Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for giving way. She is making an extremely important point, which she knows I agree with. Does she agree that, at the point of arrest, a lot of other powers flow from that in our statute law? If that arrest becomes
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1087
entirely discretionary on the part of the officer for any offence, so will all the other powers that flow from arrest when that person is taken back to the police station.

Vera Baird: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. There are a number of serious powers—searching, searching premises, use of force—that flow from a decision to arrest, all of which will become the subject of what is bound to be a highly individualised decision that is likely to be, therefore, almost by definition, an arbitrary way of deciding who is arrested and who is not.

This "necessity" has to be a subjective term, has it not? It will mean what the officer in that situation thinks is necessary. There will never be some black and white rule whereby it can be said, "It is necessary in this situation, but not in that." Necessity will be in the mind of the individual. What better definition is there than an arbitrary power of arrest? The decision to use it is in the mind of the individual.

Either that is the real position or we are asking officers—in the absence of any rules about what is a necessity and in the absence of the definitions of which offences can and cannot be arrested for—to fall back on their individual judgment. So if we decide to look for some rules, what will we find? We can look only to the human rights convention.

The individual involved—either in the heat of the moment, on the roadside or in the middle of a field where he had apprehended someone who may or may not be a burglar—would have to decide whether he was justified, given the exigencies of the situation, in interfering with the individual's rights under article 5, which refers to arbitrary detention, while bearing in mind the rights under article 8, which refers to the right to privacy.

Are we are expecting—pretty soon we will be, I think—a community support officer, or in any event a trainee constable, to reach such a conclusion in the heat of the moment? That is just not going to happen. I am afraid that this will be an arbitrary test, and I am concerned about arbitrary powers of arrest.

I do not mind confessing that a few weeks ago I had something of a ruck with a police officer who asserted, utterly incorrectly, that I had gone through a red light and turned left, and who roared up behind me in his vehicle, clearly seeing that I was a weak and feeble middle-aged woman and thinking that he would get out and rough me up a little verbally. So, when he got out he told me I had gone through the light. I said that I had not and proposed to move off. He stopped me. He proposed to lecture me. I got cross with him. One can just imagine that the necessity to arrest me could not have been far from his mind, if he had that power. I am afraid that that is what will go wrong. Perhaps we do not have to worry—although I am worried about the arbitrariness of it all—but a situation that gets heated over a small matter will lead to misuse of this power.

Mr. McWalter: I have little doubt that, in the exchange to which my hon. and learned Friend refers, it was not the policeman who came off best. She is raising this issue partly because she will know that one of the great difficulties that police officers have is that
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1088
somebody who seeks to evade their attentions often conceals their real identity. Consequently, a large number of offenders get away with relatively trivial offences, such as fare dodging on a train. If a police officer suspects that a false identity has been given, that creates major difficulties for effective policing.

Vera Baird: I appreciate that point entirely. Currently, however, section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows a power of arrest, not for that level of offence but for slightly higher ones, when we would be seriously concerned that people might be able to get away with the offence by using false names. If a police officer asks for a name and address, and has reasonable cause to suspect that a false one has been given, he then has a power of arrest under section 25. Such a problem—not for the ticket dodge, but for a higher level of crime—is therefore not present, and this provision is not required to meet it.

I have said all that there is to say about that proposal. It is very worrying, and it needs consideration in Committee. Perhaps it can be realistically explored in the way in which the Home Secretary appeared to be offering himself as ready to explore issues about which others might have real reservations.

Lastly, I am very concerned about civilianising the custody officer. The custody officer is usually called a custody sergeant, and he must indeed be a sergeant of police. By definition, he will be an experienced officer who has been in the force for a number of years. He is not a jailer—he is not just the person who locks up an individual. He has a responsibility for the civil liberties of that individual and to ensure that all the procedures, under the extensive PACE codes of practice, are put in place. He must keep a custody record, which he must open at the outset and which must be kept systematically. He is in charge of decisions as diverse as when the individual will or will not be entitled to see his family, how long they will need to be detained for, and when it is necessary to call a more senior officer to consider events that might have arisen in the police station. He will also have to make decisions about whether someone gets bail. As I understand it, those duties will be devolved down to a civilian, which causes me some concern.

The custody sergeant has additional jobs, which occur every day. When someone is arrested, the officers responsible are obliged to present the facts of why the person has been arrested to the custody sergeant. A senior police officer, as the sergeant usually is respective to those bringing in the individual, will have the power, authority and independence to say to those bringing in the individual that he does not accept that those facts amount to the alleged offence, if that is the case. Will a civilian employee be able to do that?

In addition, the custody sergeant has the responsibility of ensuring that interviewing is done fairly, that it is done for only as long as it should occur, and not longer, and that it is done only when it should occur. Will a civilian be able to resist the personalities, the force and the seniority of senior detectives who may want to interview again someone who has already been interviewed two or three times, because something new has arisen in the case? What is required is a person who has a full understanding of all the implications of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and of the codes,
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1089
and who is totally independent of the inquiry and the officers involved, senior enough to be taken notice of, and able to take responsible decisions. That person will not be a civilian employee who, like community support officers, is of lower status than the police; he will have to be a civilian employee of higher status than the police with whom he deals. Why can he not be a police officer—the obvious person for the job?

What will we gain by releasing a custody sergeant to do whatever is intended on the beat? That is a rather unusual notion. The person concerned will generally be an officer involved in administrative roles in the police station, so no front-line troops will be released. The price will be a very high level of risk for the rights of those who are detained. Let us leave the job with a police officer, or else understand more fully why the change should be made. Are there not better ways of releasing troops on to the street?

Where it targets serious organised crime, the Bill seems very good and very focused. Arguably, some elements are not strong enough. For instance, I do not know why the definition of serious crime for the purposes of the extra powers does not include paedophile rings. There are respects in which that part of the Bill ought to be made tougher, and I hope that that can be done in Committee. Where the Bill is less targeted, it seems less focused—a bit of a Christmas tree—and I think it will require careful scrutiny.

3.41 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). I echo her point about the omission of paedophile rings, and I will shortly return to another point that she made.

I know from the many letters I receive from constituents that crime is the No. 1 fear. Violent crime and antisocial behaviour are in danger of becoming an epidemic, blighting the lives of numerous law-abiding, hard-working families throughout the country. The breakdown of law and order and respect for wider authority is arguably the most serious domestic problem in Britain today.

In Kent we are blessed with one of the best police forces in the country—in my view, one of the best in the world—but I am sorry to say that the Government, with their plethora of crime Bills, have done little to turn the tide back. Despite unbelievable, unprecedented amounts of legislation, violent crime is rising. The horrifying recent incidents—three murders by burglars, of which we have read in the press in the last week or two—underpin the bleak statistics.

Rather than dealing with the full scope of the Bill, I shall focus almost entirely on those who suffer terrible, degrading, inhuman treatment at the hands of international organised criminal gangs engaged in people smuggling. They have no voice. We are nowhere near winning the battle against drugs, and we now have a whole new war to fight. One of SOCA's most important roles must be to tackle the disgusting traffic in people—the vile trade in women and children.

Estimates of the worldwide value of migrant smuggling and trafficking vary. According to Der Spiegel, the German secret service has estimated that revenue for international criminal gangs operating in
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1090
Europe alone amounted to €5 billion a year, of which about two thirds was collected by Chinese criminal gangs, three or four years ago. Some organisations now estimate the total value of the trade to be anything up to €30 billion a year. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe believes that it has now replaced the drugs trade as the world's most profitable illegal industry. That is a truly staggering fact.

The International Organisation for Migration has estimated that between 700,000 and 2 million women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. It observes that

Unfortunately, Britain is one of the most affected countries. The Home Office has no information on the number of women trafficked into the UK for the purpose of exploitation. Indeed, one official described the whole illegal immigrant population as a "knowledge black hole".

At a Home Office seminar five years ago, workers in health projects estimated that, even back then, 50 per cent. of those employed in London's sex industry's so-called brothels were immigrants. A more recent investigation by the Metropolitan police found that 76 per cent. of Soho brothels were staffed by foreign prostitutes, with Albania and Lithuania being the most common sources. Every year, more than 6,000 children aged between 12 and 16 are smuggled into Europe to work as prostitutes. An estimated 80 per cent. of people trafficked from Albania are teenage girls under the age of 18, according to a report in The Guardian.

Behind these grim statistics lie literally thousands of horrific individual cases. Typically, the victims describe how they are repeatedly raped until their resistance is completely broken. By the time that they reach this country, they are completely in the hands of their captors. Indeed, even if they do escape, they are in a foreign country. Frequently, they do not speak the language and have no idea to whom to turn. In many cases, the police in their country of origin are the very last people to whom they would go for help; they have no way of knowing that the situation here is very different.

The Bill does contain some welcome measures—in particular, chapter 4 of part 2 puts witness protection on to a statutory footing—but it is very important to provide safe houses for victims who have only just escaped their tormentors. The Home Secretary gave me a fairly conciliatory answer earlier in this regard; however, the anti-slavery coalition and Amnesty International pointed out in a joint presentation in the House last week that there are very few safe houses in this country for such women, and that there are now no safe houses at all for children, the only two having closed. It is vital that women, and particularly children, have safe places to go to, where they are beyond the reach of these remorseless criminal groups.

Amnesty International and others have also called for medical care, counselling and other aid before deportation. I have been involved in the campaign concerning the treatment of child victims in this country—a campaign that has been run for the past 15 years. There has been a transformation in their treatment, but how much worse has the plight become
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1091
of these young girls, who have been abused for months, and in some cases, for years? They know nothing about this country, yet they are receiving the same sort of treatment here. If we do not provide the resources to protect them and to encourage those who are brave enough to testify, the chances of penetrating the dark and murky underworld in which these rings operate is nil.

When this Government came to power seven years ago, we were told that we would be treated to joined-up government. This Bill is trumpeted as an example, and we all welcome the bringing together of the various agencies. However, in other fields relating to crime and disorder, measures have been implemented that conflict directly with each other. The Government have a professed desire to tackle binge drinking; yet licensing legislation prevents local authorities from considering police intelligence on licence applicants' previous conduct. It also prevents them from taking into account serious time-expired offences, and it creates a charter for previously illegal raves. At the same time, in the name of healthy living, the Government are waging war against smokers, fat people and anybody enjoying a Big Mac, while at the same time downgrading the classification of cannabis and presiding over an explosion in sexually transmitted diseases.

Sadly, my concern today—people trafficking—is no exception in this regard. Please let me be clear: I do not buy the argument of those well-meaning non-governmental organisations that say that the vile trade of people trafficking can somehow be separated from wider immigration policy. That is complete nonsense. The organisations that specialise in people trafficking started out in the business of people smuggling, and their profits grew when they expanded into this vile new sector. Bringing successful prosecutions against people traffickers through the testimony of courageous witnesses will help to close down people smuggling and vice versa. If we make it harder for people smugglers to succeed, we will help to deter people traffickers.

People trafficking is a symptom of the wider breakdown of immigration controls. A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in July 2000 on the trafficking and smuggling of refugees states that much of existing policy making by European Governments is

A passage in a migration paper published by the widely respected Brussels-based "Migration News Sheet" sums up the position perfectly:

Our borders and internal enforcement procedures are undermanned. The Triad and Snakehead groups that operate women's prostitution were behind the Morecambe bay disaster. As long ago as June of the previous year, the Home Office were warned about the exploitation of vulnerable migrants by ruthless gangmasters. The warning was noted, but ignored, as a
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1092
clear decision was made to do nothing. In a letter to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), the Home Office said that the immigration service could not intervene because of "resource issues". It said that

What were immigration officers doing that could have served a greater purpose?

The lack of specific anti-trafficking legislation to deal with perpetrators has often resulted in charges being brought under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The hon. and learned Member for Redcar was right that we are far too short of tools. This is one of the few areas where we would benefit from having more Home Office laws, as we need much sharper measures to prosecute both the traffickers and the perpetrators. As a parallel—I am not suggesting that this could be directly imposed in British law—when we were discussing legislation to deal with sex tourism, we discovered that the Philippines had passed a law under which a prima facie offence is committed if a tourist is alone with a Filipino child without being able to show good reason. It takes a great deal of courage for women and young girls to testify, but once they have done so, the criminals often get away with short prison sentences. Sentences should reflect the nature of crimes that often result in the destruction of young lives. Indeed, those lives are often ended by sexually transmitted disease.

As always on immigration, the Government are sending out the wrong signals. Only one in five failed asylum seekers are removed from the UK, and more than 250,000 asylum seekers live here. Asylum applications are still much higher than they were in 1997, having peaked at more than double the number in that year. The Government are taking virtually no action against legal advisers who exploit legal loopholes for use by people smugglers, whose business helps to sustain people trafficking. If memory serves, in Home Office questions, I was told that there were only 12 cases in the previous year in which legal advisers were prosecuted. Interestingly, none of those cases related to work permits. We had a discussion on the subject in Westminster Hall. It is obviously true that most people traffickers do not go anywhere near the work permit system, but a system that has quadrupled the number of people already in the country who apply successfully for work permits serves as a pull factor that is of huge use to people smugglers. Incidentally, can someone explain to me what has happened to the 1,160 young women admitted last year, allegedly to take up jobs as dancers? Do we really think that none of them is being exploited?

The wider breakdown in immigration policy is creating an underclass of people who, at the more moderate end of the scale, are working in the UK illegally, subject to low health and safety standards and so on, through to the extreme example of those enslaved in child brothels. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to circulate illegally in this country, many of them to a greater or lesser degree in the hands of the people who originally smuggled them here. I sincerely hope that the creation of SOCA will help to eradicate this vile crime, and that the misery of the thousands of exploited and tormented women and children will be brought to an end.
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1093

The Bill on its own will not achieve that. Successful action against illegal exploitation must involve other factors, a number of which I have mentioned—safe houses for witnesses, more counselling and support for them so that they are more likely to be willing to testify, much tougher penalties in courts, and an effective overall immigration policy.

My final point relates to another topic. There was a tremendous cross-current of discussion on the introduction of the new crime of inciting religious hatred. Before the eloquent testimony of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) on the subject, the Home Secretary was generous in giving way to about 10 Members in various parts of the House who were deeply concerned about the matter. I should like to leave hon. Members in all parts of the House with one thought on that—the point that I put to the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), with whom I frequently disagree, although he is my near neighbour in Canterbury.

I ask hon. Members to think about this: the law is already perfectly firm and clear on incitement to violence. We have a panoply of measures to deal with it. If Parliament passes an Act, the courts and the Attorney-General must look at it and say, "This is supposed to extend a power in a new direction. There must be some new dimension to this." What is this new dimension of incitement to religious hatred? How does it differ from incitement to violence? The only possible answer comes back to arguing about beliefs. If we go down that route, we have given up on free speech. I urge the Government to think again about these provisions, although I support the rest of the Bill and argue that it needs strengthening in a number of areas with regard to the vile trade in women and children.

3.58 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page