Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Baldry: They are olive trees.

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. Heald: It was a metaphor.

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

29 Jan 2001 : Column 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.

29 Jan 2001 : Column 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. Heald: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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

29 Jan 2001 : Column 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.

Next Section

IndexHome Page