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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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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
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.
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:
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.
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.