadow Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, said that, if elected, the Labour Government would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.
I took some guests round Portcullis House the other day, and they asked me whether the trees in there were really fig trees. I said that I was not an expert, but I had been told that they were. My visitors said that, for fig trees, they had mighty small leaves. I reflected that the Bill does not provide fig leaves big enough to cover the Government's embarrassment.
§ Mr. Hughes
If they are olive trees, that is the answer to the question.
It is a matter of record that the Government made three specific law and order pledges—I appreciate their honesty about the issue—and it appears that none of them will be met. It is clearly not the perception of the British public that the Government have been tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. All the opinion polls show that the public are not persuaded by the Labour Government's record on that issue. On the pledge for more bobbies on the beat, the Home Secretary struggled manfully on television yesterday to explain how that did not really mean more bobbies on the beat—just relatively more bobbies on the beat than before.
§ Mr. Hughes
Well, it was not quite a metaphor, but it was an explanation that was certainly not persuasive.
Furthermore, it looks as though the target to cut by half the time for dealing with offending by persistent young offenders will not be achieved either. The Government have failed in their objectives and the resulting Bill is a rag-bag of bits and pieces—some good, some bad, some debatable, some not so important.
I am sad that we are being forced by the election timetable into a way of law-making which other countries wisely do not follow. Many of the Bill's proposals may have merit, but no one has ever checked to find out. It would have been better to have a more considered process for examining some of these controversial measures, instead of simply pulling them off the tree, as it were, and putting them into the Bill. We could have had a special Standing Committee, as we have with other Bills, or a draft Bill.
We could have done as the Finnish Parliament does, and taken the Bill proposed by the Government, given it a quick Second Reading, then sent it to a Select Committee where evidence could have been taken. A report could then have been brought back to the Government. In that way, a more considered way of legislating could have been achieved. Furthermore, we could have implemented a measure that the Association 69 of Police Authorities and I have called for: a standing conference on policing and law and order involving the police, police authorities, magistrates, lay people and politicians. Such a body could consider matters of this nature. However, we have none of those. Indeed, we are discussing measures concerning criminal justice literally a matter of days before we expect Lord Justice Auld to produce his review of the criminal justice system. That review may produce similar proposals to those in the Bill, or different ones. In any event, it is meant to be a comprehensive review.
It is sad that we are considering a controversial Bill containing some untested proposals—I share the view of Conservative Front-Bench Members on that point—a matter of weeks before the expected date of the election. The Bill will probably not become law before the election. If it does not finish in Standing Committee until 8 March, I can assure the House that the Lords are unlikely to whip it through in double-quick time, because its provisions have profound implications for civil liberties, among other things.
On a further practical point, we really should not have Bills in which one clause applies to England and Wales, another to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the next to the United Kingdom as a whole, and the next only to Northern Ireland. That is nonsense. Northern Ireland-only provisions, England and Wales-only provisions, and UK provisions are spread around the Bill. It would be far better to try to legislate more tidily, so that the Scots, the Welsh, the Northern Irish and the English would know what was in store for them and have a chance to debate it properly themselves.
§ Mr. Michael
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is part of the nature of the devolution process to have different responsibilities in relation to different parts of these islands? It is therefore sensible to deal with them in the context in which they make sense.
§ Mr. Hughes
Rather, this Bill may show up the weakness of the Government's devolution system, since I am sure that the Welsh Assembly would be interested in formally being consulted on the matters in the Bill that affect Wales—even if they do not relate to devolved issues—and in expressing a view on them. I am sure that the Northern Ireland Assembly would be similarly interested. There are lessons to be learned for the wider constitutional debate.
I have tried to distil the provisions of the Bill, which I believe raises 10 important questions. Should we have fixed-penalty systems, and if so when? Should we have curfews, and if so when? Those are two big, controversial issues. How should we deal with alcohol-related offences and offenders? How should we deal with drug-related offences and offenders? How should we protect witnesses and possible witnesses? When should people be granted bail? That central question was raised by the right hon. Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
What should the information exchange entitlement between public authorities be? For example, should we allow information collected by the Inland Revenue to be passed to the social security system and vice versa? We have never had a great debate about that, but such measures are provided for in the Bill. What should the checks and balances on the powers of detention be? The Bill contains various proposals about that.
70 On the rights of the state to take and hold information, should it have the power to collect DNA samples and hold them without people's consent, even though those people have been found innocent? That is a very big issue, which we as a nation have never debated properly and widely. The Icelandic people, I understand, have had a great national debate about it and agreed that everyone would have their information put on the national database. Lastly, what should the structure nationally, regionally and locally of our police service be? The last two parts of the Bill deal with that question.
The Bill raises huge issues and I want to flag up the view held by me and my colleagues, which is in some respects similar to that held by the Conservative party. Some of the provisions in the Bill are reasonable and unexceptionable. We shall not, therefore, vote against the Bill on Second Reading; we shall support it tonight. We shall then seek to amend it in Committee and on Report, and we reserve the right to vote against it on Third Reading if some of the provisions that we regard as unacceptable have not been removed in the process. We hope to persuade people of our arguments between now and then.
One provision that is not in the Bill was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and by the Secretary of State, and several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have particular concerns about it. It touches on the issue of campaigners for animal rights. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and my hon. Friends the Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) all have constituency interests in the matter, as do other hon. Members.
I share the general view that the right to protest and to express one's view is one thing. but that to do those things in a manner that intimidates and frightens not only those directly affected but many who are indirectly affected—the families and colleagues of those concerned—is entirely unacceptable. Whatever one's view about the rights and welfare of animals, one should not be entitled to behave exceptionally badly, as some people have in this country. I spoke to the chief executive of Huntingdon Life Sciences the other day, and to others. The problem seems to be much worse in this country than elsewhere, and we therefore need to deal with it in a way that will reduce that ability to threaten and intimidate.
I shall comment on the less controversial matters in the Bill first, before dealing with the three most controversial issues. On the alcohol-related measures, it seems entirely proper that if one is going to give a power to restrict the drinking of alcohol in public places, it should be given to the democratically elected local authority. We support that proposal. It involves a restriction of liberty, but it is one that a democratically elected local authority could adopt, although only after consultation with the police.
§ Mr. Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to continue for a moment?
On the closure of licensed premises, we support the proposal that in exceptional circumstances the police should have the ability to say, "I'm sorry, you can't carry on. Your pub is threatening the neighbourhood and 71 causing trouble." As drafted, however, the proposal is draconian and we would be better served by a yellow card, red card system in which a warning was followed by a closure. There is no such provision in the Bill. Under the current proposals, the police could go into licensed premises and close them unfairly, and, once the matter got into the court system, it could be difficult for the licensee to persuade the magistrates to allow him to reopen.
The proposals on the closure of unlicensed premises seem entirely justifiable, as are those for confiscating containers of drink. I understand that the police might not know whether there was drink in such containers, so the measures are necessary to protect the police from what might otherwise be an unjustified allegation.
The proposals to tighten up on serving drink to ensure that it does not go to under-age drinkers are also justified. However, I am not yet persuaded that the wording is right and we must ensure that we have a system that respects the interests of those whose job may mean that they encounter people who represent themselves as being of drinking age—over 18—but who are not. The postscript is that it is of course right to allow test-purchasing of drink by youngsters under the proper controls, just as tobacco is test-purchased to detect people who break the law.
§ Mr. Heald
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that non-drinking zones and the powers of local authorities to designate them must be considered widely in the council and that the decision should perhaps be debated in full council rather than delegated to one cabinet member, because that could lead to difficulties?
§ Mr. Hughes
I have not talked to all my colleagues about that, but my initial response is that I share the hon. Gentleman's view. Liberty could be restricted in public places and such a big decision should I believe properly be taken by the full council.
I support the drug trafficking proposals. It is right that people could have their liberty to travel, to which they would otherwise be entitled, restricted if after conviction they could traffic in drugs while travelling. The only issue is that the Bill allows restriction without end, and we may need a maximum restriction. No one should have their ability to travel written off for the rest of their life because of offences they have committed, and I hope that the measure can be amended.
It is of course acceptable that the proposal on intimidation of witnesses should relate to civil as well as criminal proceedings. However, I am concerned that there is a burden of proof issue—the Minister will be aware of it—and simply using certain language or acting in a certain way should not immediately make it people's responsibility to show that they do not intend to pervert the course of justice.
More widely, and for all sorts of reasons—not just constituency experience over recent years—I say to the Minister that we still do badly in ensuring that witnesses and would-be witnesses are protected. The police struggle to protect such people and we do not yet have a system that works quickly. This very week, I am again trying to get somebody moved. Unless they move, they will not 72 feel confident enough to give evidence in a criminal case. The Crown Prosecution Service says that the case cannot be taken to court unless they give evidence. Therefore, it will be unable to prosecute an assailant. The current system depends too much on accidental opportunities to persuade local authorities to move people and we need a much better one.
There is a big question regarding the powers to transfer information between one authority and another. When people give information to the Revenue, do they expect it to go to all the other state authorities? The Revenue is concerned that people may not be as honest if they think that information will go elsewhere. There is an issue there and a further problem in relation to whether we should allow the Bill to be retrospective. I hope that we can amend it to prevent that from being the case, although it obviously has the endorsement of the Scottish Executive, as it is a United Kingdom provision.
The powers of seizure, which are to be extended, are welcome, but we must ensure that we do not give more power than is necessary.
I support the three proposals for making offences arrestable, although, again, they have been picked out of a list and many others could have been chosen. The categories are kerb crawling, failure to stop and report an accident resulting in injury, and importing to the UK indecent or obscene articles. It is perfectly reasonable for those to be arrestable offences and we would support that.
There are generally uncontroversial changes to the way in which we manage people in detention, but we must be careful about thinking that it is acceptable for the police to decide at a distance to extend someone's detention—it is proposed to allow that down the videolink or down the telephone. If someone's liberty is in question, the presumption must be that the person reviewing his or her detention is not 50 miles away at the end of a telephone, but close to the person who is in the cell. We must be careful about giving such extensive powers and careful about giving up the right of the House to consider all secondary legislation. We should not change the procedure from the affirmative to the negative resolution procedure.
Of the remaining non-controversial proposals, the two relating to the police include a proposed improved system for training. That I welcome, but the proposals on structures, particularly for the National Criminal Intelligence Service and others, are not uncontroversial and, as the Minister knows, the Association of Police Authorities has concerns. They appear to increase central Government control and reduce public and police authority control. Debates about control of the special police services and what to do with the police service are going on, but I am not sure that we have so far had the breadth of discussion that we need.
That leaves three issues: DNA, fixed penalty notices and curfews. The Liberal Democrats have never signed up to people who have not consented having their DNA held after being found not guilty or when a case does not proceed. Doing so represents a big step forward—in my view, a dangerous step forward in civil liberty terms. Of course DNA is helpful, but if the Government think that it would help if everybody's DNA was held, let them say, "When a baby is registered, a sample has to be supplied 73 to the registrar of births, marriages and deaths." That, effectively, is what the Bill suggests. If the Minister wants to confirm that, I should be happy to hear from him.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)
To clarify, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Liberal Democrats will oppose the Bill on Third Reading, following consideration in Committee, if the DNA proposals remain in their current form?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is a good and intelligent Minister, but that was a cheap and silly question, not least because I have already answered it. I said that we shall seek to amend various aspects, that our judgment as to whether we can support the Bill will depend on our success in getting amendments accepted and that we can give no guarantee at this stage that we will support it on Third Reading. We think that certain provisions need to be amended.
§ Mr. Clarke
With respect, I did not ask for a guarantee. I asked about the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to the DNA point, which is one of the range of issues that he will reconsider after the Bill has been examined in Committee. It would be of interest to the House to know where the Liberal Democrats stand on that important issue.
§ Mr. Hughes
Where we stand is straightforward: we are not persuaded that we ought to give a further power to the state—the police—to hold a sample taken in respect of a case that is not proceeded with or in which a person is found not guilty. If we remain unpersuaded, we shall consider that a possible ground for voting against Third Reading.
§ Mr. Hughes
No, I am trying to allow time for other colleagues, as many want to speak.
Fixed-penalty notices strike me as fine to deal with a cyclist on the pavement or illegal car parking. Indeed, they are perfectly reasonable for dog fouling and litter dropping. However, it is unlikely that they will work in relation to drunken adults who may not stand around long enough to receive them or may not remember much about receiving them. Some cases may be prejudiced by a person's relative inability to comply with the fixed penalty. The proposal is unfair. The rich can pay up easily; the poor cannot. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) wants to intervene.
Those with learning difficulties, those who are less intelligent and those who are homeless may not be able to cope with the paperwork in the way that someone with all the time in the world and high intelligence can. The proposal is highly likely to be discriminatory. Summary justice, not normal procedural justice, may be done at the hands of the police in a system under which, the Library research note confirms, millions of pounds worth of fines already go unpaid. Last year, about £80 million of fines went uncollected and now we are to have another system that imposes fines on people who are least likely to pay up and will have to be monitored.
We are by no means persuaded in regard to fixed-penalty notices. I consider the proposal a fig leaf, intended to cover up the extraordinary content of a speech 74 delivered by the Prime Minister to academics in Tubingen, when he said that he would march people along to cashpoints. It is a fallback, intended to give the impression that that was not a completely barmy idea but only a half-barmy idea. The police are unlikely to have enough staff to deal with it, and would be perfectly happy for it not to be included. People such as Fred Broughton have made that abundantly clear.
The curfew proposal has been supported by, for instance, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. It would be one thing if such action were to be proposed and agreed by local authorities, but the Bill goes further, allowing the police to impose a curfew irrespective of a local authority's view. Admittedly the police must talk to local authorities, but they can go ahead even if local authorities say no.
When I talked to youngsters at Walworth school about the proposal, one said, "It's like keeping the whole class in when a few have misbehaved." It certainly strikes me as an entirely unfair principle in the context of civil liberties. Of course seven-year-olds should not be out on the street at 3 am, but 14 and 15-year-olds might have perfectly good reasons to be out at 9, 10 or 11 pm. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that community relations between police and young people will be helped if the police pick on young people regularly, he may be sadly mistaken.
The other day I spoke to some youngsters on the street—youngsters under 16, hanging around in just the sort of group that the right hon. Gentleman described. The public say that something must be done, but according to my experience the more the police stop and search them, the more likely they are to be antagonistic, unhelpful and unco-operative. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the curfew proposal will make all difficult youngsters suddenly disappear—that youngsters will become smilingly happy, feeling that the police are the most wonderful people in the world—Cardiff, South and Penarth has changed a lot since I was there in my youth.
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. Gentleman was probably one of the youths who caused trouble there in those days. He has clearly not learned from those days to do his homework first. He has not read the requirements, conditions, advice and guidance, any more than he listened to what I said. The measure can succeed only in the context of community support and a joint effort to tackle the problem, involving communities, parents, local authorities and the police; but that is what is proposed. Did the hon. Gentleman not understand that?
§ Mr. Hughes
Of course I did. The right hon. Gentleman should not become so excitable so quickly. If, however, he thinks it a good idea to start stereotyping, and to say that the Peckhams or Penarths of this world should contain no-go areas—curfew areas; "can't go out late" areas—I must tell him that I do not think it will be good for the law-abiding people, including young people, who live in those areas. It can only paint bad pictures: it can only make areas that look as though they have trouble look even worse. By all means let the police concentrate on the troublemakers, but they should concentrate on the troublemakers rather than the places where they live.
75 I hope I have demonstrated straightforwardly that Liberal Democrats have considerable concerns about a Bill that is good in parts, but very worrying in parts. We shall do our utmost to make sure that it is much better by the time it returns to this House.
§ Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Last week one of my local newspapers, the News Shopper, featured a banner headline: "Crime is on the rise—report". A subhead referred to an increase of £30,000. It dealt a tremendous blow to both the police and the local authority, which had forged an extremely effective community safety partnership. It was, moreover, distressing for all of us because it was simply untrue.
In Lewisham, crime fell by 5 per cent. between the period from March 1999 to December 1999 and the corresponding period in 2000. Burglary fell by 16 per cent., and the borough was top of the Metropolitan police league table in respect of judicial disposals of such crimes. Car crime also decreased, and Lewisham was near the top of the league table in respect of clear-up rates.
The headline might have been justified, although clearly to a lesser extent, with regard to reporting of street crime, which has been on the increase in Lewisham and throughout the country—although the number of such crimes in Lewisham is lower than the Met average.
§ Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)
I have here a copy of one of my little newspapers, which reports a crime increase of 10 per cent., and states that, in Kent, crime fell by 23 per cent. during the same period. That paper is the Gravesham News Shopper. Do we detect a trend?
§ Joan Ruddock
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
Even where certain crimes have increased, most people are not the direct victims. Most people feel, however, that their quality of life is threatened and often diminished by the fear of crime, which is why it is so reprehensible that local newspapers exaggerate crime levels. Antisocial behaviour gives rise to anxiety, and also creates an impression of lawlessness. That is why I welcome the Bill.
I want to talk mostly about low-level crime. I welcome the measures relating to young people. Let me also say, however, how much I appreciate the provisions for enhanced witness protection. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have dealt with a small but terribly distressing number of cases involving people who have been willing to come forward, but have subsequently lived in terror of victimisation. We owe it to them to improve their treatment.
In Lewisham, as elsewhere, young people commit a disproportionately large number of crimes. In our crime and disorder audit, the statistics relating to robbery, violence against the person, theft and handling all demonstrate that the highest offending rate was among those aged between 15 and 24, and that the second highest was among those aged between 10 and 14. Victimisation of those same groups is equally high, however. In the context of robbery and violence, the highest rate of victimisation was among those aged between 10 and 24.
76 A raft of Government measures are already addressing many of the underlying causes of crime. Unemployment—to name but one—is falling dramatically in my constituency. Nevertheless, there is a real need for more deterrence. Both my local authority and the Lewisham police service generally welcome the Bill: they are delighted by the Government's recognition that the yob culture will no longer be tolerated.
At present, most people arrested for drunkenness—certainly in my area—get off with a caution. Not even a night in the cells seems to act as a deterrent, and there is a feeling that the courts do not view drunkenness as a serious matter. Such is the frustration of my constituents and my local authority that they are in the process of constructing a case for a byelaw on street drinking. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about such applications for byelaws: they are difficult to draft, and the local authority has been greatly concerned about the difficulties involved. The Bill will be helpful in that regard as well.
In my experience, there are two kinds of street drinker. There are the long-term alcoholics, who are usually older and penniless, and there are the daytime drinkers, who cause serious offence but who really need "wet centres" and other ways of being helped to overcome a habit that can no longer be deterred. I trust that we can give more help to local authorities and volunteer organisations to try to tackle the—admittedly small—number of people who engage in such disruptive activities.
A much more widespread problem is that of young people who are fit and healthy and who seemingly have unlimited funds with which to purchase alcohol. They cause continual misery to my constituents in their rowdiness in the streets and around drinking places—not only licensed premises, but off-licences as well—particularly in the evenings and at night, on the buses, the tubes and the trains, where they are intimidating and cause real concerns. Indeed, they probably deter many people from travelling when they would wish to do so. It is for that reason that we believe that fixed-penalty notices will be a deterrent and very helpful in trying to deal with that type of antisocial behaviour.
There will always be a limit on the number of those who can be arrested, however many police officers there are on the streets. On the issue of police officers, I tell my hon. Friend the Minister that my borough commander, Mike Humphrey, is very much of the view that the increased payment for police officers in London, and the free travel to be introduced next month, will greatly aid recruitment and retention.
We cannot, however, reduce this debate to simple numbers. As I said, it will never be possible to arrest all who are involved in antisocial behaviour, regardless of what powers or penalties we have. That is why the rest of the Government's initiatives on youth offending are so important and why local partnerships are crucial too.
In Lewisham, the arrest-to-charge target of two days and the first court appearance target of seven days have been met in 84 per cent. of cases, and that is a very considerable achievement. However, it should be seen alongside the many new and imaginative programmes that never existed before the Government were elected. I think that Lewisham was even ahead of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in targeting mobile telephone crime. We have a special scheme whereby people are encouraged 77 to protect their telephones by recording the IMEI—international mobile equipment identity—number which is unique to every telephone. That programme has gone to our primary and secondary schools and our local colleges.
Additionally, 10 schools have been targeted with theatre workshops that help children to define robbery and bullying, to consider their legal and social consequences, and to help them to judge their peers and to attempt to modify their own behaviour. The programme is enormously important, and it is to be properly tested so that, when it is in operation, measurements of street crime and bullying will be taken within a half-mile radius of schools participating in the programme.
We are also grateful to my right hon. Friend for selecting Lewisham borough as a pilot for testing the effect of restorative justice on reducing offending by young individuals. Young people will be confronted with their actions and made to realise the consequences of their crime, both for their victims and for the wider community. It is a pilot, building on an already successful scheme that has involved 40 people in the past year in making some type of reparation.
Finally, I should like to say a few words on the issue of new measures to close down licensed premises. In the past year, I have been dealing with some very serious nuisances at two public houses in my constituency. Both premises are in entirely residential areas where their large back gardens abut the gardens of many neighbours.
As we all know, today's pubs are completely different from the drinking places that were established many years ago. I am speaking about Victorian and Edwardian terraces and public houses. Today, amplified music and eating and drinking outdoors, which are associated with licensed premises, have become a major problem to many of the people living around those areas. I am told by residents that, in the summer, they cannot hear themselves speak indoors because of the noise. They also cannot go into their gardens because of the noise, the bad behaviour, the bad language and the quantities of food that are consumed—with the associated smells—and even thrown into their own gardens.
The problem has become a nightmare for very many people in my constituency. Many of them thought that, come winter, the nightmare would end, but for the advent of outdoor heaters and new year's day barbecues in Deptford. It has become a very serious problem. A great deal of drunkenness and riotous behaviour are occurring in just a few of our public houses and in the surrounds of those buildings; and they have to be dealt with. It is utterly unacceptable to us that the rights of those who run public houses and the rights of those who seek to enjoy themselves should have more sway than those of the hapless victims who are the neighbours of those licensed premises.
I join my right. hon. and hon. Friends in welcoming the Bill, which gives us new opportunities to build on the highly successful crime and disorder partnerships that have brought new hope of crime reduction and reduction in antisocial behaviour to so many of our local communities.
§ Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)
I begin by declaring an interest, as always, as a recorder of the Crown court, an acting deputy district judge in the magistrates courts, and a solicitor.
78 It would be very churlish of me not to wish the Bill well. It is well intentioned. However, it is also rather feeble. We have to consider it against the backcloth of the current situation in the world of crime and the world of law and order. We have decreasing police numbers and a collapse in police morale in many parts of the United Kingdom. Gun crime is at its highest for seven years, with 42 deaths from 4,000 incidents last year involving handguns. That just proves to all of us, if we did not know it, that gun legislation was a mistake.
We have a massive increase in violent crime. In many areas, robbery—much of it street robbery—has increased by more than 20 per cent., especially among under-18s. Additionally, drug-related crime—which is committed to finance a heroin or cocaine addiction—is increasing relentlessly.
I therefore looked forward with some interest to the Government's flagship crime Bill, which is possibly the seventh such Bill that we have had in the past three and a half years. However, I was very disappointed when I read the Bill's opening provisions. Speaking from a practitioner's point of view, I am bound to say that, although the provisions on penalty offences may be well intentioned, they have not been thought through and they will consequently be ineffective.
I should like to focus on clause 1, which is annotated in the Bill as dealing withOffences leading to penalties on the spot".However, that is the first inaccuracy, because the penalties are payable not on the spot, but at a later stage.
The clause then describes a motley collection of about one dozen offences, from the very minor—such as being drunk in a highway—to very serious public order offences. Apparently all the offences qualify, at a policeman' s discretion, for a so-called penalty ticket. Goodness knows who dreamed up and drafted the Bill's penalty-notice provisions. Whoever it was, I suggest that he or she knows not a great deal about the criminal law and even less about the real world of crime, criminals and the courts in the United Kingdom. I suspect that it was someone who rarely steps out of his or her closeted office in Whitehall.
The truth is that the proposals are cumbersome and fraught with difficulty. A great deal more work needs to be done on them. I share the view of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—who really does know what he is talking about on so many of these issues—that prior consultation on the provisions would have been so helpful.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
It has been made clear—perhaps it should be made clearer—that there was full consultation on the Bill. The precise list of offences that was drawn up came as a result of representations from precisely the organisations the hon. Gentleman is talking about, and was not drawn up in any ivory tower.
§ Mr. Malins
I have not mentioned any organisations. I wonder whether the stipendiary bench, the Crown court judges or the solicitors who practice in the criminal courts were consulted.
I wish to set out a few problem areas to which insufficient thought has been given. The penalty notice provisions apply only to somebody over 18, but most of 79 the offences under the clause are much more likely to be committed by persons under 18, who are completely exempt from the provisions of the Bill. Why is that? Is it sensible?
Who selected these particular twelve offences, and on what basis? They vary from the not so serious to the very serious. Wasting police time is a serious offence under the Criminal Law Act 1967 and, rightly, carries up to six months in custody. In what circumstances should a policeman merely issue a ticket for such a serious offence? Likewise, under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1967, threatening behaviour is another offence which can be minor or really quite serious.
The Minister ought to focus on the age problem. Take this example. A constable sees two persons trespassing on the railway, which is a penalty ticket offence. One looks over 18, but is not. The other is over 18, but does not look it. What does the constable do? Can he demand proof of age? Is the constable to make up his or her mind? What if a constable gives a ticket to someone whom he believes to be under 18, only to discover that the person is not? Would what the lawyers call an estoppel operate, preventing a charge being brought against that youngster? That is a serious issue, given that someone receiving a penalty ticket and paying it quickly completely escapes a criminal conviction.
Here is another example. A known 17-year-old and a known 19-year-old are jointly sending telephone messages to cause annoyance, which is another penalty offence. How fair is it for the 19-year-old to escape without conviction because he pays a penalty, while the 17-year-old inevitably gets a criminal record for the same activity?
How many penalty notices can be acquired before a person is brought to court? Is there any provision in terms of building up a record of notices? We have no idea under the Bill what the financial penalty will be. We are told that there is to be a certain maximum, but no guidance is given. Can the Minister help? Does the police officer issuing the penalty have any discretion as to the amount? That is a most important question.
§ Dr. Ladyman
My reading of the Bill suggests that the constable has the option of taking the individual back to the police station before issuing the penalty notice, so such matters could be determined there. Also, the constable has the option of not giving the penalty notice, but proceeding with a court action in the usual way.
The hon. Gentleman is right; perhaps the constable has too much discretion. If he has discretion as to the amount of the penalty that he can give on the spot—despite his other possibilities—there will be a problem as to how he accurately assesses the offender's means. Is it wise for him to be allowed, in effect, to take powers of judicial discretion? Or is the penalty absolutely fixed for every single offender?
We must remember that public order offences cover a wide spectrum of behaviour and in court would command widely differing fines, depending on the facts. If the penalty were fixed, it could be much too high or much too low for particular offenders. Offenders of different means would be severely affected. Courts always take into 80 account the defendant's means before fixing a fine and they give poor defendants time to pay. if a poor offender were given a penalty notice without being given time to pay, that might be grossly unfair. A poor offender who could not pay within 21 days would have to go to court and get a conviction, merely because of his poverty.
As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, collection of the penalties will be difficult in the courts around London. It is worth remembering that most of the offences that come before me in the London courts are committed by those who are on benefits, out of work and without a bean in their pocket. It should not be imagined that we have courts filled with queues of defendants wearing smart suits. Our courts are full of people who are on the breadline. How are they treated by the Bill? Do they get the same fixed penalty? Who makes the decision?
Where does a fixed penalty stand in relation to a caution? Is it to be recordable? Will magistrates be told in later court proceedings about previous fixed penalties? Would not a formal caution have a greater deterrent effect than a fixed penalty, especially if the offender denied the offence but did not bother to ask for a trial? He would then get a fine registered against him, which he would ignore because he does not believe it to be fair.
Furthermore, there will be pressure on people to pay the penalty to avoid having a trial and the risk of conviction and a criminal record. It is manifestly wrong to put pressure on people in this way. A penalty does not amount to a criminal record; the Bill makes it clear that the person concerned shall escape conviction. However, poorer people are disadvantaged by their inability to pay up whatever is demanded within the time demanded.
If the Minister cannot deal with my questions, I would ask him to ask his officials to draft some answers and let me have a full response. People are entitled to answers to these genuine questions. How can a person who fails to request a trial within the time limit avoid the penalty plus 50 per cent? He may have been ill or have had an accident; there are all kinds of possibilities. This could be yet another fine mess for the courts to sort out.
I am worried about the burdens on the police. Clause 3 talks about the notice that had to be served. Can anyone imagine a policeman in the street issuing to some potential offender a notice stating the offences, giving the particulars of the circumstances, specifying the suspended enforcement period, stating the amount of the penalty, stating the justice's chief executive to whom it should be paid—I need not go on. I say to anyone who believes that that will happen on the streets of London, or any other city, with any effect: get real.
The provisions on licensed premises seek to impose a reverse burden of proof on the defendant. That seems to be open to challenge by the European Court of Human Rights, as indeed may be the concept of travel restrictions on drug traffickers who have completed their sentences.
Many things that the Government have tried have been well intentioned. Antisocial behaviour orders were well intentioned, but they have failed. Drug treatment and testing orders were well intentioned but—particularly in the Gloucester experiment—they have failed too. I fear that many of the provisions in the Bill are well intentioned, but will have no real impact on the amount of street crime in this country.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. I remind hon. Members that the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches applies from now until 9.30.
§ Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)
As I have just caught the 10-minute limit, my contribution will be a little shorter than it would have been—but perhaps it will be the better for that.
Liverpool is one of the safest cities in the country. The fact that I can say that so confidently is a tribute to the people of the city, to Merseyside police and to the other partners in the local crime reduction partnerships. It is no surprise that the crime reduction partnerships are known as Citysafe, because we are proclaiming something of which we are all very proud.
Since the election of the Labour Government, there has been a 2.5 per cent. fall in recorded crime, with especially large falls in domestic burglary and robbery, although there have been increases in certain other crimes, and I want to concentrate on those. The city of Liverpool has pioneered the use of antisocial behaviour orders, with a concentration on youth disorder and low-level disruptive criminal behaviour.
For two and a half years, we have had a central antisocial behaviour unit in Liverpool, in which expertise has been gathered and through which cases have been taken to court. One of the first antisocial behaviour orders was made in Liverpool. When orders have been obtained, they have been relatively successful, in that serious problems of antisocial behaviour have been dealt with, but a difficulty has developed over the past couple of years, and in particular over the past six months, as the local authority has allowed staffing levels at the unit to fall, partly because it took its eye off the ball and froze the posts when staff left. That has now changed, and recruitment is going ahead.
The crime reduction partnerships, the city council and the police have established protocols that mean that all serious cases of antisocial behaviour have to be routed through the antisocial behaviour unit. The problem with that is the one that we had in Liverpool before the orders were available or the unit was set up: the local police and housing officers can pass the cases on to somebody else. It is not appropriate for every case to be passed to a central unit: serious cases should be dealt with at such a unit, where the expertise, the lawyers and the enforcement officers are available to deal with them, but I have always viewed the orders as a tool of early intervention rather than a weapon of last resort, and I am very much afraid that in Liverpool they are becoming a weapon of last resort.
In a recent article in the Liverpool Echo, the councillor responsible for the antisocial behaviour unit said:We try to do all sorts of things before we serve an ASBO. We only go to court if we have no alternative.To me, that is a misunderstanding of the nature and aim of the orders, and I have been doing my bit to try to persuade people that it is more appropriate in more minor cases—which are none the less serious to neighbours who are badly affected—for the local chief inspectors and housing officers to go to the magistrates court and obtain 82 the orders, without having to bother the central unit. I would like the city council and the police to co-operate in making that a reality.
The Bill contains provisions for police training. It is a shame that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is no longer here, because she and I have been developing a dialogue about the importance of police numbers. In Liverpool, police numbers have gradually, gently fallen over the past 10 years—the fall has now stabilised, and there is a planned increase—yet over that period, and especially over the past three or four years, crime has fallen. Increased police numbers do not necessarily reduce crime. I want to discuss why that is, and what the police can do to make themselves more effective.
In the Merseyside police area, in an experiment in Knowsley—it is not in my constituency, but it is close by—a reorganisation of community policing has led to a 71 per cent. fall in youth nuisance. The experiment was dreamed up by a superintendent and a local chief inspector. There is a permanent police presence. The local officers stay in the area and get to be known by everyone there; there is a response team for emergencies; and a problem-solving approach is taken. It has been remarkably successful. In April, Merseyside police plan to reorganise all their community policing in that way. I think that that will be tremendously effective, and I congratulate them.
There are still problems in Merseyside police, however, that mean that a lot of resources are wasted that could be used to deal with low-level disorder and youth crime, which is the type of crime that upsets my constituents the most and adds to the impression that crime is increasing, when in fact it is decreasing.
Over the previous year, the wages of suspended officers cost the Merseyside police £320,000. The police cannot always deal with the cases of suspended officers as quickly as they might like—because of court cases, for instance—but two of the suspended officers had been on suspension for more than two years.
Suspensions are not the only problem: there are sickness and disciplinary matters. I was approached by a constituent who is a female detective constable who joined the force in January 1978. After 20 years of exemplary service, she was forced to go sick in August 1997, following what can only be described as bullying, sex discrimination and harassment. The grievance that she registered shortly thereafter was resolved only late last year.
The investigating officers retired, witnesses suddenly found that they themselves were under investigation, and there were medical retirements—all of which cost money and made the case drag on for three years. My constituent is unlikely to be able to return to work, while the officers who subjected her to bullying and intimidation have not even received words of advice. That is not acceptable in the modern police service.
In a 1999 Merseyside police staff survey, 17 per cent. of police officers said that they had been bullied in the previous year; 59 per cent. had experienced some form of harassment; 4 per cent. had considered leaving the service as a result of sexual, racial or homophobic harassment; and a further 18 per cent. had considered leaving as a result of another form of harassment.
83 Those figures are shocking. They show that good forces such as Merseyside police have serious internal management problems and problems of dealing with bullying and harassment that are costing the police, and therefore the taxpayer, hundreds of thousands of pounds a year that could be better directed to dealing with antisocial behaviour on our streets.
That is why I sometimes disagree with the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald that increasing police numbers is the answer. I would like more police to be recruited in Liverpool, but I want them to do a job for the people of Liverpool, not to spend their time bullying each other, being suspended or being off sick because of what other officers have done, and not being able to provide the service that they should.
Merseyside police are changing in a good way. They are seriously considering changing the way in which they police our communities. That is necessary, but there is more to do and I hope that they will do it. I want Liverpool city council and the local police to be more proactive in implementing antisocial behaviour orders, taking such cases to court and dealing with those matters as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)
I shall be brief because I want to make only two points, either of which could have been made in an intervention. Although the Home Secretary was generous with his time, he obviously wished to proceed with his speech and I was unable to intervene on him. I hope that the Minister will consider the two points in his winding-up speech.
I welcome the fact that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have decided not to vote against Second Reading, but my first point is that any good in the Bill is likely to be negated in my county of Hampshire. The Minister will be familiar with the argument about that, but I want briefly to bring it to his attention again.
The chief constable of Hampshire readily talks about a crisis in police numbers in the county. It arises from peculiar circumstances. The Government have provided funding for extra police in Hampshire this year, next year and the following year, but our problem is difficulty in recruiting. The crisis is such that the 62 places for which we hoped to recruit this year remain unfilled, and the police authority has approached the Home Office for permission to defer recruiting for those numbers until next year.
If we take normal wastage into account, Hampshire faces the problem of trying to recruit 300 officers. We fear that that cannot be achieved, and that any merits in the Bill and other comparable measures will be negated by the shortage of police numbers. The root of the problem is that police forces in counties such as Hampshire are simply uncompetitive. In places of high employment, high housing costs and relatively high salaries, the starting conditions in the police force are uncompetitive. I urge the Minister to consider that seriously.
Attention has already been drawn to the harassment and intimidation by animal rights extremists of scientists and others involved in medical tests. I welcome the Government's intention to introduce new powers to tackle 84 that serious problem. I want to make one point that relates to an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I hope that the Government's intentions will be framed in measures that are not selective. Immediate attention is focused on the harassment and intimidation of those involved in medical tests on animals, but they are by no means the only people who are targeted. If I remember correctly, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) referred to the intimidation of scientists whose work relates to nuclear energy or genetically modified food. I hope that the Government will ensure that the measures are not selective and that they will apply to all those who may be affected.
I appreciate that the subject is controversial, but I want to refer to one specific category—the organised harassment and intimidation of those involved in the fur trade and fur retailing. The Home Office knows about the problem through correspondence and meetings with the victims of animal terrorists. The Minister has had several meetings and corresponded with representatives of the British Fur Trade Association, whose anxieties are real. Every act of violence and harassment that is perpetrated against those who work in animal testing laboratories has also been suffered by those who work in the fur trade. I hope that the Minister will consider that long-running problem and ensure that the Government's measures will also be effective for the fur trade.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in the debate. I want to concentrate on the Bill's provisions for combating crime and disorder. In an earlier intervention, I mentioned that some of my constituents work at Huntingdon Life Sciences, although the company is in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I want to consider the harassment and intimidation suffered not only by the workers and shareholders of that company, but by other scientists who work with animals.
There may be more medical research staff in Cambridge than in any other constituency in the United Kingdom. They do valuable work, which enables us to find drugs that alleviate suffering from crippling diseases and helps us to make progress in many other spheres. For many years, Huntingdon Life Sciences has tested drugs and chemicals. Such testing is required by law. I wish that we could test drugs in other ways, without using animals. New methods are becoming available, but the law currently requires drugs to be tested on animals before they are used on humans. I do not believe that there is much choice about the matter. If a new drug is not tested on animals, it must initially be tested on humans. It is difficult to convey that message to some animal rights protesters.
I am pleased about our progress in the past three years on the use of animals in scientific procedures. There have been recent developments, and the Home Office has an excellent website that promotes the three Rs. They are:reducing the number of animals used, refining procedures to minimise suffering and replacing animal use.There will be an end to testing cosmetics, tobacco or alcohol products on animals. Animals will not be used to develop or test offensive weapons, and the use of great apes, gorillas, chimpanzees, pygmy chimpanzees and 85 orang-utans will not be authorised. A great deal of progress has therefore already been made. I hope that animal rights protesters will listen to my comments and to those of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, who gave an excellent description of the stringent precautions that are taken to safeguard animals in testing.
Despite those comments, many of my constituents believe that animal testing is wrong. One lady, who speaks to me regularly, declares that she will refuse drugs because she does not want animals to die so that she can be cured. That is a consistent position, which I respect, although I do not share it. Many others believe that drugs should not be tested on animals, and they protest against the use of animals in tests although they take the drugs that have been developed as a result. I do not condemn that group of people, as long as their protests are peaceful. I believe that everyone has a right to make their opinions known, even if their behaviour is inconsistent. Whatever amendments are made to the Bill, we should ensure the preservation of the right to peaceful protest.
However, the people whom we are discussing are the others; those who use harassment and intimidation to force their views on workers and shareholders at Huntingdon Life Sciences and other scientific research establishments. I should like the Bill to tackle the activities of that group. It is wholly unacceptable for people who work within the law, carrying out work that is required by Government, to be subject to the harassment that they currently suffer.
In this financial year, Cambridge police authority has spent £2.6 million on policing demonstrations by animal rights protesters. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently authorised a special payment to Cambridgeshire police and I have received a letter from the chief constable of Cambridgeshire that expresses his gratitude for the extra resources.
I should like to thank the officers of Cambridgeshire police who have been almost unbearably stretched in the past few months. Leave has often had to be cancelled at short notice. The demonstrations have not been easy to police and officers have become involved in ugly incidents as tempers have frayed. Officers have policed those demonstrations extremely well, although many more of them suffer stress and illness as a result of constantly working with insufficient breaks.
At present, the Bill does not offer much protection from the activities of animal rights protesters, so I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to introduce amendments to make such activities illegal. For instance, at present, it is not illegal for protesters to demonstrate outside the homes of people whom they decide to target. During the past few weeks, that has happened to some of my constituents. In one case, the protesters believed—mistakenly—that one of the companies of which my constituent is a director is a customer of Huntingdon Life Sciences. That is not true, but even if it were, my constituents should not have to suffer harassment and intimidation in their home.
Not only scientists are being targeted. Protesters have obtained the names and addresses of shareholders in Huntingdon Life Sciences. Last year, a group of members of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection—calling themselves the BUAV reform group—wrote to 1,700 individuals who hold shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences. The letter stated that, from 5 April onwards, 86 the group would start to hold 24-hour demonstrations outside shareholders' homes unless they sold their shares by 3 April and sent the reform group a copy of the contract note. That is appalling.
As a result, the share price of Huntingdon Life Sciences collapsed. That is one of the reasons why the organisation had so much difficulty in raising the finance to continue. Surely, such practices are wholly unacceptable. People should not be intimidated such that they feel that they have to sell their shares. We need to introduce legislation urgently. The legislation should allow company directors and shareholders to use service addresses to prevent activists from obtaining their home addresses.
It is not only demonstrations outside the homes of scientists and shareholders that cause anxiety. My constituents have suffered from abusive telephone calls, abusive letters, cards, leaflets and graffiti, and posters and stickers on their homes and cars and around the area in which they live. They have also suffered from abusive telephone calls to their relatives, friends and even to their children's schools. Some have been threatened by telephone and letter. A few months ago, cars were fire-bombed in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon.
The law should clearly define what peaceful protest is. It should be an offence to protest in an intimidatory manner. Shouting abuse and veiled threats, such as, "We know where you live", are unacceptable.
I understand that the extremists have turned their attention to some of the large drug companies that use Huntingdon Life Sciences—one of which is Glaxo Wellcome. The world is a large place, and if companies experience harassment and intimidation, they will simply move to another country. I am concerned that those extremist protesters will drive medical research abroad. That is ironic indeed, because we have the best regulated research in the world. Less distress is caused to animals in this country than in any other. If the animal rights protesters are successful in their aims, that will result in more distress—not less—and we in Britain will have lost an extremely valuable facility that is important for human health and for the quality of life.
I conclude by reading a paragraph from a letter from one of my constituents. He writes:We have the most effective legislation in the world to protect experimental animals from undue suffering. It would be ironic if the animal right groups force UK research to take place in another country where the protection for laboratory animals is not as good as in this country. It would also be an economic disaster for the UK if pharmaceutical and biotech companies move their research abroad as a result of increasing difficulties in pursuing animal research in this country.I could not agree more.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
For a number of years, my father was research secretary of the British Tuberculosis Association. I entirely agree with everything that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) has just said. I hope that one thing that emerges from this debate is the united voice of the House telling some people that the demonstrations and behaviour in which they engage are not acceptable in a mature, democratic society.
That is where my consensus politics finish, however. At the previous general election, Labour candidates in my constituency and in other constituencies went around with 87 pledge cards—rather like blood donor cards. There were several pledges on the cards, described as early promises. My electors thought that was because they would be delivered early. However, we discovered that it was because they were promises that had been made early in the election campaign.
The promises were pretty modest. The crime promise was not that Labour would increase police numbers or reduce crime, but a modest pledge that it would reduce the time between the arrest and sentencing of young offenders. That pledge—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) scowls, but it was an extremely modest pledge and her party has not managed to deliver it. I suspect that many people in Lincoln and in other constituencies will produce those pledge cards at the next general election and ask why the Labour Government have not delivered that pledge.
The Government realise that as they are approaching a general election they need to be seen to be doing something about crime. This measure is very much a "We are approaching a general election and we need to be seen to be doing something about crime" Bill. I say that because if we consider the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we would be entitled to describe it as a "We have just been elected and we need to be seen to be doing something about crime" Bill.
The first part of that Act deals with antisocial behaviour orders. I wholly agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) who said that those orders seem to be being used only as a last resort. Since their introduction, they have been used on only two occasions in the whole Thames valley area.
Since the debates on the Queen's Speech, I have done some research on that matter. Everyone tries to blame someone else. Magistrates express their concern that human rights legislation would mean that they could not introduce ASBOs. They say that if the police and local authorities had proposed ASBOs, they would have considered such cases on their merits. The chief constable of the Thames Valley force, Sir Charles Pollard, tells me that the police find the use of ASBOs difficult because of the needto prove that there is a pattern of behaviour which continues over a period of time and which cannot be dealt with adequately by the prosecution of those concerned for a single one-off incident or criminal act … the above requirement, plus the cumbersome evidential requirements that are inevitable whenever an adversarial judicial process is used to resolve a social problem, mean that ASBOs are not likely to be the preferred option when alternatives exist.We are entitled to point out to the Government that the 1998 Act is a dead-letter for my constituents—it simply does not work. As the chief constable acknowledges:in Thames Valley Police area or elsewhere, there remain a significant number of people who have the effect of actively degrading the safety, environment and confidence of the immediate vicinity of where they live. Many but not all of these people are young.In his speech, the Home Secretary said that the Bill would bear down on yobbish behaviour. However, if legislation already introduced by the Government fails to bear down on such behaviour and is a dead-letter because the police and local authorities are not using it, what hope is there that the provisions in the Bill will be implemented?
88 I suspect that one reason why the police and local authorities do not use ASBOs is that they have to pay for the orders. The Crown Prosecution Service has no role. If a prosecution is brought for other offences, the CPS has a budget to pay for it. There is still some confusion about who bears the cost of bringing cases involving antisocial behaviour orders before the courts and about who bears the cost if there is an appeal. ASBOs are not being obtained, and the Government are sadly neglecting other aspects of the youth justice system.
This week, I received a letter from the clerk to the Oxfordshire magistrates that makes rather sad reading. She tells me that on 19 January—just 10 days ago—the magistrates considered an application by Oxfordshire County Council, for an order, in accordance with S25 Children Act 1989, authorising them to keep a fifteen year old boy in Secure Accommodation.The court was told that the boy, who turned fifteen last November, had been voluntarily accommodated at a local children's home since 8th January. However, as he regularly absconded from the children's home in order to obtain illegal drugs it was feared he would suffer significant harm unless he could be contained.In addition, the boy was at risk of causing himself serious harm, having, on 16th January, repeatedly run headlong at a wall and later attempted to hang himself using an electric flex.Information provided to the court confirmed that the boy used a variety of drugs, including heroin which he injected intravenously. As he was known to share needles doctors recommended he urgently needed a medial examination and to be screened for communicable diseases.In the absence of any authority to restrain the boy he had absconded from the children's home on a daily basis often being returned to the home by the police. More than once he has been found staggering along the street in a distressed state with blood dripping down his arms from intravenous drugs use.After contacting over fifty residential rehabilitation centres, social workers had identified only one centre in the whole country that was prepared to take a person aged under sixteen. This establishment is in Lincolnshire and will not have a bed available until March 2001.In the interim period the Oxfordshire County Council sought an order enabling them to hold the boy in Secure Accommodation. This order was granted by the Magistrates who were then horrified to learn that there was currently no bed available in a secure unit anywhere in the country. Social workers therefore had no alternative but to return the boy to the children's home until a bed becomes available.There is little point in the Government introducing further measures to deal with young people if comparatively recent legislation simply is not working. It is pointless introducing legislation on curfews if no curfew order has yet been implemented. There seems to be no suggestion that local authorities are keen to introduce curfews. Indeed, all the representations that I have received from local authorities state that they have considerable reservations about introducing curfews.
Although some parts of the Bill may well be worth while and commendable, the Government have to accept that there is considerable skepticism—
§ Mr. Baldry
There is considerable scepticism and cynicism. People living in the constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House are sceptical and cynical about the fact that the Government have been prolific in introducing measures, spinning them and talking about flagship legislation. However, until people 89 can see things happening on the ground and local residents can see that the tearaways, teenagers and young thugs who daily make their lives a misery are being dealt with, they will believe that all such legislation is simply spin and no substance.
§ Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. The Bill contains many measures that will be widely welcomed and which many people think are long overdue, such as making kerb crawling and hit-and-run driving arrestable offences. Much has been said about animal rights activities, and it is important to recognise that it is not just the laboratories that have been, and are, under attack by animal rights demonstrators.
There is a guinea-pig farm on the border of my constituency and the activities of animal rights demonstrators has been causing great concern to some of my constituents. I acknowledge that many people sincerely hold the view that there should be no animal experimentation whatever—a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). I am sure that we all look forward to the day when such experiments are no longer necessary. It is a fundamental right of citizens to take part in peaceful protests, but it cannot be right that people are terrorised in their own homes.
In my constituency, as in other parts of the country, demonstrators have targeted the homes of those connected with animal rearing and testing establishments. They live in continual fear, and it is not only those who have such connections who are affected—the neighbours of employees, contractors and sometimes whole streets of people have their lives disrupted.
I received a letter from a young father, who said:Today is Christmas day and I have just spent the last two hours playing outside in the street with my three children on their new bicycles. A nice picture … except for the fact that a dozen Animal Rights protesters joined us and about the same number of Police officers.My constituent went on to say:My children demand the protection that I as a father should give. We have the choice to live in a quiet cul de sac and we have the right to freedom of movement. At this moment in time we do not have this.The farmer and his neighbours suffer from the protesters' actions. During most of last Saturday night, they had to listen to large explosions that took place on their land. Those explosions were not only frightening to humans, but, I suspect, were pretty frightening to guinea-pigs and other animals as well, yet it does not enter the heads of the animal rights protesters that they might be harming the animals that they are protesting about.
I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he will consider amending the Bill to try to introduce measures that will give the police the powers so that the lives of people, such as my constituents, will not be blighted by threats, intimidation and fear.
I turn now to other proposals in the Bill. It is right to give the police extra powers to tackle disorder in public places. However, it is important that in proposing to raise the age involved in the child curfew scheme and tackling the yob culture, we remember that we are talking about 90 measures to tackle a problem caused by a very small minority of young people. It is important to remember that most young people today, and in any generation, are great. They are enthusiastic, caring, law-abiding members of society and, too often, wrongly condemned by some older people. However, today's young people have more pressures on them. The availability on our streets of alcohol and drugs has increased over the years.
I welcome the proposals to tackle under-age drinking, but we need to continue to consider the level of excise duty on alcohol, not only because I represent the capital of brewing, but because of the effect on our young people of the sale of illegally imported alcohol. Most young people are well behaved, and we should listen to them and try to meet their needs, but a small minority cause intolerable disruption. The Bill will give extra powers to the police to address the problems that can wreak havoc on local neighbourhoods.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said, the extension of curfews could help parents to support their children when the parents may be in despair because their offspring will not accept their care and advice. I hope that they will find the backing of curfew orders helpful.
The Bill contains good proposals to make the licensing laws more effective. Several hon. Members have mentioned the crime figures. We sometimes think that violent crime affects only the elderly. They are certainly frightened about the crime statistics, especially when we talk about increases in violent crime. It is important to recognise that most violent crime is perpetrated by one young person, usually male, on another. I hope that the measures to tackle the excessive consumption of alcohol will have an impact on that violent crime.
In supporting the Bill, including the proposals to tidy up and strengthen laws relating to alcohol abuse, I hope that, in the near future, legislation will be introduced to modernise fully our rather antiquated licensing laws.
§ Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)
I support the specific provision in the Bill that relates to the handling of DNA samples collected as part of a mass screening inquiry.
I raise this issue because of a constituency case that I brought before the House in an Adjournment debate on 10 March 1999. It was about my constituents, Robert and Gill Smith and their late daughter, Louise. To put it briefly, Louise left home on the Christmas eve of 1995 to go with her friends to a local night club, and she never came back. On Christmas day, her family reported to the police that she had not returned home and a long investigation followed.
There was a mass search for Louise's body and it was eventually found eight weeks later. A DNA sample was taken and the police were faced with the task of trying to match that sample as part of their inquiry. The largest mass screening that had ever been undertaken began and, by the following April, 400 tests had been carried out on local young men. By November, the figure had reached 2,000 and, by the following Easter, it had reached 4,500. Eventually, along with other elements of proof, the DNA match enabled the killer to be identified and he was convicted of this dreadful crime. As the Home Secretary suggested earlier, the DNA was also used to clear the innocent early in the inquiry and to ensure that the police were not diverted down a false avenue.
91 However, the family were disturbed to learn that those 4,500 samples could not be retained even if those who had given them wanted them to be kept because the police were obliged to destroy the samples. I wish to explain the scale of the effort involved. The samples were collected over 16 months. The estimated cost of collecting and analysing each swab is a little under £40. If we add to that the costs of cameras, film, cool boxes and other items, the whole inquiry involved about £250,000 of police expenditure. It also involved the expenditure of police time and the time of the volunteers who gave the samples and who in most cases would probably not have had any problem if the samples had been retained with their informed consent.
Louise's parents came to me about the issue and they were determined that something positive should emerge out of something so dreadful. They launched a petition with the aid of a local newspaper, The Gazette, and my support, and it was not an easy campaign to run. It is easy to obtain signatures against a proposal to shut a hospital, but it was difficult to explain the complexities of this issue given the intense personal pain that the family felt. They stood out in shopping centres, explaining to passers by why the campaign was necessary, and they accumulated nearly 10,000 signatures on a petition that I presented to the House in March 1999.
The following day I had the Adjournment debate to which I referred earlier and to which the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), responded. He was very generous in giving time to the family that day and they very much appreciated that. He assured us then that legislation would be forthcoming on this issue, and I am pleased to welcome the fact that the promise has been honoured in clause 81.
I have looked at the Bill and the Library's notes on it and would like clarification on one point. When the Home Office consulted on this issue in July 1999, it said:The police believe that amendment of section 64"—of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—to permit the retention of samples, and the DNA profiles derived from samples, for use in future investigations would be mutually beneficial as volunteers would need to approached … on only one occasion.Such an approach would also be beneficial to the police.
The consultation document added:The practicalities … would need to be considered but clearly appropriate safeguards would be required to ensure, as a minimum, that samples were indeed being given and retained voluntarily".That point is covered in the Bill, but the consultation document also refers to the need to ensure thatthe right to withdraw consent at any time was available.That was the Home Office's view in the summer of 1999, and safeguards are valuable in ensuring that the people providing the samples willingly give consent. We want them to provide samples and they are more likely to do that if there are safeguards on the giving of consent. The Home Office rightly said that they would be able to withdraw their consent if, for example, they feel uncertain about the use of the sample or another reason.
People who are told that, if they give a sample they will never be able to revoke their consent, are less likely to consent in the first place. We want them to consent, 92 so I agree with the position that the Home Office took in July 1999. However, clause 81 suggests that consent, once given, can never be revoked. When the Minister sums up, will he comment on why there has been that change in approach?
I do not want to detract from the warm welcome that I give to the fact that the Government have introduced the specific provision to deal with DNA samples and mass screening in which consent can be voluntarily given. I welcome the fact that the Government have honoured their promise to introduce such a change in the law.
§ Miss Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale)
Over the past three and a half years, the Government and the police working together have undoubtedly had a considerable measure of success in bringing about significant reductions in those crimes that affect ordinary people most—domestic burglary and car crime. Domestic burglary has fallen by 28 per cent. since the general election, and car crime by 20 per cent. In my constituency, the reductions in the levels of these crimes have been far more impressive, and are well above the national average. I therefore place on record my sincere thanks to Chief Superintendent Stuart Kirby for the superb job that he and his officers do in tackling crime throughout the Morecambe and Lancaster area.
Despite the fact that overall crime has fallen by 7 per cent. nationally since 1997, crime, the fear of crime and violence and disorderly conduct remain a matter of grave concern to me and many of my constituents. I therefore welcome many of the measures in the Bill, because they provide the police with an additional range of tools that will greatly assist them in carrying out their extremely difficult and dangerous task of protecting the public from criminal activity and bringing those who transgress the law to justice.
The introduction of fixed-penalty notices for offences, such as drunken and disorderly behaviour, will provide an imaginative option for the police to deal more effectively with the yobbish behaviour that pervades our towns and cities particularly at the weekends and on Saturday night. The further measures to combat alcohol-related disorder are also most welcome. The ability of the police immediately to close down disorderly licensed premises will prove a potent weapon in dealing with those establishments that are notorious for violent, drunken and loutish behaviour.
The measures that will allow local authorities to prevent the consumption of alcohol in inappropriate public places will certainly receive widespread public support in my constituency, where we faced a problem with drinking in public places. It took about seven years to introduce a byelaw to stop it happening. These measures will speed things up and will enable action to be taken more quickly. I also welcome the toughening up of the law relating to the sale of alcohol to young people under the age of 18.
Further measures to combat crime in this wide-ranging Bill—such as the travel restrictions on drugs traffickers, the measures to prevent the intimidation of witnesses, child curfew schemes, the police's additional powers of seizure, new powers of arrest and detention and the new procedures relating to the taking and retention of DNA samples and fingerprints—all have the common aim of 93 strengthening the position of the police and other law-enforcement agencies in their continual battle against crime. As such, they should be welcomed by both sides of the House.
However, the full potential of the measures in the Bill will undoubtedly not be realised unless they are accompanied by substantial increases in police numbers.
The public's confidence in the ability of the police to win the war against crime will not be restored until the police are able to provide a regular, high profile and visible presence on the streets of our towns and cities, particularly in the evenings and at night. There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority in my constituency feel it essential to have more police on the beat. I make no apology to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for saying that I entirely support that view.
Having said that, unlike Conservative Members, who try to give the impression that everything on law and order was fine when they were in power, I do not seek to lay blame on this Government for the situation that they inherited from their predecessors. It is a fact that, in common with the rest of our public services, the police suffered underinvestment under the Tories, and as a result police numbers have steadily declined since 1993.
§ Miss Smith
One can say many things with statistics. This Government are committed to additional funding over the next three years—huge Home Office spending. Will the hon. Gentleman intervene to tell me whether his party will match that spending if elected?
§ Miss Smith
I am not quite sure whether that was a yes or a no.
If, when they came to power, the Government had been faced only with finding additional resources to fund extra police, I would have demanded that it be made available immediately. However, as all Labour Members know, as do the public, when the Conservatives left office in 1997, virtually all our public services were in crisis and the national debt was spiralling out of control. Such was the Tory legacy. In case Conservative Members should delude themselves that people have forgotten their miserable record on public services, let me assure them that they have not. If any should do so, we shall certainly remind them. Given such a background, the Government's tardiness in dealing with the issue of police numbers is, if not acceptable, at least clearly understandable.
Virtually everyone agrees that those who commit crimes should be caught, convicted and punished appropriately, but what people really want is not to be a victim of crime in the first place. Extra police on the streets can play a vital part in a cohesive crime prevention strategy. Apart from the physical deterrent of a visible 94 police presence, the intelligence gleaned by police patrolling on foot cannot be replicated by officers sitting in vehicles patrolling huge areas.
Even if accompanied by a substantial increase in the number of police on the beat, the measures in the Bill are by no means all that needs to be done to address criminal behaviour. The link between criminal activity and high unemployment, deprivation and social exclusion is now almost universally accepted. Although such behaviour can never be condoned, it does not take too much stretching of the imagination to understand how people living in areas suffering from such problems can be drawn into a life of crime.
I am well aware that tackling social exclusion is at the centre of the Government's social policy and that successful delivery of it will make the biggest single contribution to crime prevention. However, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, areas of severe social deprivation will benefit most from high profile policing. That point was made time and again at recent public meetings that I held in the west end of Morecambe and in Heysham. Although local police have undertaken to do as much as they can to raise their profile in such areas, limited resources will restrict their achievements.
One other point that came from those public meetings was concern about the small number of antisocial behaviour orders issued to date. Although antisocial behaviour is a real problem in my constituency, only one such order has been issued. There appears to be a reluctance and lack of enthusiasm in the police and on the local council to pursue that course of action. They say that it is because of the time and resources required to collect the evidence. I am well aware that that is not unique to my constituency; indeed, many Members have mentioned it in the debate. What measures are in place to audit the operation of antisocial behaviour orders legislation, and what remedial action can be taken if it is not properly applied?
For far too long, the quality of life of many has been wrecked by the fear of crime, especially of violent crime. They have become virtual prisoners in their own homes because they feel that it is no longer safe for them to walk the streets, visit their friends, use public transport or undertake a whole host of other activities that would constitute a normal life.
I quote as an example one of my constituents, Mr. Kenneth Appleby, who came to see me about the serious problems with antisocial behaviour in the Kingsway area of Heysham. He has been the victim of repeated attacks of extreme vandalism, believed to be by children. His car was covered in black paint on two occasions, even when it was on his drive and the gate was locked—
§ 8.6 pm
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. I should like to follow the path of responsible opposition taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) in welcoming some of the Bill's provisions, subject to appropriate scrutiny. Such a course was not always taken by the then Opposition prior to 1997, but is appropriate for a criminal justice Bill containing a variety of measures.
95 In my comments on the generality of the Government's policies on law and order, I would not want to be taken as opposing some of the individual measures which deserve a fair wind, subject to appropriate scrutiny. I am thinking of two provisions. The provisions relating to DNA could be an important step in assisting the administration of justice, making it more efficient, and in helping the police investigate crime and the courts avoid miscarriages of justice. They will also help in cases such as the tragic one of Louise Smith, properly raised by the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb).
The Government's provisions on animal rights protests also deserve a fair wind. Indeed, to go a little further, I very much endorse the Home Secretary's approach on the matter. He was clearly speaking for Members on both sides of the House in taking such a robust approach. People who are engaged in research on animals are doing very important work. They deserve recognition for the importance of their work and certainly deserve the full protection of the law. I should like to add one more point to those already made in the debate.
Besides the illegal protests, threats and intimidation, we have seen in the name of the animal rights protest in recent times some serious and horrific acts of violence against innocent members of the public. That was brought home to me some weeks ago when, in the village where I grew up, a member of a well-known local family who was working as a secretary in an estate agents' office opened a parcel only to find it explode in her face, damaging one of her eyes. I know that that was a terrible experience for that lady. It must be deprecated. The full weight and force of law and order must be brought against those who participate in criminal offences of that general character, so I shall give a fair wind to anything that helps to deal with such problems.
I now turn to more controversial matters—in particular, child curfew orders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald was good enough to mention the amendment that I tabled to the Crime and Disorder Bill two years ago which would have extended the age range up to 16. The amendment was rejected out of hand by the Government. I am pleased, however, that the Government have now adopted the proposal. I am slightly surprised because, notwithstanding the Government's attitude originally, in recent weeks and months I have seen the proposal being trailed as the centrepiece of the Government's legislative programme and one of the flagship measures in the Queen's Speech. It has been trailed across newspaper front pages as one of the Government's principal so-called solutions for the problem of low-level disorder.
I am surprised that the Government have placed such weight on the proposal, but perhaps the change was inevitable. The success of the order in its original form—it was restricted to children of up to 10 years of age—was not entirely self-evident because no such order was made. In addition, the number of antisocial behaviour orders made was pitifully small. Against that background, the Government tried initially to argue that the number of orders made was not the measure of success. Instead, they tried to argue that the orders were a success because knowledge of their existence deterred youngsters from taking part in the activities that the orders were directed against. That assumes a knowledge of the law and a 96 degree of sophistication that is beyond most under-10s. I am pleased that the Government have abandoned that line of argument.
The Government are still clinging to antisocial behaviour orders. These orders were the flagship of the Government's Crime and Disorder Act 1998. In their original form, the child curfew orders were only the supporting act. The star turn was the antisocial behaviour order. It was trailed by the Labour party when in opposition and it was included in amendments to Bills. It was highlighted as being the linchpin of the "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" campaign. It led to many visits by Ministers to inner-city risk estates and to the launching of many press releases and initiatives. It was to be the answer to disorder.
The order may have been the flagship, but it was beached long ago. There have been numerous attempts to relaunch it, none of which has been successful. At first, the Government tried to argue that antisocial behaviour orders had been successful. When so few were made, the Government began to try to find someone to blame. By implication, the Government tried to blame magistrates. When it became apparent that magistrates were not imposing the orders because so few applications for them were being made, by implication the Government tried to blame the police and local authorities.
The Home Secretary even tried to blame civil liberties lawyers, one of his favourite targets. The right hon. Gentleman should be careful in that direction. There is no evidence that they have had anything to do with the failure of antisocial behaviour orders. The Minister of State, who has taken his place on the Government Front Bench, even tried to blame the Opposition. He said that we should not have opposed the orders in Committee. He missed the simple point that the Opposition did not oppose them. We simply said that they would not be of much use. That has not been entirely disproved.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock)
If the hon. Gentleman considers that antisocial behaviour orders are full of problems and to be deprecated, is he looking to a future Conservative Government to repeal them?
§ Mr. Clappison
It is pathetic that Ministers rely on such an argument. As far as I am aware, no one has said that a future Conservative Government, which I hope will come about, will repeal the orders. Ministers must face the fact—the Home Secretary made the point—that the orders have not lived up to expectations. Will the Minister say that about 150 antisocial behaviour orders—if that is the number—over two years have delivered on Labour's promises to tackle disorder in our inner cities? Does he think that all the disorder is being caused by 150 individuals? If so, that is pathetic.
We have a small foretaste of the Government's re-election campaign. Their orders have failed and the Government have failed to give people what they were led to believe they would get. The Government have now made a last-ditch attempt to blame the Conservative party.
Once again, law and order is being taken from the top shelf, dusted down and put in front of the electorate. It is an ingredient of the Government's failed campaign. We know that an election is coming when we hear the Government start to talk about the yob culture. There can 97 be no more convincing evidence that the Government's policies over three and a half to four years have failed to deliver what the people were led to believe they would get, which was decent law and order. They are now trying to cover up for their failures. Given the way in which it has been presented, the Bill is the most cogent and compelling admission of the Government's failure. They deserve to get a kick up the backside from the voters for their failure, and they will.
§ Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I declare an interest: I am a barrister.
The Bill is a substantial measure. It contains 132 clauses and it is divided into seven parts, one of which is divided into three chapters. I shall be brief because I wish to speak on only one of those chapters, which relates to alcohol-related crime. I shall do so because of the crime figures in my constituency, which includes Wellingborough and Rushden.
Over the past few years we have heard from some Opposition Members that crime has risen, but it has not risen in my constituency. Indeed, it has fallen year on year since the election. In the past year it has fallen by 5 per cent. overall. There has been a fall in auto-crime of more than 12 per cent. The fall in burglaries has been nearly 22 per cent. In target areas, where Home Office money has been invested in certain estates, there has been a fall in crime of about 25 per cent.
Some hon. Members have traded their local evening newspaper headlines. There have been headlines in my constituency. On 12 January, there was a report headed "Dramatic Drop in Burglaries". That was a drop in the Christmas month 1999 to 2000 of 50 per cent., and there has been a drop of 62 per cent. over the past two years. There is a fall not only in burglaries but in violent crime. At the end of last year, there was a month-on-month reduction of 31 per cent.
Crime is falling and police numbers are increasing. Nearly 50 new full-time officers joined the Northampton-shire police force during the six months between April and September last year. These facts and figures are causes of considerable celebration, but not complacency. Although the figures overall are good, there are disturbing trends within them.
Violent crimes in licensed premises rose from 51 in 1999 to 71 in 2000, which is a rise of 40 per cent. I understand that we may be getting off lightly in Wellingborough. It appears that about 13,000 violent incidents take place in or near licensed premises every week. More than 30 per cent. of violent attacks that involve strangers occur in or near pubs and clubs. That means people being bottled or glassed, hit with pool cues, knifed, headbutted, kicked or stamped on. People are attacked inside pubs when they are having a drink or attacked outside when they are trying to go home.
If we are to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, we must tackle more than poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and helplessness, the areas in which crime breeds. We must be tough on alcohol abuse as well. This abuse makes its criminal manifestations known in many forms. There is drink-driving, domestic violence, being drunk and disorderly and drunk and incapable in public. 98 In Wellingborough, these events take place outside the pubs and between the pubs and on the streets as people walk to clubs.
We have developed anti-crime orders and strategies; we have consulted and there has been a full household survey; and we know what people in Wellingborough fear most about alcohol-related crime. They are concerned about the rising crime that takes place outside licensed premises. They are concerned especially about youngsters who drink too much. They are concerned most of all about kicking-out time, when dozens of youngsters spill into the streets at the same time, often intent on walking to the same night club.
Are the measures included in the chapter designed to curb drinking, youthful drinking and violent crime induced by alcohol going to work? One has only to note the particular concern in my constituency to realise an inherent irony. We are concerned about licensed premises, and such concern means that a system of control and regulation should already be in place. If licensing already exists, one should have a system that works to prevent violent crime from arising. Manifestly, however, that has not been the case: violent crime is endemic throughout the country and is focused on areas outside pubs and clubs.
I shall look at a few practical problems and see whether the measures in the Bill will address them. I shall deal with just four features of alcohol-influenced violence: first, the pressures from breweries to sell more alcohol; secondly, under-age drinkers; thirdly, door-to-door management of pubs and clubs; and, finally, licensing hours.
I shall start with the breweries, not because I want to take on big business but simply because huge pressure is placed on pub managers to sell more alcohol. There is nothing surprising about that; that is the job of breweries. They raise targets year on year. The bonuses of pub managers are linked to those targets and when managers fail to meet targets, breweries immediately suggest that they undertake promotions. Those promotions always focus on youngsters and, increasingly, on high-percentage spirits.
A pub manager may not want to follow those promotions because he does not want to deal with the resulting drunkenness but, with no viable alternative and with bonuses at stake, the pressure can become irresistible. One then has happy hours, alcopops and the promotion of shots, such as Aftershocks in red or blue, and the pornography, in my view, of adverts offering two double vodkas and a Red Bull at a cut price—which is four shots in one go. Inevitably, all of that encourages binge drinking, especially by youngsters.
That leads me on to the second feature that I mentioned—the risks of alcohol-influenced violent crime are surely exacerbated if there are inadequate controls on under-age drinking. I am not seeking to take any high moral ground. Like, I suspect, most people in this country, when I was 15 or 16 I thought that it was a positive challenge to try to get served in pubs. With the maturity of hindsight, I can say that if that remains the reality for youth today, if advertisements put pressure on young people to buy more high-alcohol spirits, and if pressure is put on pub managers to sell those drinks, it is essential that we take sensible measures to try to restrict the potentially adverse consequences.
99 That leads me to the third factor, for one such measure would be to tackle the problem of door-to-door pub management. We need more than bar management to try to stop someone selling alcohol to people who are getting drunk or are already drunk. We need more than door management to kick them out or stop them coming in if they are drunk. We need door-to-door management to alert neighbouring pubs and clubs to the problem of a drunk customer who is about to arrive. If there is one bad publican in a high street, all the other publicans there can suffer, as drunks then turn up at their public houses, making drink-related violence real and obvious.
Finally, those risks are exacerbated by the current licensing hours. Last orders are uniformly at 11 pm and drinking up takes place at 11.20 pm. Large numbers of youngsters are therefore all deposited in the street at the same time, often intent on going to the same club. Many of them will have sunk the last few rounds as quickly as possible to make sure that they downed them before closing time.
There is a fairly potent cocktail of problems. There are four features of drink-related activity outside licensed premises that need to be addressed. We need to see action on brewery promotions, under-age drinking, door-to-door management and out-of-date, poorly thought out licensing hours. The question is whether the Bill, in its relevant chapter, deals with those factors. I have come to the conclusion that it does so in part and after a fashion. It does so only in part because it does not contain any provisions on licensing hours, on which reform is now long overdue, and because it does not say anything about the compulsory use of proof-of-age cards. The proof-of-age scheme promoted by the council in my constituency did not meet with the marked approval of many of those selling alcohol.
The Bill deals with those factors after a fashion because the tool that we are using to close down disorderly pubs—although welcomed by the police in my constituency—is blunt and indirect. It puts pressure on the publican, but does not target minds, as it should in my view, or the breweries or the specific problem of door-to-door management.
Those on the Front Bench are routinely challenged at Question Time about who is responsible for crime. Criminals are responsible for crime. In this case, it is drunken thugs. Crime is not the responsibility of Government, nor indeed is it their responsibility to do everything they can to prevent it. We live in a free world and sometimes the price of freedom is exposing ourselves to the risk of criminal activity. There is always a balance of liberty against justice and victims' rights, but liberty is not so important as to allow people to be drunk and then be violent, nor to sell alcohol to those who are drunk and may become violent. The liberty of us all is the ability to go to the pub and drink in peace.
§ Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate, as I believe that the Bill offers a package of measures that will help the police and others to deal effectively with a range of disorderly and criminal behaviour. In doing so, it builds on the excellent Crime and Disorder Act 1998 pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael).
100 According to the British crime survey, crime has gone down by 10 per cent. by since 1997; recorded crime, which is based on police figures, has gone down by 7 per cent. The Bill gives the police further powers to build on that very good start. The Government are committed to reducing and preventing crime; part of the strategy for doing that is to support the police, who are at the front line in grappling with crime. While being far from expert in the field, I have certainly gained more personal insight into the problems confronting police forces through my participation in the past year in the excellent police parliamentary scheme. I have discussed the Bill with the police and, in particular, with my own force in Cambridgeshire.
Tonight, however, I shall voice more of a constituency concern. For some time, I have been extremely concerned about the level and nature of protests by animal rights activists against employees and others associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences. I am not alone in that. I am proud that five Cambridgeshire MPs on both sides of the House have expressed their concern tonight—as I am doing—and have written to the Home Secretary. They are pleased to welcome the extra resources that the Government are providing.
Huntingdon Life Sciences is not in my constituency, but I am none the less concerned. We have already heard excellent speeches on the topic, notably from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). However, the most outstanding speech was given by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).
I speak on behalf of those in my constituency of Peterborough who work for or have connections with HLS. Like the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, I believe that the Bill as drafted does not go far enough to protect my constituents and his. Over the past three years, individuals, including my constituents, have suffered a horrifying range and number of illegal—I believe—tactics used by animal rights extremists. I use that word advisedly. I shall give the House a selection of complaints and abuses in relation to which my constituents have e-mailed and spoken to me and have come to visit me in my surgery. It is a long list, and I shall read only part of it.
The list includes demonstrations outside people's homes; verbal abuse using a loudhailer outside the home or workplace; goods and services ordered in an employee's name, and hoax free advertisements placed, resulting in one person receiving 50 response calls in one day; abusive graffiti, posters and stickers on people's homes and cars and in the area where they live; abusive telephone calls to relatives, friends and children's schools—the lowest of the low, in my view; telephone calls threatening to kill or injure the employee, partner or children; and letters making similar threats. It makes people feel dirty and contaminated even to touch such writing paper.
The list continues, with arrangements for the undertaker to call to collect the employee's body or the body of a child or partner; physical assaults on employees and their partners, including spraying cleaning fluid into the eyes; the smashing of all the windows in a person's home while the family was at home watching television; sledgehammer attacks to a car when the owner was in it; the fire-bombing of a car parked next to a house; the fire-bombing of sheds and garages; bomb hoaxes; and nail bombs in the post.
101 Most people would say that all those acts were criminal, but at present not all of them are. Some of them fall within the current definition of peaceful protest. My constituents do not understand that. I would be the first to defend the right to peaceful protest, but there is a world of difference between what most civilised, ordinary people understand by the term "peaceful protest" and the vile, evil acts of aggression and intimidation that I have listed.
People living in a democracy, as we should be grateful that we do, have a right to expect protection from such acts. Our police must have the powers to provide that protection. The House must examine how the law can more clearly define peaceful protest, and we must make it an offence to protest in an overtly threatening manner.
Finally, I shall comment briefly on what some have called secondary targeting—the targeting by activists not only of direct employees of HLS and their families but of HLS's suppliers, customers, shareholders and company directors at their homes. I understand that the Bill may not be the best vehicle for all the changes that may be necessary, and that amendment of existing legislation may be more appropriate.
However, we must act urgently to restrict access to the addresses of such groups, and secondary targeting should be an offence. Surely it is unacceptable that, as has happened, electricians should feel compelled to cancel their work for a targeted firm, or cleaners should feel personally threatened if they continue with their honourable day-to-day work at the firm. Of course, it is another matter if they choose to dissociate themselves from the targeted firm, but that must be their free choice and action, and it must be protected.
I welcome the introduction of the Bill, and I trust that in Committee these issues and others will duly receive careful cross-party consideration. That would be the best approach. I know that serious concerns have been expressed by civil liberties and human rights organisations about individual freedoms and rights, which we will debate at a later stage. Such concerns should not be used to legitimise the serious infringement of liberty or the harassment and the intimidation which I—and, I am glad to say, others—have described in our debate.
§ Mr. John Grogan (Selby)
I shall follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), whose powerful speech concentrated on alcohol-related violence and crime and the parts of the Bill dealing with that scourge and blight on so many of our communities.
In particular, I shall consider the practical implementation of clause 32, which deals with sales of alcohol to those who are under age. The explanatory notes are instructive about the meaning of the clause, which increases the responsibility of all licence holders, whether they be on-licence holders or off-licence holders, to seek proof of age. The notes state:The defendant will be deemed to have taken 'all reasonable steps' if he asked the customer for evidence of his age.They continue:The intention is to ensure that licensees and their staff seek proof of age before making sales.I want to examine how we can make that process of seeking proof of age as smooth and as routine as possible. Only if that is achieved will the Bill work in practice.
102 Many of the alcohol crime measures contained in the Bill were previewed in the White Paper on liquor licensing reform. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough rightly said that we must not forget the other measures proposed in that White Paper. In particular, flexibility of licensing hours was designed as an anti-crime measure. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about the kebab shops that grace his constituency. He told us about one street in particular. I would almost bet that his local police will tell him that any violence outside the kebab shops occurs at closing time for the pubs or clubs. I hope that, before long—and certainly before the Bill completes its passage—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will report to the House on the consultation undertaken by the Government on the White Paper on liquor licensing reform and again commit them to implementing its broad principles.
I am a member of the all-party beer group and am currently a member of a panel that is taking evidence on proof-of-age cards and their practical implementation. The country currently has three schemes: the validate scheme, which is especially prevalent in the north of England and Scotland; the citizen card scheme, which is backed by the retail industry; and the "Prove It" card, which is backed by the Portman group. As was pointed out in the validate scheme evidence, use of the cards applies not only to alcohol, as age restrictions apply to a range of products.
The all-party beer group has received evidence from more than 15 organisations, ranging from the Association of Chief Police Officers to the Association of Convenience Stores. Common to the evidence is a concern about the difficulties associated with a plethora of schemes that work to different standards. The Association of Chief Police Officers perhaps put that view most cogently. It stated:This lack of a consistent standard across the country makes it difficult to train staff as to what to look out for. It also makes it comparatively easy to produce forged cards thus undermining the value of the scheme.ACPO went on to state:The mere fact that there are so many different methods in use … detracts from their usefulness as a reliable tool.
The Association of Convenience Stores pointed out that routine requests for proof of age would be a big cultural change for retailers and publicans, and that, unlike America, Britain has no culture of proving age. ACS argued that requests for identification in this country sometimes cause offence and can lead to staff intimidation. The Portman group commented on the voluntary schemes that are currently in operation and referred to a survey in which 59 per cent. of managers said that they had suffered verbal abuse as a consequence of asking for proof of age. Of the managers questioned, 52 per cent. said that they had suffered shoplifting as a result of having made such requests.
We must do more to help retailers, publicans and youngsters themselves. The British Retail Consortium pointed out that if a scheme is especially strong in one area, youngsters who travel away from that area may find that their card becomes useless and is no longer recognised. Such factors could demotivate young people who are considering whether to apply for a card.
No one is asking the Government to introduce a national identity card, but people are asking them to use their influence to try to bring some coherence to 103 arrangements in respect of proof of age. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers accepts that the Government might be reluctant to endorse a single commercial venture, but believes that they could set out criteria against which schemes can be judged. The ALMR states:This should include the geographic and age-related coverage of the scheme. Ideally, ALMR would wish to see a national scheme that adopts an integrated approach to proof of age and is not simply restricted to the age of 18. Other criteria would include anti-forgery measures, including a secure photo and date of birth. Effective schemes could be granted a Government kite-mark or badge of approval.
The attitude of young people to proof-of-age cards is interesting. No opinion survey has been conducted recently, but the qualitative and anecdotal evidence suggests that such cards are popular among young people. The Local Government Association says that experience among local authoritiessupports the view that the majority of young people would welcome the introduction of a national proof of age scheme.It goes on to say:The marketing of the scheme would be vital to its success, however it is possible to make the card an 'attractive' item for the individual to carry thus it becomes a 'must have' item for every young person.
The National Union of Students did not come out against a more national, coherent approach to proof-of-age cards, but merely asked to be involved in consultations. It pointed out that the cost of introduction for individuals could be a factor in how uniform the system was, and said that reassurances must be given on the data and information held on the card.
It is useful to look at the United States experience. During his first term, President Clinton firmly associated his office with the campaign to cut down under-age drinking. There was a significant marketing campaign, with posters in bars saying, "No ID, No Sale". That helped retailers, publicans and bar owners in the United States because it reinforced the culture of asking for a card. It also helped youngsters realise the importance of carrying the card.
§ Mr. Heald
When the Licensing (Young Persons) Bill was going through the House, the Minister suggested that the Department for Education and Employment card, Connexions, could be used as a national proof-of-age card. Does the hon. Gentleman have any further views on that?
§ Mr. Grogan
The hon. Gentleman gives me a perfect cue. We are now at a crucial stage of deciding whether to adopt the Connexions card. My understanding is that in the pilot scheme in Merseyside, there was provision for a proof-of-age element to be included on one side of the Connexions card. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can confirm that we are down to the last two tenderers for the Connexions card and that the decision will be made in March. At least one tenderer intends to incorporate a proof-of-age element in its card. Clearly, if the Connexions card is to be used for proof of age, a disadvantage is that it was intended to provide it only to those in full-time education over the age of 16. However, at least one of the tenderers sees no reason why a 104 proof-of-age element could not be made available to all youngsters. Indeed, the proof-of-age logo could be common throughout the United Kingdom. A problem with the Connexions card, if used for this purpose, is that it is available only in England.
If we are to make this a responsibility that licensees and retailers can exercise effectively, we need to do more to help them—whether by public education, providing leadership or co-ordinating the various cards.
I have two further comments on other aspects of the Bill. I welcome the statutory force given for the first time to test-purchasing, which was pioneered by North Yorkshire police and is now used not only by police but by many pub companies as a method of improving standards and employee practice. That is greatly to be welcomed.
It is important to recognise that, under the Bill, the closure of pubs would take place only when there was a risk of public disorder. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) referred to the sounds and smells of a new year's eve party in her constituency. Unless there was a threat to public order, the Bill would not—quite rightly—lead to the closure of that pub as a temporary measure. The answer to her constituents' problems is the complete reform of the licensing laws and the introduction of a premises licence which specifies what activities should go on in a pub at any time.
I hope that we never reach the stage where publicans of well run pubs are frightened to call the police because they fear that their pub will be closed down. Many senior police officers see this as essentially a reserve power to deal with badly run pubs. The best way of ensuring that our pubs and bars are well run is a close partnership, such as the many pub-watch schemes involving police and licensees up and down the land.
§ Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden)
Any Bill to reduce crime is to be welcomed. Any Bill that tackles head on the burgeoning yob culture prevalent in so many parts of society will be warmly greeted by our constituents.
I, too, welcome all the measures in the Bill, but I think that the Government have missed an opportunity to tackle a serious antisocial offence. I offer one or two suggestions as to how to improve the legislation to make it even more effective in the war against crime.
During the debate on the Gracious Speech, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said:Three years ago, evidence was produced showing that, unfortunately, compared with otherwise similar low-income estates, disorderly estates on which there were higher levels of graffiti and litter and a greater sense of abuse had higher crime levels. If we nip lower-level offending in the bud, we can stop offending entirely."—[Official Report, 12 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 518.]I could not agree more. That is why I find it disappointing that the Government have not taken the opportunity afforded by the Bill to tackle one of the prime causes of our graffiti-ridden neighbourhoods: the easy availability of spray paints.
Graffiti is a blight on even the best neighbourhoods, and costs councils a fortune to clean up. The London borough of Merton, in my constituency, calculated that if it were to clear up every piece of graffiti tomorrow, 105 it would cost £60,000—enough money to employ two extra teachers. Furthermore, as we all know, the graffiti would re-appear within days and the expense of the clear-up would be money down the drain.
We often talk about crime in terms of vast statistics, and the media focus is on extreme cases such as murder, which is, thankfully, relatively rare. However, the experience of crime for the vast majority of ordinary people—our constituents—is having their garage doors sprayed with idiotic slogans, or their lifts vandalised and defaced. Just as importantly, graffiti has an impact on the fear of crime, which is out of all proportion to actual crime levels. If an otherwise safe and decent area experiences a wave of graffiti-writing, people begin to feel unsafe.
The Bill seeks to crack down on the sale of alcohol to children, and we all agree with that. I wonder whether the Government might consider tabling an amendment in Committee to extend the prohibition to the sale of spray paints to minors. My local police inspector reckons that the average age of graffiti writers is between 12 and 14. I can think of only one reason why a 12-year-old would want to buy a can of spray paint: to create graffiti. An unpleasant side effect of the use of spray paint is that the cans are frequently used by teenagers to gain the same effect as drugs, only more quickly and much more cheaply.
Making the acquisition of spray paint more difficult would certainly result in an immediate and dramatic decrease in instances of graffiti. As has been pointed out, that would lead to a fall in other crimes as well. I referred to the acquisition of spray paints, because many of the cans used to create graffiti have been stolen. We should try to make the sale of spray paint to minors illegal, and shops should be required to store cans of spray paint in secure areas, as they currently do with fireworks.
That provision could be extended to the sale of indelible marker pens, which are also used to disfigure and vandalise property. I never thought that I would say such a thing in the House of Commons, but I have received extensive lobbying on the issue from the chief inspector of my local police force and by councillors and council officers. Such a step would be drastic, and would have connotations of the nanny state, but something needs to be done to stamp on this problem, which is getting worse, and is not peculiar to my constituency.
I would go further, and suggest that we introduce a 10:1 ratio for fines involving graffiti. In other words, if it cost a council £100 to clean up someone's mess, that person should be fined £1,000, and so on. That would certainly have a shock effect. My hon. Friend the Minister might point out that steps to tackle the problem can be taken by means of council byelaws, and he would be right. My borough is actively considering taking action in that way, in partnership with the local police. Examples of good practice by responsible retailers already exist. However, byelaws are not enough. There would be little point in making the acquisition of spray paints difficult in one borough, if all an enterprising graffiti artist had to do was hop on the bus to the next borough to buy some.
The Bill seeks to extend certain schemes that were initiated through byelaws, and the Government could take this opportunity to send a clear signal that they are declaring war on graffiti. My constituents—and, no doubt, those of the Minister—would warmly welcome such a 106 declaration. If, for whatever reason, it proves impossible to amend the Bill, will the Minister at least undertake to consider the matter with a view to future legislation?
This is a good Bill that will have a positive impact on crime reduction. If the Government could incorporate some tough action on graffiti, it would be even better.
§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I begin on a note of some consensus. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on an excellent speech, full of constructive ideas. I hope that the Minister will have time to reflect on a number of them and will respond—although not tonight, perhaps—not just to the hon. Lady, but to the House in general. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that her suggestions have much to commend them. As she pointed out, the problem of graffiti is not confined to her borough or her area.
Also in the spirit of consensus, let me say that my constituency neighbour—the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) who, sadly, is not in her place—was correct to say that crime is a problem in the north-west of England. She rightly identified instances of crime increasing and said also that the problems did not begin in 1997, although I think that she was trying to be controversial, as no Conservative Member has ever pretended that Britain was without crime in 1997. Of course it was not; Britain certainly had problems with crime then.
I differ with Labour Members over their belief that the answer to Britain's crime problems somehow lies in providing the police with additional powers rather than additional numbers. The police's principal difficulty is not a lack of legislation, which they could study, be trained in and implement, but the lack of numbers to cope with the legislation and powers that Parliament has already given them.
§ Helen Jones (Warrington, North)
May I put to the hon. Gentleman a constituency case involving an elderly gentleman? He has been tormented constantly by gangs of youths fuelled by alcohol. The police know who the youths are and are aware of what is going on, but under current legislation, they lack the power to take swift action. If the hon. Gentleman believes that the Bill is useless, what has he to say to that elderly gentleman?
§ Mr. Collins
The hon. Lady perhaps ought to make a point to her elderly constituent—one that he probably believes anyway. He will undoubtedly remember a time in this country which is well within the memory of many people, not just the elderly, when all the disorder problems to which she referred—not least drunkenness and disorderliness—were substantially less than they are today. A reason for that was that police numbers were greater and the restraints under which they operated were fewer. An important way in which the House can assist the police to provide the underpinnings for a law-abiding society is to provide the resources and the help to enable the police to get back on the streets. That is one of the best ways to tackle the range of problems that she mentioned.
§ Mr. Heald
Does my hon. Friend agree that most offences of the sort to which the hon. Member for 107 Warrington, North (Helen Jones) referred are arrestable? If the police know who those people are, they can arrest them and take them to court. Is not the problem the fact that there simply are not enough police to do so? Perhaps he read the story in the Yorkshire Post last week about an elderly gentleman who has to ring the police so often that he has arranged a cheap deal with BT so that he can do so at a discount.
§ Mr. Collins
My hon. Friend is right. That service, which provides for a customer's top 10 numbers, is called "friends and family". Sadly, such examples occur all too often.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made clear, we do not oppose any and every aspect of the Bill. There are proposals that Conservatives will be able to support following due consideration, but Labour Members should not kid themselves. People who voted for them thought that their platform of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime would result in more police, not fewer, and tougher action on crime. Unfortunately, there has been tougher action on the crimefighters instead.
For example, in my area, Cumbria constabulary has done an excellent job in many respects. It has managed to produce reductions in several of the crime statistics and has coped with a great difficulty relating to the way in which it is funded. That difficulty is caused by the failure of the police funding formula to take enough account of the huge number of visitors to the lake district. The area covered by my constituency and those surrounding it is the most visited part of the United Kingdom, after Greater London, but that is rarely if ever taken into account.
Police numbers have fallen by some 5 per cent. in Cumbria since this Government came to power. The chief constable has repeatedly appealed to Ministers to address the issue of underfunding, and in particular to consider including a full and permanent sparsity factor in the allocation of Home Office grant. I am glad that some months ago the Minister of State was able to announce a one-off, temporary half-provision of sparsity funding; that was a great deal better than nothing. It was not, however, the same as a permanent allocation on which the chief constable could rely. It provided only about half the resources that he wanted.
§ Mr. Clarke
Just for the record. I would not normally have intervened on such a specious contribution, but the fact is that the rural funding we have announced will last for three and a half years. It is substantial funding: the total provided nationally is roughly equivalent to the sparsity costs suggested in the report involved. The money is being distributed to forces—including the hon. Gentleman's—with that very much in mind. It has, incidentally, been welcomed by both the hon. Gentleman's police authority and his chief constable.
§ Mr. Collins
It is no surprise that the police authority welcomes it, as the police authority is run by Cumbria 108 county council, which is run by the Labour party. The Minister has given us the staggering information that the Labour party welcomes things that the Labour party does. When I tell my constituents that, no doubt they will feel much happier.
§ Mr. Collins
Indeed; the chief constable remains concerned. Police stations continue to close in my constituency and across Cumbria, police numbers continue to be lower than they were when the Government came to office, and Cumbria constabulary continues to feel that it cannot cope with the pressures imposed on it.
One provision in the Bill demonstrates the Government's funding priorities. According to the summary of the financial effects, the transitional—that is, the one-off—cost of establishing the new central police training and development authority will be £3.5 million. The explanatory notes tell us that, as recently as 1993, an organisation called Police Training was set up to carry out the same functions. Now we are being told that a new quango will be established, with its own chief executive, its own chairman and its own authority, at a cost of £3.5 million. That happens to be three times the shortfall about which the Cumbrian chief constable is complaining.
The Government seem to be demonstrating a wholly false sense of priorities. Of course police training matters—
§ Mr. Collins
The Minister knows that I cannot give way. I shall have to end my speech in the next minute.
Throughout all this, my concern is not that the Government are doing things that are in themselves automatically wrong; it is simply that they are setting out the wrong set of priorities. If they had wanted people to feel that their priority of tackling crime was being actioned, they would have tabled measures, even at this late stage of the Parliament, to return police numbers to the levels that they inherited in 1997.
The Conservative party will do that, and it has said how it will do it. As Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald will deliver greater police numbers, and that will contribute more to the fight against crime than everything that has been said and done by the Labour party in four wasted years.
§ Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)
There is no doubt that crime is falling. We can have our knockabouts over whether it was falling when the last Government were in power, and whether it is falling faster now, but it is certainly falling. In Kent, my county, it is falling substantially: the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who has just left the Chamber, will know that it is down by 23 per cent.
What is not decreasing—although not many hon. Members have mentioned it today—is the perception of crime. If hon. Members were to knock on doors in their 109 constituencies, they would find people who believe that crime is soaring when it simply is not. I welcome the Bill because it targets the most appropriate crime and disorder issues to help people realise that crime is decreasing and that the streets can be made safe again for them.
On-the-spot penalties, for example, will give police a real opportunity to make a dramatic impact in our economically important town centres, where there are often high levels of disorderliness that are often associated with drink. Like other hon. Members, however, I should like to know how those penalties will be enforced. Taxi drivers in my constituency have told me of cases in which their taxis had been vandalised or they had been the victims of other types of crime, but the fines and costs imposed by the court on those who committed the offences were not enforced. I should therefore like my hon. Friend the Minister to address the enforcement issue.
There are questions, too, about the age of those who will be subject to on-the-spot penalties. I would quite welcome the imposition of such penalties on youngsters' parents. I think that we should investigate the possibility of extending the provision in that manner.
My constituents are aware of the advantages of DNA evidence, and they will welcome our extension of the law to make that evidence a more powerful tool for police. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had serious civil liberties concerns about the proposals. However, I do not know how it can harm an innocent individual for his or her DNA to be on record. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), who gave a moving account of why it is so important to build up such a database.
Today, however, I should like to focus on the important issue of attacks on scientists. The subject is very important to me because my constituency contains a major pharmaceutical company that employs 5,000 people and represents a £1 billion United States investment in the United Kingdom. That type of investment will stop unless we can give those investors confidence that the United Kingdom is a place where they can do business and their work in freedom.
I have another interest in the matter. I am what animal rights activists like to call—when they scream out to me in the street—a vivisector. I started my scientific career doing animal experiments. I have no fear of saying that whatsoever. I am proud of the work that I did.
When I first started that work, at the Medical Research Council, my then boss had been newly appointed from Huntingdon Research Centre, which is now Huntingdon Life Sciences. Soon after I started working there, I went to him and said, "I feel very uncomfortable doing these experiments." His response was, "Good. That's the way you should stay feeling throughout your career. No one who feels comfortable doing these experiments should be doing them. That's how we keep them to a minimum. That's how we keep standards high and ensure that we do not cause any unnecessary suffering to animals."
I saw those high standards being pursued throughout my career in the pharmaceutical industry, not only in that job and in subsequent jobs, but in everything that I observed in the industry. It is downright wrong for those who are doing vital and important work to be intimidated, threatened and bullied.
110 I think that I owe the House an apology. I have been banging on about this subject since I was first elected to the House. A few months ago, I spoke to the Research Defence Society's annual general meeting and said that I did not think that there were more than a dozen Members of Parliament who would be prepared to put their heads above the parapet on the issue. Over the past few weeks, I have been delighted to realise that I was wrong. If what has happened has given the House a wake-up call, so that we realise that we are in danger of putting off huge investment in the UK and stopping vital research work, all that the poor people who worked at Huntingdon Life Sciences had to put up with will not be in vain.
I am delighted by the response in the House today and recently, but I am not so delighted by the reports that I have heard so far about how the Government are intending to tackle the matter. I have heard good words, but there are some holes in what the Government are proposing. I will be looking for proposals to deal with the way in which campaigns are organised, so that responsibility for what activists do is taken by the leaders of campaigns. I shall be looking for changes to the legislation on harassment and for the limits on peaceful protest to be defined, as well as proposals to deal with secondary targeting. The addresses of shareholders and directors of companies should be protected and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 needs to be reformed, as the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said in a very good speech. Protests outside people's homes also need to be dealt with. All those issues are vital.
I hope that before my hon. Friend the Minister tables amendments to the Bill, he will meet the Research Defence Society, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries and other leaders in the industry to discuss proposals to deal with all of their concerns. If he has any difficulty in putting together the meetings, I would be delighted to facilitate them.
This is an important issue, and I have been delighted by the response of the House today. I am looking forward to the Government making my constituents safe so that they can continue their vital work in creating drugs that will be vital to every man, woman and child in the country.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) in underlining the fact that crime in Kent has fallen by 23 per cent. However, that is not matched by the perception of what is happening, or by a fall in the fear of crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) referred to her local newspaper, which comes from the same stable as my local paper. Both papers said that crime was increasing in our areas, although it has been falling.
We must pay tribute to the work of the Government since 1997 in providing mechanisms for the police. We must commend also the work of the police, the partnerships between the police and local authorities and the way in which the police have operated, particularly in Kent. Under the leadership of Sir David Phillips and with an intelligence-led approach, we have seen some dramatic changes.
Extra resources are important and Kent police has earned the extra 6.9 per cent. that was announced recently; for the second year running, Kent has received the largest 111 increase of any police force in the country. My local superintendent was able to provide me with a briefing as to what he will be able to do with the extra funding. In Dartford and Gravesham alone, 23 additional officer posts will be provided, including seven officers to work in rural areas and an extra two on rural crime, plus a team of eleven operating strategically for north Kent and Medway.
All this is part of the initiatives on the crimefighting fund and on dealing with rural crime; it will mean that, by 2002–03, Kent will have an additional 250 officers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) said earlier, however, it is not simply about numbers or resources but about how those numbers and resources are used.
I want to highlight two initiatives in Kent that I hope Ministers will not only encourage but build into legislation as the Bill develops. The first is an initiative on cell intervention: going into the cells and providing advice on debt and employment to people in police custody. That small-scale project, piloted by my local police force, has had dramatic results in leading people away from a life of crime and towards a life of more productive employment.
Alongside an overall reduction in crime, there has been a worrying increase in racially motivated crimes in my area. I am pleased that the Government have been tough on such crimes. One of my constituents noted a catalogue of incidents over two years, which included:Bricks thrown through the conservatory roof … Stones and sticks thrown at the house around midnight by a group of six youths … I was attacked outside my house … punched in the face and my hair yanked out … My car was vandalised … Bag of dog faeces thrown on my patio … Racial abusing, threatening my children. They climbed on our fence and threatened to kill my children if they showed their little black faces outside or even dare peeped out of the window … Petrol bomb thrown outside my front door.
We have to be tough on the perpetrators of such activities, but we must also be tough on the causes by making sure that young people understand the implications at an early age. The second initiative that I commend to Ministers is the project which my local police force hopes to develop of working closely with schools on issues of race and the effects of racial crime.
My constituents will certainly welcome the Bill, and in particular the fixed penalties. Opposition Members have made some criticisms, but my local police have welcomed the fixed penalties and think that they are a useful additional weapon to deal with the one in six crimes in Gravesham and Dartford that are not serious enough to take the offender through arrest and the court process but which can create a climate of anxiety, fear and yob rule. We must deal with those crimes, and if the Bill can take us further in that direction, I welcome it.
§ Helen Jones (Warrington, North)
The Bill is wide-ranging, but I intend to confine my comments largely to those aspects that directly affect the lives of the people whom I represent, and to the problems that most concern them.
Civil liberties objections have been made to the Bill, and that is an important issue that deserves serious consideration. We should be very careful about restricting 112 civil liberties unless there is good reason to do so, but we must not confuse liberty with licence. When I see some of my constituents who are tormented in their own homes and fear to walk the streets because of the abuse and intimidation to which they are subjected, or who are insulted and abused when going about their lawful business, I have to ask whose civil liberties are being restricted. We must be concerned not about the perpetrators but about the ordinary, decent people who are subjected to such torment.
I see the Bill through the eyes of my constituents. mentioned earlier an elderly gentleman who was subjected to abuse, night after night, by a gang of youths, usually fuelled by alcohol, often bought for them by an adult and handed to them outside the shop in return for a share of the goods. Decent, honest shopkeepers in my constituency who try to prevent sales to minors say that they are powerless when such incidents occur. They will welcome the provisions that prevent people from buying alcohol for minors in that way.
We also welcome the provisions that require those who sell alcohol to take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves of the age of the person to whom they are selling. That strengthens the hand of decent, honest people in the trade and helps to get at rogue traders, who do not care about the damage that they cause to others when they flout the law. I suspect that hon. Members could point to such people in their constituencies. I can do that in my constituency, and so can local people. The police know about the problem, but it is difficult for them to take action. Strengthening the law is therefore important.
I have believed for some time that we should extend to trading standards officers the power to use minors in test purchases. No honest shopkeeper or licensee has anything to fear from that. If we fail to tackle such problems, we abandon people such as the elderly gentleman who was tormented day in, day out. week in, week out. It is not my role as a Member of Parliament to protect his persecutors. We need swift action to deal with causes, and we also need fixed-penalty notices, which will enable the perpetrators to be tackled quickly and efficiently.
There is merit in the argument that orders should apply to 16 and 17-year-olds. The groups of youths are often of mixed ages; some may be 18 but others are not. We should not underestimate the problems that harassment causes. The damage to people's health can be incalculable. I, like other hon. Members, have seen the victims of harassment in my surgery.
I remember two, quiet, middle-aged ladies, who had been tormented day after day in their homes by a neighbour. They could not even go into the garden without being sworn at and abused. They had never caused trouble in their lives; they had never owed the council a penny in rent. They deserve better protection from us. So do people who have been threatened, had graffiti daubed on their houses, objects thrown at their windows, and their children threatened, often for no apparent reason, except that some local group had decided to target them, sometimes because they were from a different area, sometimes because they had intervened when people were behaving badly. They need the full protection of the law.
Child curfews and action on the sale of alcohol will help the people whom I described. Extending the criminal law to cover witnesses in civil cases is also important. 113 Those witnesses are often afraid to give evidence in harassment cases or applications for antisocial behaviour orders. I cannot blame them for that. If I had been subjected to some of the torment that they suffered, I would also be afraid. The provision will give them more security.
We are not simply considering law enforcement. That is important, but, in tackling yobbish behaviour, the Bill stands alongside other measures that the Government have introduced to promote social inclusion and to tackle poverty. It is often rightly said that, when we were younger, any passing adult would probably have intervened if we were behaving badly. However, it is not often said that in those days, that passing adult would have known our mums, our dads and most of our relatives. That community spirit has broken down in many areas. It was destroyed in the 1980s and early 1990s by poverty and unemployment, which was caused by a Government who said that there was no such thing as society. We have to remember where the blame belongs. As well as tackling yobs, we should encourage the people who are doing their best to repair that damage and to rebuild a sense of community. Members of residents associations in my area—in places such as Blackbrook, Grasmere and Greenwood—invest a great deal of their time in such activity. Their work should be supported and valued by the Government.
Most of all, we need to offer our young people an alternative and to realise that most of them are not badly behaved, but have much talent and potential. It is no use complaining that they hang around the streets if we offer them nowhere else to go. It is no use saying that they are irresponsible if we do not help them to accept responsibility.
Last Friday, I had the privilege of opening a new youth centre at Birchwood in my constituency. The young people put on a marvellous display—dancing, singing and poetry. They showed what a wealth of talent is available. The people who set up that club deserve our congratulations. Sadly, however, such facilities are extremely rare. We need to invest in our young people and to show our confidence in them. As well as introducing measures such as this Bill to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, we need to start seeing our young people as part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
The Bill goes a long way towards tackling the problems that affect my constituents and it will be welcomed by many of them. However, I hope that, when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, he will put the measure in the context of the Government's overall strategy. We need to recreate a civil society in which people can feel safe in their own homes and on the streets. That is about taking back our communities and regaining control of them. I hope that the measure will help decent people to do that. I commend it to the House.
§ Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
I welcome the Bill as another step on the way to refining our approach to tackling and preventing crime. It confirms to me and to many of us the effectiveness of a partnership approach in which the Government are prepared to take a pivotal role in meeting their full responsibility in preventing and solving crime and—crucially—in reducing the fear of crime that blights the lives of many of our constituents.
114 Under the Labour Government, crime in Lincolnshire has reduced by a fifth—twice the national reduction. Lincolnshire police have confirmed to me that, by April, their officer strength will be 1,240—the highest-ever in our county. It is important to talk up the above-average effectiveness of the Lincolnshire police force, because I am concerned that many of the comments made by Opposition Members serve to paint a somewhat inaccurate picture of policing and of crime rates. That stirs up the fear of crime and is irresponsible.
Lincolnshire police are to be congratulated on their above-average performance in the following matters. They are among the top ten forces in solving crimes of violence. More than nine in 10 phone calls are answered within the 10-second target time. They have reorganised the force by putting more officers in the front line and by reducing the burden of management. We should pay tribute to them for their first-rate efforts in policing our county.
In my constituency and throughout the country, it is unacceptable that an elderly lady cannot go to bingo with her friends; that a young man has to steel himself against the possibility of a fight while he is in a city centre on a Friday night; or that neighbours act in a less than neighbourly fashion—terrorising people both inside and outside their homes. Some people might regard those matters as minor nuisances. I do not. No one should be frightened to go about their daily life in peace. We are all entitled to be and to feel safe.
I shall focus on the child curfew scheme—one of the many down-to-earth provisions that offer opportunities both to prevent and cure problems of public disorder. My constituents look to the Government for such provisions. I welcome the proposal to improve the scheme by applying such curfews to people up to and including the age of 15. That was proposed in a ten-minute Bill—of which I was pleased to be a sponsor—introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker). I pay tribute to him for championing such proposals.
The overwhelming majority of young people are law abiding and have a sense of community. In my experience, they want that sense of community and responsibility to be supported and protected by measures such as those in the Bill. Child curfew schemes involve designating a particular area—for example, a park, an alleyway or shop fronts—for a specific, fixed period between 9 pm and 6 am as being out of bounds to young people of a particular age unless they are accompanied by a responsible adult.
I thought that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was somewhat alarmist in his explanation of what he believed child curfew schemes involve. Indeed, the purpose of the schemes is to take the very action that worried constituents say that they want. They want to protect themselves in certain areas where children may gather and engage in threatening and/or criminal behaviour. However, the schemes are also intended to protect the children themselves. They may be at risk from their older peers, who may encourage them to offend, or from adult drug dealers or pimps—something about which every parent has a fear. The changes will make child curfew schemes more useful; they will certainly be taken up more widely. Extending the age range will recognise the fact that intimidating groups of children often comprise young people of different ages, and we need to tackle that problem.
115 The Bill is intended to give the police, as well as local authorities, the practical tools needed to do a practical job, which many of our constituents want to be done without criminalising children. Of course, we all know that peace and order in many local communities can be thrown into disarray by just a few people or households, and they cannot be allowed to continue to keep their unhealthy hold on a community. That is why the extension of witness protection to those giving evidence in cases involving antisocial behaviour orders is also to be welcomed.
There is an urgent need to promote the use of the numerous new measures in the Bill. They are very much what people in Lincoln want, but we must continue to work in partnership with the police, local authorities and local communities to ensure that people, such as those in Lincoln, see the measures working to protect them.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)
We have had an excellent debate with some moving contributions, as well as some thoughtful ones. I should like to highlight the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who in representing a constituency interest, expressed the concern that we all feel about what is happening with Huntingdon Life Sciences and other companies. My constituency is about equidistant from Huntingdon, Cambridge and Peterborough, and some of my constituents are being treated in the way that has been described. We must all feel their sense of terror when they experience fire-bomb incidents; cleaning fluid is thrown in their eyes; they receive hate mail; and their children are threatened.
My right hon. Friend described incidents such as that in which undertakers were called to a house to take away someone's child when, of course, the child was alive and well. The distress caused by such behaviour has been recognised on both sides of the House, and by the hon. Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who has worked in the industry, and for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and others. So it is right to concentrate on that issue.
The Home Secretary said that he is prepared to consider amending the Public Order Act 1986 to protect people in their houses and to curtail protests outside houses. That is welcome. He has told us that he is prepared to consider the way in which the Malicious Communications Act 1988 works and to consider an objective rather than a subjective test.
Is the Minister still considering what other measures might be possible? Some of the incidents that have been described do not fall into a clear category, but they were very threatening. It would help if the Minister were to make a commitment on issues such as secondary action and to give the clear statements that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon wanted. The Minister should point out that United Kingdom legislation demands tests on animals; animal tests are required by regulators; the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 has the strictest requirements for animal research anywhere in the world; and the legislation demands that animal tests should not be available if other non-animal testing is possible. It would be good if the Minister could give such clear statements tonight. This important issue is worrying the country, but all Members agree about it.
116 The same cannot be said of all the other matters that have been debated. Although the Opposition take the view that this is a crimefighting measure that will give powers to police officers and others to help in the fight against crime, we have the important reservations that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and other Conservative Members have highlighted in their contributions.
First, we are concerned by what the Bill has left out. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) painted a picture of a Christmas tree with empty baubles on it and the Minister rushing from the Home Office to each Department to ask, "Have you got anything on the shelf that we can trot out in this pre-election period?"
§ Mr. Heald
The Minister would like to be called Santa. Perhaps this Christmas tree has lights, but they are not twinkling.
The country faces important challenges. Violent crime, street crime and the incidence of robbery are rising. Yet, when the Home Secretary and the Minister have the time available to consult on the offences against the person legislation and the means to provide modern laws to strengthen the fight against violent crime, they do nothing. They have had the opportunity to reform the early release scheme so that those who assault police officers in the execution of their duty are not released before they have served half their sentence, and we have managed to convert the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on that point. He used to take the same line on this as the Minister, but he is now a convert. Come on, Minister—we want him to decide that the police should be protected in that way.
As one of the largest reviews ever of the criminal justice system is about to report, it is curious that the Minister is putting before the House a set of slighter measures simply because an election is in the offing. They are slight measures by comparison with the challenge that the country faces in terms of violent crime, falling police numbers and all the problems that he and I have debated on many occasions.
The Bill raises concerns about bureaucracy. The Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association wonder whether the fixed penalties notices will save any of their time so that the police can have a more visible presence on the streets. The worry is that clause 8 seems to require a police statement to be prepared in every case, so where will the saving be made? It would be helpful if the Minister could assure us and the police that the new procedure will serve to save police time and give them a greater ability to do the job that they and the public want them to do.
It would be helpful if the Minister addressed some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who explained, given his experience as a recorder and a stipendiary magistrate, the difficulties of distinguishing between an 18-year-old and an under-l8-year-old who are drunk in the street. He described the difficulties of finding out how many times a person had had the benefit of fixed-penalty notices. Will notice after notice be served without the person ever ending up in court?
117 One thing that victims of criminal damage want is some compensation, but it is available only on conviction. Will the Minister give victims some consolation? Will they be able in some way to receive compensation if their fence is kicked in or other criminal damage is done, for example, to their vehicle? There is a range of practical issues to do with fixed penalty notices on which we are looking for answers.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was generous about my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald and considered the issue of non-drinking zones and closure orders. [Interruption.] No, he was generous—for him. There are questions about how non-drinking zones will be implemented. Will councils decide such issues in full council, or under the new system will one Cabinet Member be in charge of designating the zones? That concern has been raised with me by councillors, and it would be helpful if the Minister reassured us that there will be a proper debate in full council on the designation of zones.
We heard important comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who pointed out that it is all very well introducing measures such as child curfew orders, fixed penalty notices and so on, but there is not much point to them if there are not enough police officers to enforce them. Many Labour Members proudly read out how burglaries and car crime have fallen in their areas, which is good news. [Interruption.] That is good news, but they also said, "But we are very worried about street crime, robberies and violence." They might like to ponder the fact that intensive police operations targeting known car thieves and burglars use a lot of manpower that could be providing a visible presence on the streets. If there are enough police officers to go round, both can be achieved. At the moment, however, assigning police officers to particular campaigns makes the streets less safe.
§ Maria Eagle
If police numbers are the only thing that matters, will the hon. Gentleman explain why between 1980 and 1989 police numbers increased but crime went up by 40 per cent?
§ Mr. Heald
I have never said that it did not take us a long time to turn round the disastrous Labour years of the 1970s. This Government inherited falling crime and rising police numbers. The Home Secretary likes to say that he has had the best start of any Home Secretary since the war. The truth is that he did because we gave it to him. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) introduced tough measures and always, year on year, increased the number of police constables. It was his legacy that the Home Secretary took on, and squandered.
§ Mr. Straw
There is a serious point about the relationship between police numbers at the margin and overall levels of crime. If the hon. Gentleman seriously examines figures for the past four years, he will see that police forces with the best record in reducing crime are not necessarily those that received the largest increases in budget or in police numbers, of which there are quite a number. Does he accept that the critical issue is not police 118 numbers at the margin—although of course I want them to increase—but the efficiency and effectiveness of the police service in any area?
§ Mr. Heald
The right hon. Gentleman and I have debated the issue on other occasions. He knows that I say that if there are two police forces that are efficient, and one of them has more than 1,000 more officers than the other for the same head of population, it will do more. We cannot assume that each police force will for ever remain inefficient here and efficient there. We should be aiming for the best standards for them all. If that is achieved, the force with the more police officers will do more work. That makes sense.
The Home Secretary must recognise that by letting police numbers fall by 2,500 and by allowing the number of special constables to collapse by almost one third, it is no coincidence that we have soaring violent crime. Letting out prisoners early means they are outside committing crimes. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. There is the irony of the right hon. Gentleman saying that we need tougher measures on bail so that those who have not been convicted will be put more regularly into custody awaiting trial, when at the same time he is saying that those who are known to have committed crime—those who have been convicted—should leave prison before serving half their term. How can that be explained? The Government are nonsensical on law and order on so many occasions. There is a great deal of spin but there is not much delivery.
Civil rights constitute an important issue for the House, for Conservatives and for Liberal Democrats. We support measures that make crimefighting easier. For example, we support a wider dissemination of information between the Inland Revenue and crimefighters. However, it is important to uphold the principle that confidentiality should be breached only in circumstances where that is necessary; that is, where there are good reasons and where there is a serious investigation. I would welcome assurances from the Minister that he will not establish a general principle that confidential information can float around government without proper controls being in place.
§ Mr. Heald
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position.
I was the Minister who took through the House the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Bill, which allowed data matching. It enabled the information that the Department of Social Security had as to whether people were claiming benefit to be matched with the information that the Inland Revenue had about whether they were working. We were able to find numerous cases of people who were working and claiming. That was a good reason for introducing the Bill, and I make no apology for doing so. The Minister must come up with a similarly good reason for his proposed measures. Given the context, and given that Inland Revenue information would be involved, it would seem that a serious investigation should be in hand.
The Minister must answer the CBI's concern that information that is held by the Office of Fair Trading will be given to overseas authorities for criminal anti-trust 119 investigations where the same circumstances would not lead either to a criminal or a civil investigation. Is that right? If so, why?
Many issues arise from the Bill. It is good if we can close rowdy pubs, provided that there are proper protections. It is good if we can limit drug traffickers' travel. It is good if we can have better witness protection. It is good if we can stop the importation of obscene and paedophiliac information. It is good if we can strengthen bail laws and it is good also if we can have new powers of arrest for kerb crawling, for example. It is good if we can improve the life of scientists, whose lives are being made a misery.
Against the scale of the challenge on law and order, the Conservative party's contention is that the Bill is a disappointment because it will not meet the challenge of the time. It is a Christmas tree of a Bill, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, said. It is disappointing when it comes to bureaucracy, practicability, targeting and civil rights. It is no surprise that the Prime Minister is not prepared to debate law and order matters with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)
I agree with the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) about one thing: generally, it has been a good debate which, for the most part, has not been politically partisan. However, interestingly, there were 17 contributions from Government Members and 10 from Members of Opposition parties, including two from Liberal Democrat Members. I was a little disappointed that the Conservative Benches were often empty during our debate.
I do not intend to address in detail very familiar discussions about falling crime, rising police numbers, growing police morale and early release issues. We had an Opposition day debate on those matters just a few days ago and on Wednesday this week we shall debate the police grant settlement. Those are full opportunities for addressing what are, I acknowledge, important issues. I do not therefore intend to address them in detail this evening, except to say that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the principle of partnership underlying it are at the core of everything that the Government are seeking to do and of the Bill itself.
I shall deal first with matters not included in the Bill, of which criticism has been made. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made a point about victims. There are provisions on witness protection in the Bill, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) spoke eloquently.
A victims' rights consultation paper will shortly be launched, with a series of key proposals, to transform the position of victims throughout the country. It is not, as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said, a question of four years; it is a question of 18 years during which nothing was done and four years in which we have been developing a programme of action to support the 120 position of victims. The way to deal with legislation in that area is to be coherent on the position of victims of a range of crimes.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has raised the question of changes to the offences against the person legislation, and the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire raised the matter at the end of our debate. The Opposition are right to say that we issued a consultation document on the matter in February 1998. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald may disagree but, in our view, an overhaul of the offences against the person legislation is best handled in the context of a law reform Bill, which would also include changes to the law on involuntary manslaughter and corporate killing. We are still considering the final shape of our policy in the light of responses to and debates on those matters, but we think that that is the best way to deal with those circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) raised the matter of graffiti. I can give her the assurance that she sought. We are considering the matter—in fact, I addressed it in a substantive Adjournment debate at the end of last year—and we are looking at introducing measures. However, we did not consider them appropriate for the Bill.
My hon. Friends the Members for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) addressed the need for fuller reform of the licensing law. Perhaps I can help them by indicating that, as is well known, we are committed to reforming the whole licensing situation as a result of the White Paper. Licensing legislation takes high priority. We have included only certain measures from the White Paper in the Bill because of the need to give the legislation a comprehensive nature. However, I can give my hon. Friends the assurance that they sought: licensing reform remains a high priority, not only for general reasons concerning the civilisation of our country but for the crime reduction reasons discussed in some contributions.
The main matter not included in the Bill that was addressed in debate concerned animal rights and protests on that issue. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire raised that matter, perfectly reasonably, in his winding-up speech. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the position clear in his opening speech, but we heard excellent speeches on the matter from the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)—whose speech was outstanding—the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), and my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Mrs. Dean), for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton), for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) and for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). Those Members focused on the matter, but it was also raised by others.
We will try to table amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill, as requested. We will examine carefully points made in this debate and those made by the Research Defence Society. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, we are familiar with the RDS's specific proposals, which have been echoed by some speakers in the House this evening. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who is dealing with the matter, is already meeting people involved in those areas and will continue to do so. We are happy to have meetings to discuss the issues in great detail.
121 The right hon. Member for Huntingdon made several specific points, to which he asked for responses. Out of courtesy, I shall give them from the Dispatch Box now. The right hon. Gentleman asked, first, whether the present UK legislation required new medicines to be tested on animals, and whether animal tests were also required by regulatory bodies for agrochemicals, pesticides and so on. The answer is that where manufacturers of medicines and agricultural products have to provide safety data relating to their products, they must find the most suitable tests to provide that data. In many cases, the only suitable tests involve the use of animals.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 contains the strictest rules governing animal research. Again, I can confirm that he is correct. The Government consider that legislation to be the strictest of its kind in the world. That endorses the various points made in all parts of the House about the quality of the safeguards, which are the best in the world. If we threaten the industry in this country, that will have the direct effect of impairing conditions for animals throughout the world.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether I could confirm that before animal research is licensed, the Home Office must be assured that tests could not be adequately be carried out without animal experiments. That is indeed the case. If there is a non-animal alternative, a test cannot be licensed. That is a requirement of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act.
I can confirm various points that were made. In the light of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, I confirm also that any new powers will be directed at intimidating protests outside homes generally. They will not relate only to Huntingdon Life Sciences or only to animal rights protesters, but to other scientists such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend.
As a result of the strong feeling expressed during the debate, I am confident that proposed legislation and Government amendments on the matter will receive widespread support in this House and in the other place. We will consult other political parties about the amendments that the Government intend to introduce. We are keen to carry through the clear feeling of the House this evening, to ensure that the appalling behaviour about which we have heard is isolated and rendered unacceptable in this country.
I shall deal with the matters that are included in the Bill, but which are controversial. The first is the issue of DNA sampling and testing. I was delighted by the general agreement about the need to include legislation on that. I except from that the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and, to some extent, those of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who expressed doubt.
The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) made a powerful and moving speech from his own experience, and indicated—I hope I am not misinterpreting him—his strong support for legislation on the matter, for reasons that he identified from his constituency experience, with which many hon. Members would agree. He is correct to say that under the Bill, consent to retain samples cannot be revoked. No doubt that will be debated in Committee.
We believe that the provision will not deter volunteers from giving informed consent, whereas allowing consent to be withdrawn would lead back to the problems of the 122 current law, which were exposed in the R. v. B. case, to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred. If a match were made in the context of a serious crime after a person had withdrawn his consent, what would be the situation? Our proposal is intended to cover that case. I acknowledge the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman's argument, and we are prepared to consider the matter in detail in Committee.
I asked the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to be clear about his party's position on the matter, but I do not think that he was clear. Given the feeling in the House on the DNA issue, it is important that the hon. Gentleman's party should make its position clear by the time the Bill reaches Committee. The Government's proposal will undoubtedly bring benefits to crime solving.
The second issue on which there was controversy concerned fixed-penalty notices, about which we heard comments from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and for Cardiff, South and Penarth, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), and my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith). Many of those speeches were strongly in favour of the Government's proposals and set out clear arguments for improving the weapons available to the police to deal with low-level disorder. Some doubts were expressed, and the issues will be debated in Committee. The hon. Member for Woking asked about the logic behind the list of offences, and suggested, in an uncharacteristically insulting way, that insufficient thought had been given to the matter. Several offences on the list were originally proposed in our consultation paper for inclusion in the scheme. A range of other possible offences were suggested by those who responded to the paper. The list covers a wide range of offending behaviour. The Government consider that some examples of the behaviour covered by each offence would be suitably dealt with by means of fixed penalties.
The organisations whose views we requested provided a substantial response. They include the Justices' Clerks Society, the Magistrates Association, the Law Society and a wide range of other organisations. Of course, they had different opinions, which I am sure will be reflected in Committee. I said in answer to a question asked by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire that the responses would be placed in the Library for hon. Members to consider before they participate in Standing Committee debates. There will be full debate on the points that have been made, which will be considered in great detail.
Curfew orders were the third controversial issue in the debate. They were dealt with in the powerful speeches made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton and for Cardiff, South and Penarth, and by my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) and for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). I associate myself with the praise given by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) for his consistent campaigning to ensure that the matters with which the Bill deals featured properly on the statute book.
123 I have some key points about the concerns expressed. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth referred to the critical importance of partnership. Indeed, all the measures are products to be used in partnership. That is the approach that we are trying constantly to build, as it is critically important in achieving our aims. Secondly, the measures must be targeted at the troublemakers and the people who are creating the difficulty. They do not ensure a universal curfew for everyone. They are intended to be targeted on particular individuals who are making other people's lives a misery. It is important to have power to deal with such people.
Thirdly, Opposition Members did not appreciate that the purpose of the range of measures—the antisocial behaviour orders, curfew orders and so on—is as much to prohibit and prevent antisocial behaviour as to punish it. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that our measures are achieving that purpose in a wide variety of ways. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet rightly referred to parents. In Islington, police and housing services are working together exceptionally closely and involving parents in the conduct of their children. That is an excellent example of such activities. The threat of antisocial behaviour orders and other measures is available to ensure that other arrangements can be properly enforced—an important factor to which sufficient attention has not always been paid.
The final point of controversy in the Bill is the range of alcohol measures, which will again be considered in Committee. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked about the difference between the Bill and current local arrangements and the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire asked about council approvals. Many local authorities already have alcohol byelaw s. The Bill provides a uniform and comprehensive set of powers, as it is vital for such powers to exist. The police will be able to direct people not to continue drinking and to confiscate glasses and bottles that might otherwise be used as weapons. The council need only designate the area and the police powers will apply, which is a far less bureaucratic arrangement than the current byelaw procedures.
§ Mr. Clarke
I shall not do so as I have so little time; I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The procedure for the council to make the designation—the point that he mentioned—will be set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State. There will be parliamentary scrutiny of those points.
The Government believe that the legislation is necessary. It will extend civil liberties, help to drive down crime levels, give more targeted weapons to partnerships, improve detection and the solution of crimes, build up intelligence-led policing and improve police training. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.