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'In section 125(4)(c), the word "and" at the end of sub-paragraph (ii).
In section 126, the word "and" at the end of paragraph (c).'.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 938

No. 143, in page 162, line 5, at end insert--


'1989 c.45.Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989.In section 39(7), the words from "and the foregoing" to the end.'.

No. 144, in page 162, line 47, column 3, at beginning insert--


'Section 11(3)(b) and (4).'.

o. 145, in page 162, line 47, column 3, at end insert--


'Section 16(7)(b).'.

No. 146, in page 163, line 4, at end insert--


'Section 130(4).'
--[Mr. Mike O'Brien.]

Title


Amendment made: No. 5, in title, line 5, after 'trial;' insert
'to reduce the age at which certain sexual acts are lawful;'.--[Mr. Mike O'Brien.]
Order for Third Reading read.

9.20 pm

Mr. Michael: I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a particular pleasure for me. Having considered one criminal justice Bill after another in opposition since 1990, it is exciting to be involved with legislation that has real potential to change the quality of life for our constituents in every part of the country.

Since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Labour party's determination to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, we have been preparing to undertake ambitious reform of the criminal justice system. Since my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary assumed office, he has won enormous credit and respect for his willingness to take on the difficult issues--not just those that gain immediate plaudits but the tough issues that must be tackled if we are to succeed in our ambition of creating a safe society.

A most exciting aspect is the way in which we are experiencing genuine enthusiasm from the police, local authorities and communities up and down the country. My hon. Friends referred today to the responses of their constituents when we have discussed with them the day-to-day problems that they experience on housing estates, in communities and in towns and cities throughout the country.

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): Last week in my constituency, the local newspaper the Peterborough Evening Telegraph carried reports of most appalling levels of vandalism and harassment in Heltwate court in the Bretton part of my constituency. That area wasonce described as a state-of-the-art model housing development, but complaints from residents have tripled

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in recent months. I am sorry to say that the perpetrators of those crimes are often young teenagers and those in their pre-teenage years. Last week, the editor--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must sit down when I am on my feet. Is she making a speech or an intervention?

Mrs. Brinton: It is an intervention, and it will be brief.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not sure that it can be brief now. Perhaps the hon. Lady will make it very brief.

Mrs. Brinton: I shall be very brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Last week, the editor of the local newspaper called the Government to account and asked when they were going to introduce parenting orders and address the problem. Will my hon. Friend assure my constituents that the parenting orders in the Bill will indeed have that effect?

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend makes one very good point, which is that crime and disorder happen not elsewhere, but in each of our constituencies. It is right that she should concentrate on Peterborough, just as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary often draws inspiration from Blackburn and I draw inspiration from Cardiff. It is a serious point that individual communities bear the brunt of crime and disorder, which is all too easy to regard as a set of statistics. I assure my hon. Friend that the measures in the Bill, including parenting orders and anti-social behaviour orders among many others, will make a real difference to the lives of her constituents.

One of the messages that have been brought home during the discussions leading up to the Bill and during our debates on the Bill is that cutting crime and disorder is a task for each one of us. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for making it clear that our task in Government is not to blame other people, but to be a part of the solution, working with the police, local authorities and everyone else. One of the Bill's most important elements is that it gives everyone an opportunity to be involved at local level, through the crime and disorder audit on which a local strategy to tackle crime and disorder can be built. There is to be a close partnership between the police, the local authority, other agencies and the wider community as they set about the task of reducing crime and disorder in their community.

It is especially important that the Bill addresses the problem of youth crime and makes it clear that the aim of the youth justice system is to reduce offending and reoffending. It sets about the job to which we are committed of speeding up youth justice and makes it clear that our measures are part of a comprehensive approach. Aspects such as the final warning and the introduction of the concept of reparation into our thinking about how the youth justice system works will make a difference by confronting youngsters with their behaviour and the damage that it does to the wider community, as well as to their victims. The secure detention and training order will help to bring coherence to the system of secure accommodation for youngsters who have to be detained securely.

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Today, we have discussed the problems of racially motivated crime and the necessity of going further in giving confidence to certain communities, especially in response to the concerns of the Muslim community. The Bill sets about filling in the gaps in the system, with the anti-social behaviour order, the drug treatment and testing order and the sex offenders order, each of which is worthy of serious consideration by the House. I am pleased that scrutiny in Committee has led to considerable support for our approach in those matters.

Above all, it is important to recognise that legislation is the start, not the end, of a process. Later this year, the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales will be established. We are already working on preparation with police and local authorities and issuing guidance for local crime and disorder strategies. Each of those measures is individually important, but, taken together, they mark an enormous stride forward in the fight against the crime and disorder that has created so much misery for so many people. The aim of the Bill is simple: to build a safer and more responsible society. The Bill will help local communities to fight back against crime and anti-social behaviour. It does not finish, but begins the Government's root-and-branch reform of youth justice; and it will help to reduce delays and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole.

It is only fair to say that hon. Members who laboured in the Committee and those who participated in debates yesterday and today have helped to improve the Bill. In many cases, we have seen the House of Commons, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, at its best. At times, hon. Members have acted in a way that leads to controversy and argument, which are the stuff of political debate, but the result has been to improve the legislation, which is no small feat, given the easy temptation to indulge in knockabout, rather than positive debate. During the two days on Report, we have made significant further improvements. With Opposition support, we have strengthened the law against football hooligans, increased the maximum prison sentence available for those who breach a football restriction order and given the police powers to arrest someone who has, or is about to, breach an order.

I have referred to the important elements of the protection against racially aggravated offences. The concerns of the Muslim community and those of the Opposition led to the amendments that were considered earlier today to clarify that, under the terms of the new offences, it will be no defence to argue that an attack was based to any extent on religious hostility. Yesterday, the House took a clear view, on a free vote, that the age of consent for homosexuals should be brought into line with that for heterosexuals.

During more than 50 hours of debate in Committee significant changes were made to the Bill. As I anticipated on Second Reading, the clause establishing a standing advisory council on criminal justice and the penal system was removed from the Bill. The Government argued, and the Committee agreed, that such a body would be neither necessary nor desirable. However, the way in which we could deal with advice and guidance by the Appeal Court was improved and strengthened. That has again been the subject of a positive and constructive debate today.

Other important improvements include a new power for the police to take truanting children back to school,or to another safe place designated by the local

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education authority. I am sure that hon. Members would agree that if we fail to tackle truancy we are failing our children. We are failing also the wider community but we are failing the children who truant. Children who exclude themselves from education are jeopardising their chances of leading useful and successful lives. They are also more likely to commit crime and to cause distress and nuisance. The measure is part of our wider programme to tackle school exclusions and truancy and so help every child make the most of his or her talents and opportunities.

I think that it is because of our partnership approach that our proposals were welcomed by the police. The police have always been doubtful about the idea of being lumbered with the problem of truancy. We have a combination of Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment and at the Home Office working together and providing a mechanism that allows co-operation at a local level to tackle truancy and the problems that arise from it.

We have seen added provisions to enable the police, in closely defined circumstances, to require the removal of face coverings. Too often in the past, people intent on violence and intimidation have disguised their identity with balaclavas, for example, causing greater fear and distress to their victims and frustrating the efforts of the police. The powers in the Bill will enable the police to unmask potential troublemakers before violence starts.

We have introduced provisions to clarify the way in which two or more sentences of imprisonment should be combined. We have given the Crown court the power to impose a confiscation order when an offender is committed to it for sentence.

Before we complete our consideration of the Bill, I say on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and my hon. Friends who supported us in Committee that we have been gratified by the support that has been shown for the Bill generally and for many of its provisions. That can be said of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. The Bill, when implemented, will help us fulfil 12 manifesto commitments. However, it is not a partisan measure. It is a practical measure designed to protect innocent people and to help restore law-abiding responsible communities.

On Second Reading, the main opposition parties gave the Bill a more or less qualified welcome. I feel that the input of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members in Committee, as well as that of Labour Back-Bench Members, however brief and restrained those contributions were, was informed and instructive. Seven of the Government amendments agreed to on Report were inspired by points raised by Opposition parties in Committee. I have referred to several of them during earlier debates today, such as the ability to make an anti-social behaviour order crossing a local government boundary.

I believe that we will pass the Bill back to the other place considerably improved, and we started off with a pretty good Bill. I hope that the Bill will receive Royal Assent before the summer recess. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is keen that many of the measures set out in the Bill should be proceeded with quickly so that the wider community can begin to benefit. In particular, the local crime reduction strategy,

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for example, could be well in place by next April and the start of a new financial year, and a new planning year for both local authorities and the police.

Only once the Bill is enacted will the real work begin. Successful implementation will depend above all upon successful local partnership. It will be for practitioners and local communities throughout the country to make the Bill work for them so as to cut crime and reduce serious anti-social behaviour and thus make their communities safer and more pleasant places in which to live. I hope that I speak for the whole House when I say that I am eager to see that process start without delay. I commend the Bill to the House.


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