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Session 2007 - 08
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (Additional Authorities) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Janet Anderson
Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
Atkins, Charlotte (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab)
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Caborn, Mr. Richard (Sheffield, Central) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham) (Lab)
Farron, Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Johnson, Mr. Boris (Henley) (Con)
Jones, Mr. Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington) (Lab)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Keith Neary, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 5 December 2007

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Draft Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (Additional Authorities) Order 2007

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (Additional Authorities) Order 2007.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson. The order extends section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to cover the Greater London authority, Transport for London and the London Development Agency. Those agencies will be under a duty to do all that they reasonably can to prevent crime and disorder. They will also have to undertake their business with regard to the likely impact on crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour. That duty provides a way in which to ensure that crime and disorder issues are mainstreamed within local decision making. Currently, the duty applies to a wide range of agencies, including local authorities, police authorities and fire and rescue authorities—all key local partners in the work to improve community safety.
The Government decided to put the Greater London authority, the London Development Agency and Transport for London under the same duty after a wider Government consultation in 2006 on the future of the Greater London authority. Since the consultation, which supported extending the duty, the agencies have voluntarily considered crime and disorder issues in their decision-making processes and strategy guidance. For example, Transport for London has produced a community safety plan that sets out the work it is doing to improve community safety on London’s transport system, which we welcome as work to make London’s underground and bus network safer for those who travel across the city.
The duty does not require the agencies to work in partnership with others to reduce crime. That duty falls within section 5 of the 1998 Act, and the GLA, the LDA and TfL are not included in the list of authorities covered by that section. As such, the three agencies do not become responsible authorities on crime and disorder reduction partnerships in London and are not affected by other legislation that we have introduced for partnerships. Extending section 17 will ensure that the work to reduce crime lies at the heart of decisions affecting London and supports the success in reducing crime there. I commend the order to the Committee.
4.32 pm
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Anderson. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
If approved by the Committee, the instrument would place a statutory responsibility on TfL, the London Development Agency and the Greater London authority to exercise their various functions with due regard to their likely effect and to do all that they can to prevent crime and disorder in their area, and also the misuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances, to which the Minister alluded. The bodies will be added to the existing authorities subject to the regime of section 17 of the 1998 Act.
Clearly, the Government cannot be satisfied with the current situation, otherwise they would not be trying to push through the measure in advance of the London elections next spring. As the Home Office’s crime reduction website, which offers guidance on the 1998 Act, states:
“Section 17 is aimed at giving the vital work of crime and disorder reduction a focus across the wide range of local services and putting it at the heart of local decision-making.”
What on earth has the Mayor of London been doing all these years if he has not been taking account of crime and disorder and the misuse of drugs and alcohol when carrying out his duties? That is particularly so given that the Mayor is already under a statutory duty under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to develop and implement policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities within Greater London.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right in concluding that the statutory instrument can have only one implication—that the Mayor and his subsidiary bodies have not been taking sufficient account of crime on London transport. The incidence of code reds on London buses went up from 387 to 697 between 2002 and 2006—an increase of 80 per cent. Will the Minister acknowledge that the instrument is an attempt to change the ways of the Mayor and his subsidiary bodies and to get them to take crime and disorder on public transport more seriously?
James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes an important and clear point. It was interesting to hear the Minister say that he wanted the issues to be “mainstreamed” into the relevant bodies, because that suggests that such mainstreaming is not already happening. We are left with the impression that even the Government are not happy with the situation and that that is why the order has been introduced.
The Home Office briefing note that anticipates the impact of section 17 of the 1998 Act says:
“It is a powerful thinking tool for crime reduction, and provides a lever for cajoling reluctant partners into action.”
One wonders whether that is not the intent of the instrument. Perhaps the Home Office sees the Mayor and the relevant bodies as being in some way reluctant partners? Is that surprising, when one considers that levels of reported violent crime in the capital have increased by 43 per cent. since 1998 under this Government, and that, more recently, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of young people who resort to crimes of extreme violence on the capital’s streets?
If the measure is so important, why on earth have the Government taken so long to act? Why were the provisions not incorporated in the original Greater London Authority Act 1999, the Police and Justice Act 2006, which added a number of authorities to the ambit of section 17, or the Greater London Authority Act 2007?
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I fear that my hon. Friend is being unfair to the Government. I am not sure that it is their fault for failing to realise that it would be this Mayor of London who would so signally fail to tackle crime and disorder in London. That is why the Government, recognising the reality, have now belatedly resorted to this instrument to try to get the Mayor to take the problem seriously.
James Brokenshire: The Government obviously feel that action is now required, albeit belatedly. They clearly believe that the order will make a difference, otherwise they would not seek to introduce it. Either they think that it is necessary or they do not. If they do, why have they delayed so long—only getting round to the consultation and to taking London into account as an afterthought, when an election is due?
According to Home Office guidance, Transport for London, the London Development Agency and the Greater London authority should
“take account of the community safety dimensions in all of its work. All policies, strategies, plans and budgets will need to be considered from the standpoint of their potential contribution to the reduction of crime and disorder.”
Given that that appears to mean that each body will have to carry out a separate audit of its activities, will the Minister confirm who will bear the cost of the additional bureaucracy created by that duty? Will he also explain how Transport for London and the London Development Agency will be able to make a difference on crime and disorder, given that they may make recommendations but that those recommendations can be overridden by the Mayor?
Paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection 155(1) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 make it clear that the Mayor may issue specific directions to Transport for London on the manner in which TfL exercises its functions, and specific directions as to the exercise of those functions. What difference will be made by the new duty created by the order if the Mayor can take a different view of what is required from that taken by the board of TfL?
Separately, perhaps the Minister can explain why the Mayor has not issued directions to TfL under his powers under section 155, to take account of crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour and substance abuse in the performance of its functions to the Government’s satisfaction. If he had, surely we would not need to be here this afternoon. More generally, will the Minister also tell us how he thinks potential conflicts could be resolved? If Transport for London, the London Development Agency and the Greater London authority, in carrying out their separate duties to consider and implement policies to reduce crime and disorder, find that they hold different views, how would such potential conflict be dealt with, particularly as the Minister has already suggested that it is not intended that there should be any partnership working between each of those relevant bodies?
There is a further aspect. Under section 307 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, the Secretary of State may give guidance to the Mayor about the exercise of his functions in relation to the LDA’s strategy. Furthermore, the Secretary of State may direct the Mayor to make such revisions of the strategy if it is inconsistent with national policies. What guidance or directions have been given to the Mayor in the past to ensure that factors of crime and disorder are properly reflected into the LDA’s plans? Will the Minister also explain what the order achieves that a direction under section 307 would not also achieve?
As a separate point, will the Minister indicate whether other regional development agencies are intended to be covered by the duty under section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. If they are not, why has the LDA been singled out for such special attention to justify its inclusion within the order?
On the basis of information released by the Home Office, the number of warnings for cannabis possession in the capital increased by 45 per cent. in the past year. Given the increasing evidence of the linkages between cannabis and psychosis, and given that the Association of Chief Police Officers has had second thoughts about the downgrading of cannabis from a class B to a class C drug, what difference will the duty imposed by the order make to the misuse of drugs?
In giving directions to the transport operational command unit of the Metropolitan police, will the Minister support TfL and require more stringent punishments to be applied for the possession of cannabis on buses and tubes in order for TfL to ensure that it is doing all that it reasonably can to prevent the misuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances in its areas pursuant to the duty imposed on it? Or will the central direction and control of the Home Office prevent TfL from complying with what it might determine to be the fulfilment of its statutory duty?
There is also the matter of sharing data and information—a subject on which the Government have had some wider issues to contend with. Section 17A of the 1998 Act places a duty on all relevant authorities to share prescribed information with all other relevant authorities. Prescribed information is unhelpfully left to the complete discretion of the Secretary of State, but the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority is included as a relevant authority together with strategic health authorities, chief police officers, county, district and London boroughs, and certain other agencies. Will the Minister confirm the nature of the information required to be shared under section 17A and whether there is any intention to extend the order’s ambit to the London Development Agency, Transport for London and the Greater London authority? Given that the order will bring those bodies within the general framework of the 1998 Act, is the decision not to incorporate such a change in the order a deliberate move or an oversight?
In conclusion, we are left with the impression that, despite what the order might say, how the Minister might respond and the determination of the Committee, Londoners will not feel any safer in their beds, on their streets or on the buses and tubes as a result of the changes outlined by the measure, as is the case with so much that the Government have introduced. It is only through a change of direction, policy and Mayor that Londoners will see real improvements in fighting crime, disorder and unacceptable behaviour. The time for change cannot come a moment too soon.
2.46 pm
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I am grateful for being called to speak in this hustings session. I am fortunate to speak on behalf of a party whose candidate has devoted his entire professional life to combating crime and disorder in the capital city. He is obviously the best equipped to deal with the problem after the May elections. However, I shall turn my mind to the matters immediately before the Committee.
My party welcomes the measure and the general approach of involving more bodies that will come together to try to reduce and combat criminal activity. I am keen to raise a couple of issues with the Minister and interested to hear his answers. First, why were those major bodies in our capital city not included at an earlier stage? That is a reasonable point, made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. The legislation is almost a decade old and over that period there have been plenty of opportunities to see how well it has worked in practice, which begs the question why this is suddenly being brought before us now, rather than at an earlier stage.
Secondly, beyond London, what consideration has the Minister given to the inclusion of additional bodies, such as regional development agencies, elsewhere in England? Finally, I would like some clarification, if that is possible, on the obligations placed on organisations, particularly those with volunteers that come into contact with the Greater London authority, the London Development Agency and Transport for London.
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that London did not have a government before 1979?—[ Interruption. ] Sorry, I mean 1997. It was the largest capital city in the world and it did not have a government. Indeed, the previous Conservative Government took away London’s government. Is it not a bit hypocritical for the hon. Member for Hornchurch to espouse the virtues of the government of London?
Mr. Browne: I am grateful to have the opportunity to make a more boorishly partisan contribution. The right hon. Gentleman is right. He initially said 1979, an election that I remember well. I was only eight years old, but I remember that people thought that it was notable that a woman had been elected Prime Minister. I remember the winter of discontent, because when someone is eight it is much more fun to take rubbish to the skip than to have people collect. I realise, Mrs. Anderson, that I need to be in order, but there is a debate at the moment about the degree to which services should be centralised or the degree to which people should be empowered to make choices about their lives—
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should restrict himself to the subject before the Committee.
Mr. Browne: I am grateful for your guidance, Mrs. Anderson.
We had a centralising Government between 1979 and 1997. Let me give a perfect example of that. Many of the powers that are currently exercised at a London-wide level were exercised as part of the national Government, which was a mistake. I am pleased that the level of political authority described in the statutory instrument exists across our capital city, and it would be a mistake to turn the clock back and take that power away from Londoners. I am pleased that there is now a consensus and that people in London will have the opportunity to vote for a range of candidates that includes someone with such impeccable and impressive credentials on crime. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
2.50 pm
Mr. Coaker: Let me answer a couple of the questions and then join in with the general party political discussions.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornchurch on an excellent speech, which was about voting for Boris rather than about the order. I say to the hon. Member for Taunton that we are introducing the order because it is appropriate and necessary now, and it is what the organisations concerned want. The consultation lasted for nearly a year and of the organisations that responded to it, 20 out of 25 wanted the measure. It is popular and it is what people want because they think that it will help them.
For the past 18 months each and every one of the organisations that we are bringing under section 17 have voluntarily been carrying out the various requirements of the order. All we are doing is legislating for that. The hon. Member for Henley chunters from a sedentary position, but if it is such a fundamental principle and if he has such fantastic questions about how London will be ruined by section 17, where has he been for the past 18 months and why has he not raised those issues?
Mr. Johnson: rose—
Mr. Coaker: I shall give way in a minute; I am just joining in with the general fun.
Each and every issue that the hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned could have been raised during the past 18 months. He did not do so because each and every one of the three organisations have been carrying out the various requirements of the order for the past 18 months, as I said. He mentioned consultation. We have consulted widely on the order. The process took nearly a year and virtually everyone who responded was in favour. We are now legislating accordingly, which answers the hon. Member for Taunton’s point.
Mr. Johnson: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Coaker: In a moment.
The order does not change the existing powers to any detriment; it enhances the available powers. We are seeking to put the existing practices of the relevant authorities into legislation. I gave one example in relation to Transport for London, where good practice and good decision making helped with the problem of crime. Requiring, for example, planning authorities, a local authority or anybody to consider crime and disorder usually makes their decision making more effective when tackling those issues.
Mr. Johnson: If the statutory instrument is necessary, which, of course, the Minister says is the case, does he agree that logically it must be an admission that the Mayor and subsidiary bodies in London have been failing to take sufficient account of crime and disorder in their policies? Otherwise, why are we sitting here today? I think that the people of London would like him to acknowledge that point.
Mr. Coaker: rose—
The Chairman: Order. Before I call the Minister again, I remind hon. Members that we are here to discuss the order, not to engage in party political banter, however inviting that might be.
Mr. Coaker: The order is, of course, an important part of the development of the crime fighting strategy that takes place across London. Given the points that the hon. Member for Hornchurch made and that the issue of crime was raised, I think that people will reflect on the fact that crime has gone down during the last year, that there is a record number of police officers, that there are police community support officers, and that there has been an increase in police staff. People will also reflect on the fact—I say this to the hon. Member for Henley—that all the measures that have improved policing throughout London and have led to increased funding were opposed by the Conservatives. That is one of the things that people will remember.
Mr. Stuart: In the light of the order, it is logical to say to the Minister that either the measure will make a difference and improve the approach of the authorities concerned to crime and disorder, or it will not. Which of those options is it? If the order is designed to make a difference to existing practice, that must surely be an admission that existing practice is not as it should be.
Mr. Coaker: My point is that the duty has been voluntarily carried out by each of the organisations for the past 18 months. We want to regularise that position, institutionalise it and put it into legislation. Where have Opposition Members been for 18 months if they are complaining about this now?
James Brokenshire: The Minister has not addressed a number of specific points about the existing statutory provisions that give the authority to ability to do a number of the things that he talks about. Perhaps he could address that. Why is the order necessary over and above all the other statutory provisions that seem to address those issues?
Mr. Coaker: We have the other statutory provisions; all the order will do is regularise the position. The three agencies have voluntarily been doing the things set out in it over the past 18 months. We want to make it a legislative requirement that they do so. When Londoners look at the crime fighting records of the Mayor and the Government, they will make the choice that the figures point to: crime is falling, there are record police numbers and PCSOs are on the streets. All of those things would be put at risk by the Opposition, including the hon. Member for Henley. I think that Londoners will make the appropriate judgment.
Question put and agreed to.

That the Committee has considered the draft Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (Additional Authorities) Order 2007

Committee rose at four minutes to Three o’clock.

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