|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
There were, of course, two areas of policy introduced into the Bill in the other place that were not welcomed by the Governmentfor reasons I will come toconcerning a power to search for firearms and provision to allow intercept to be admissible as evidence.
I will return to both topics shortly after I have dealt with the substance of the Bill, as is appropriate on Second Reading.
On serious crime prevention orders, we need to provide law enforcement with a flexible means of preventing the harm caused by serious crime before it can have an impact on our communities. Someone who brings heroin on to our streets must be caught quickly, brought to justice effectively and punished appropriately. However, is it not better to ensure that the heroin does not hit the streets, with the attendant harm, in the first place?
Clause 1 creates such a tool in serious crime prevention orders. The name makes it clear: they will prevent the harm caused by serious crime before it occurs. They are not a punitive measure. They will be used only against those who have been proved to be involved in serious crime.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Everyone wants to deal with heroin dealers effectively. Is the Minister aware that only two people were given the maximum sentence for dealing in class A drugs, according to the last figures I received about a year ago? Does not he agree that before he introduces new legislation he should use the legislation we already have more effectively to put those people behind bars, where they belong?
Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman will know, because he is an astute Member, that we are talking about subsequent legislation. He makes his usual sweeping assertions, which I accept for the sake of convenience, and I agree that all the powers that we have on the statute book should be used to their fullest extent, but I do not accept his starting premise. It is right and proper to consider any gaps in the legislation alongside the proper utilisation of existing statute. The fact that some of the existing provision is not used as fully or extensively as it might be does not preclude the proper introduction of new legislation where appropriate.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): The Minister mentions heroin reaching our streets. Given that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has prime responsibility for UK drug seizuresthere are concerns about its performance in that regardis now the time to transfer the responsibilities of the Assets Recovery Agency to SOCA, which is struggling with its core responsibilities? There is also widespread concern about SOCAs accountability. Only last month, Lord Justice Sedley described it as
a region of executive action free of judicial oversight.
Mr. McNulty: Absolutely not. I am tempted to apologise to the House for introducing the issue of heroin, which does not figure in the Bill. I take issue with the hon. Gentlemans assertion that somehow SOCA is struggling with its core duties. That is not the case at all. It is barely a year old and it goes from strength to strength. It is doing fine work. All the elements in the Bill that put the ARA with SOCA were welcomed in the other place. It is in all our interests to ensure that SOCA and the ARA work collectively in the fulfilment of their core activities.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): We all want effective action against serious crime, but I am rather puzzled by how the Government define that. Why is fishing for salmon with a prohibited instrument to be regarded as a serious crime? Will the provision extend to someone poaching farmed salmon? What is the rationale behind it?
Mr. McNulty: The offence merits inclusion as a serious crime under certain circumstances. Neither I nor any other Minister thought the measure up as a means of attacking people who enjoy fishing. It has been included in the Bill because ACPO tells us that salmon poaching is a widespread and serious environmental crime in our countryside. We are not attacking individuals: our intention is to deal with a serious and substantive organised crime. Even if it is aimed principally at salmon farms, who am I to challenge ACPOs expertise in the matter?
Mr. Garnier: I can understand that salmon poaching using dynamite would be a serious offence, but legislation already exists to control the use of explosives. Why does schedule 1 make no mention of homicide, serious assault such as grievous bodily harm, or terrorism offences? Will the Bill deal with such matters in another way?
Mr. McNulty: I am afraid that that was not entertaining. Very unusually for a man of the law like the hon. and learned Gentleman, it was obtuse. My answer goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). I think that the House will agree that, in relative terms at least, we are probably well covered for homicide, terrorism and a range of other serious crimes. This Bill is designed to fill the lacunae that exist in the law, and its scope does not extend to every crime that, however remotely, could be construed as serious. As I said earlier, the Bill and schedules have been devised precisely to fill what we perceive to be holes in the existing legislation covering serious and organised crime. An ongoing review of homicide law will report in due course. The hon. and learned Gentleman is esteemed for his knowledge of that legislation: he should point out what he considers to be serious gaps in it to those carrying out the review, and not to me. I am sure that they will be pleased to hear from him, but this debate is not the appropriate location for such observations.
As I was saying, clause 1 proposes serious crime prevention orders. Their name makes it clear that they will prevent the harm caused by serious crime before it occurs. They are not a punitive measure. They will be
used only against those who have been proved to have been involved in serious crime.
All hon. Members will have received the briefing from Liberty. In advance of discussion here and in Committee, I must note thatunusuallyit contains important inaccuracies. In the main, I have high regard for Liberty briefings, even though I sometimes I disagree with them, but this one is littered with unfounded assertions and important inaccuracies. It seems to belong more to the Paris Hilton school of intellectual rigour, as it does not live up to Libertys usual standards. The briefing states, for example, that
the Government may hope that these orders are a way of getting round the presumption of innocence because the applicable standard of proof will be the lowest civil standard of on the balance of probabilities.
That is absolutely wrong. My noble and learned Friend Baroness Scotland stated categorically in the other place that, in keeping with the House of Lords judgment in the case of McCann, we expect that the standard of proof required in relation to the question of whether a person has been involved in serious crime will be the same as in criminal cases, namely beyond reasonable doubt.
Libertys assertion is thus entirely unfoundeda bit of a shame. Contrary to the statement in the briefing, the purpose of the orders is not to avoid the full rigours of criminal prosecution; they are aimed at preventing future behaviour, not punishing past behaviour. If a criminal prosecution is possible, it will be brought. As set out in clauses 1 and 6, the orders will contain only conditions that prevent the subject from further involvement in serious crime. That is set out clearly in the Bill and goes against Libertys assertion that the conditions that can be put in place would amount to criminal sanctions. The conditions will be decided by the High Court, or the Crown Court in the case of an order made immediately on conviction, and can and will act only in a way that is compatible with convention rights.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I appreciate that as the Bill provides that the threshold for making the order is reached only in the event of conviction, most people would be satisfied with that as proof that somebody was involved in the commission of serious crime, but there is real concern, which goes beyond the issues raised by Liberty, that people could be caught by other provisions in the Bill for conducting themselves in a way likely to facilitate the commission of a serious offence by themselves or another person. When the extent of the anticipated involvement and the nature of the predicted crime need not be specified, surely the fact that such a provision could produce an extremely restrictive order, with a five-year punishment on breach, should give us real grounds for concern.
I do not agree that the hon. Gentlemans point goes beyond those raised by Liberty, but they will all be better discussed in detail in Committee. I accept that there are concerns around the edges, but my starting point is that Libertys assertion about a standard other than beyond reasonable doubt is factually inaccurate. Dealing with the subsequent details relating to the High Court and
Crown Court route and the preventive and disruptive powers of the orders is a perfectly fair matter for debate in Committee. We want the orders to work and if what the hon. Gentleman suggests would be a barrier to that, or if there are concerns that they would run counter to compatibility with the convention, those matters can usefully be explored in Committee, but I half take his pointI do not mean that churlishly; I genuinely only half take the point.
The orders must be flexible to be effective, but they will operate within the context of strong legislative and procedural protections for the subject, which relates to the hon. Gentlemans point. We think, however, that they will provide law enforcement with the means to tackle serious crime more comprehensively than has been possible to date.
Clauses 41 to 62 make important changes to the criminal law, which will ensure that those who encourage or assist offences are held accountable for their actions. Those changes were recommended by the Law Commission and broadly agreed by the other place, so I do not particularly want to dwell on them. I am sure Members will have huge fun going into the detail of the Law Commissions recommendations in Committee.
The measures in clauses 63 to 67 will help to combat fraud, by providing public authorities with the tools to better detect and prevent fraudapologies for the split infinitive. They are in two distinct parts: data sharing and data matching. Every aspect of the sharing and matching of data proposals will be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and will automatically
The measures will automatically attract the oversight of the Information Commissioner, with whom we have consulted throughout the development of the policy, in his capacity as independent regulator and guardian of the Data Protection Act.
Margaret Moran: I am sure my hon. Friend will join me in offering our condolences to the family of PC Jon Henry, who died in my constituency. I am sure, too, that he wants to ensure that the valuable measures in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 to tackle knife crime are all enforced, including speeding up the implementation of section 43 on the sale of knives to under-18s. The provisions for data sharing are extremely welcome, but will my hon. Friend clarify whether they will include sharing data across the whole of the Home Office and, in particular, cover the sharing of immigration information if, as we are hearing, the alleged perpetrator in this instance was an immigration overstayer?
I associate myself absolutely with my hon. Friends remarks about PC Jon Henry and about our fully implementing the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and all the provisions in it that deal with knife crime. This Bill deals with serious crime rather than
violent crime, but as I said yesterday at Home Office questions, it is not an abdication of our responsibility to say that the use of knives by young people will not be dealt with just by legislation. As I think the whole House broadly agrees, we have made it clear that education, awareness and a range of other issues must come into play in terms of getting rid of the culture in which it is considered smart or otherwise to carry knives and associated weapons. It would be wrong to stand here as a Home Office Minister or as a Minister of any description and to say that somehow, by magic, legislation will deal with this matter.
As far as we can push the legislative dimension, we have done so. It would also be fair to say that at least some elements of quite how serious we are about knife crime need to be understood a bit more fully by colleagues in the judiciary. I do not mean that in any disrespectful sense, but just to put the point on the record. We will take forward as much as we can all that is in the Violent Crime Reduction Act.
I perfectly understand why my hon. Friend used the interesting hook of the data sharing and data matching provisions in the Bill. Her point about the immigration department and sharing information across government is not in the strictest terms covered by the Bill, because that point should already and does pertain. She will know that we are trying across government, and certainly across the Home Office, to do more and more about the integrity of assorted databases on the immigration side and everywhere else. Data sharing and data matching across government and all law enforcement agencies, and not just in terms of this Bill but far more generally, will be the absolute key to tackling many of these crimes and many of these issues.
My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not comment on the immigration status or otherwise of the individual of interest to the police in the case of the tragic murder of PC Jon Henry. I simply cannot go down that road, but I take her point none the less.
As I was saying, it will be appropriate for the Committee to debate what we do about data matching and data sharing in the context of serious organised crime, and I think that everyone agrees that, as technology and the use of data develop all the more, data sharing and data matching across government and the law enforcement agencies will be central to the fight against crime, not least the serious and organised crime of the future. That point has already been well made by a range of people far more experienced than I, but it is widely accepted that a Government of whatever party will collectively need to catch up with the use of data across all walks of life.
The Data Protection Act 1998 will cover these measures and the Information Commissioner, in his role as regulator and guardian of the Data Protection Act, will also cover them. The first data protection principle of the Act requires, among other things, that personal data should be processed fairly and lawfully, and all the provisions in the Bill are designed to comply with the Act.
The data sharing provisions in clauses 63 to 66 create a legal gateway through which public authorities may share information for the purposes of preventing fraud. This sharing is to be done through a specified anti-fraud organisation, of which there could be several, and will
enable information to be shared between the public and private sectors in a way that is not always possible now.
There is as yet no specified anti-fraud organisationand arrangements made by them may varybut CIFAS, the UKs anti-fraud service, is an example of a body that could be so specified. Members of CIFAS, who are typically financial institutions, keep a database of persons who are suspected of having attempted to commit fraud against them. Other members may then check applications for services against that database to see whether they should have reservations. CIFAS members report having avoided fraud losses of £790 million in 2006. That clearly shows the worth of the database.
During discussions of the provision in another place, Baroness Scotland committed the Government to introducing an amendment requiring the Secretary of State to produce a code of practice that all public authorities sharing the specified anti-fraud organisation must have regard to. Liberty has welcomed our intention to do so, and that will be dealt with in Committee.
The data-matching provisions in clause 67 involve placing the national fraud initiative, a biennial Audit Commission-run exercise, on a statutory footing. The national fraud initiative is a proven tool in the fight against fraud. In the last cycle, more than £111 million of fraud and overpayments were identified. We made a number of amendments in the other place to strengthen the controls and safeguards within the measures and to include statutory involvement of the Information Commissioner.
The Audit Commission will not be able to use the powers to profile individuals and predict who might commit fraud in the future. The provisions are about preventing and detecting the fraud that is happening right now. They create a proportionate regime that complies with the Data Protection Act and the UKs human rights obligations, while preventing and detecting fraud losses suffered by the public purse.
Margaret Moran: I welcome the measures on data sharing and the Ministers assurances that they will not be used for data mining or phishing, which is one of the concerns raised elsewhere. Will he respond to the concerns raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which suggested that any fraud organisation could make disclosures of data collected in this way, not merely those specified by order of the Secretary of State?
Mr. McNulty: It is right and proper to specify in the way that we have. I know of the concerns of the JCHR, but they might be more suitably explored in Committee, where assurances can be given. I take the point. Although I am relatively open on this matter, I probably do not share the concerns of the JCHR. Some of the concerns expressed in the other place were the other way around, in the sense that it was asked why one organisationCIFAS or whoever elseshould have sole rights under specification. So we are trying to make that broader. In the end, for the thing to work, it would be appropriate for any organisation that wants to seek the same status as CIFAS or any other specified organisation to do so. As I said, that can be explored more readily in Committee.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|