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We also need to examine clauses 16 and 17 carefully. They resurrect issues that the Minister for Security,
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Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing and I debated during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, in relation to the practicality of rehabilitation orders. Will they really lead to people giving up prostitution, given the concerns about family breakdown, child abuse, domestic violence and debt? Will the three meetings, to take place within six months, really produce the desired result? Will there be compliance, rather than women being criminalised further with the prospect of imprisonment for breaches of an order? Will there be the resources that we all believe are needed to help people exit prostitution and to provide rehabilitation for them? Countries such as Norway and Sweden have those resources, but they do not exist in this country.

There are good intentions behind the Bill in some ways, but in many other ways it creates solutions to problems caused by the Government’s own legislative failures. It is the symptom of a tired Government and the embers of a fading and dying Government.

9.31 pm

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): The Bill is a smorgasbord of measures that are sometimes worthy but not always well thought through. It is not the radical reform of our law and order system that the police, and the public whom they serve, need. The first 16 minutes of the Home Secretary’s speech—I counted the minutes—were about measures, many real, many imagined, that are not even in the Bill.

The police do a difficult and often dangerous job on our behalf, and the Bill does not give them the additional tools that they need to do their job. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, agreed with me about that, saying that he hoped for a second Bill later this year to deliver some serious police reform. Members of the Home Secretary’s own party say that, and they are right.

The Home Secretary gives us lectures about her criminal record—sorry, her crime record—that are, frankly, complacent. Violent crime is up by almost 80 per cent. under Labour, with 1,099 million violent crimes recorded in 2007-08 compared with just over 615,000 offences in 1998-99. Those are Home Office figures, shown in table 2.4 of its report “Crime in England and Wales 2007/08” of 17 July 2008, so we do not want any argument about the fact that the crime figures are up. Robbery is up by 27 per cent. under Labour and criminal damage by 18 per cent., and just over one in four crimes were detected by the police in 2007-08.

Why is all that coming about? It is partly to do with the fact that despite five red tape reviews under this Government we still have the unacceptable position that patrol officers spend less than 20 per cent. of their time on the beat. That is not good enough. That was one among many points that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) made.

Much reference has been made in the debate to the reform of the police senior appointments panel in part 1. It is necessary to reform that panel, to secure a higher quality of senior officers for appointment. It is totally unacceptable that there was only one candidate for the vacancy of chief constable of Lincolnshire. The same was true recently of Thames Valley police. As Conservative
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Members have pointed out, nothing in the relevant clauses will ensure that there is a better, higher-quality calibre of police.

Clauses 7 and 8 will make it easier for officers to tackle crimes that occur in areas where a collaboration agreement is in force. However, why does the Bill not tackle the real problem and reform the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to do away with the ridiculous requirement for an officer to fill in a form if he wants to surveille the house of a known, persistent burglar? The measure should do that.

It is clear from part 1 that Ministers have it in mind to ensure more collaboration to deliver, for example, better level 2 protective services. We agree about that. However, will the Home Secretary and her Ministers mandate collaboration? If they have a plan for that, they should tell the House today.

As we have heard, the Home Secretary bottled it when it came to introducing some form of elected representation to hold the police to account. She kicked the idea into the long grass, giving it to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Heaven knows when we will hear the results. The Cabinet Office’s Casey review found in an independent survey that 68 per cent. of people agree or strongly agree that a person or persons should be elected by local people to hold the police to account on behalf of the community. As recently as November, the Home Secretary said that she was committed to

Perhaps the Minister can tell us in his winding-up speech why the Government suddenly changed their mind and dropped their plans for improving police accountability.

A solitary clause is intended to improve accountability. It will add a statutory requirement to the Police Act 1996 for police authorities to take account of

Perhaps the Minister will explain how that significantly changes police authorities’ current responsibilities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) said in a powerful and typically trenchant speech, the Conservatives’ solution, which the Minister would do well to adopt, is to replace the police authority with a police commissioner, who is directly elected by voters in a police force area every four years. A safeguard would be provided in a power of recall—a trigger whereby an elected commissioner who went off the rails before the four-year term ended could be recalled and the election rerun. We have also devised other safeguards.

In another typically trenchant contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) made it clear that the public want something simple from the Bill: a commissioner to whom they can complain if policing is going wrong and a mechanism to kick that commissioner out of office in the case of underperformance. What could be simpler? It is a tragedy that part 1 contains nothing comparable to that.

Part 2 drew many contributions about the sex industry and sex offences. To avoid doubt, let me say that we welcome making lap-dancing clubs subject to local licensing along the lines that the provisions set out.

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Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): My hon. Friend may not know that a lap-dancing club opened in Braintree, which—as he knows—is a genteel market town. Does he honestly believe that clause 25 will grant sufficient powers to stop lap-dancing clubs from opening in towns such as Braintree?

Mr. Ruffley: I believe that the intention is to deliver that result and we will explore the matter in detail to ensure that the wording achieves that effect.

There were many powerful contributions about part 2, and it will be incumbent on the Committee to study carefully the points that arose. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made an impassioned and well-informed speech about enforcement. She believed that there would be no difficultly about enforcing clause 13. On the other hand, contributions from Conservative Members, such as that from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), raised technical questions about the way in which enforcement would work.

What we do know, however, is that organisations tasked with helping vulnerable and trafficked women believe that there is a risk that some of the clauses, if they are not drafted properly and do not work satisfactorily, will drive sex workers further underground. We have to test those propositions in Committee. We also know what the head of the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit said of the new offence:

in practice, but let us see how we can make it work. Outside bodies, including the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, also believe that the measures relating to the closure of brothels might restrict the ability of outreach organisations that work with sex workers to deliver them help and support. Issues of such huge importance will be tested in Committee, but the debate that we have had on the Floor of the House today has been extremely worth while in teasing some of them out.

However, there is a case for tougher border protection and control—there can be no substitute for that—to stop trafficking from happening in the first place. The Government have been insufficiently proactive in tackling human trafficking. After a delay of nine months in signing the European convention on action against trafficking, Home Office figures show that in 2007 there were only 17 convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation. Would it not have been better to have clauses in the Bill to do what the Conservative Opposition have argued for long and hard for the past six to 12 months, which is to introduce a national border police to stop illegal weapons from coming to this country and to stop the illegal, disgusting and pernicious trafficking of human beings? That is what the Bill should contain. Sadly, it does not contain any such measures.

I am grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes). They made important points about how, despite the vast amount of legislation that we have seen to deal with alcohol-related offences in particular, it is clear that more offences and higher fines are not the way to tackle alcohol misuse and binge drinking, and all the attendant consequences. What we need, but what the Bill does not deliver, are measures to free up the police’s
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time, in order to get them out of the station and back on the streets, so that they can deliver more effective policing of licensed premises and off-licences, get young people off the street and crack down on antisocial behaviour.

The Government had a huge opportunity in this Bill to propose serious measures to free up officers, so that they could get back on the street, and to give local people genuine power and a say over the kind of policing that they want in their communities. This Bill only shows a Government out of ideas. They will have to be out of office if serious law and order reform is ever to begin in this country.

9.43 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I thank all the hon. Members, on both the Opposition and the Government Benches, who have contributed to what has been an exceptionally important and interesting debate, with particular reference to some of the difficult issues that we all want to address, especially those relating to sexual offending and sexual offences.

The Bill is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that covers much ground, including measures to improve the public’s ability to have a voice in how they are policed, while also improving the framework for increasing the capacity and effectiveness of that policing. The Bill brings together the necessary powers and changes to empower people and their communities to improve the fight against the low-level crime and disorder affecting our local communities, particularly where the misuse of alcohol and the vice trade are involved, and to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, such as women and children. The Bill also links the international to the neighbourhood in the fight against crime, in particular by improving our tools to recover criminal assets. Most of all, it is a practical Bill, with practical applications, that will help us to build stronger, safer and more confident communities.

I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and other hon. Members in welcoming the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to his new position, and we look forward to the contribution that he will no doubt make to our discussions on the Bill. It was interesting to hear other Conservative Members, including the hon. Members for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), criticising the Government about local accountability and waxing lyrical about their own particular version of accountability, which, as those on the Conservative Front Bench no doubt know, would involve abolishing police authorities. That is a move that is extremely unpopular with local Conservative party members throughout the country.

We have introduced these measures because we were concerned about politicisation and about single-issue candidates being elected to those positions, but what is the response— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Harwich tries to barrack me, and I am quite happy for him to do that, but perhaps he should listen to what the shadow Minister for policing, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), has said on this matter. When asked on “The World at One” about local accountability and about how this democratic scenario that the Conservatives believe to be important would work, he said that we should give power to local people,
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and let them vote for a police commissioner. He also said that in this country we do not go around saying that we cannot directly elect a mayor just because the British National party might get into power, and that we can re-run elections with the power of recall anyway. In other words, there would be an election for a police commissioner, and, if the Conservatives did not get the result that they wanted, they would re-run it. What sort of lunacy and idiocy is that? What sort of democracy is it, in which an election is held for a police commissioner and, if people do not like the result, they hold another one?

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): It is a safeguard.

Mr. Coaker: It is called a safeguard—well, we will see what it is called, but I do not believe that that is the kind of democracy that the hon. Member for Harwich was talking about. So let us have a debate about accountability, and let us have a debate about how we can more properly ensure that the police are representative of their communities and take into account what they say. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has introduced sensible, proportionate proposals that will place on police authorities a duty to take the views of local people into account, and that will place on Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary a responsibility to inspect those police authorities to see whether they have done so.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made an excellent point about police authorities having to ensure not only that they consult the people whom we might expect them to consult but that young people also have a voice in this regard. He was also right to say that, when HMIC inspects the police authorities, it should consider whether that consultation has been achieved. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, and we should consider the matter.

It was also stated that we were doing nothing to reduce red tape and cut bureaucracy in a whole range of areas, but we are actually reducing the number of targets in policing. Alongside the Bill, there is a range of measures on crime mapping, on the single confidence target, and on reducing bureaucracy. All this is happening alongside the policing pledge, and it is happening irrespective of what is in the Bill, because we do not need a Bill to achieve those things. Alongside the Bill, real reform and real changes are taking place.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, made some important points about alcohol. There is no doubt that many of us enjoy alcohol and find that it adds to our evening out. There is also no doubt, however, that alcohol causes considerable problems and a considerable amount of violence in our society. That is why the Government are looking to see what more they can do, particularly with respect to young people. That is also why we are introducing new offences to tackle some of the problems that young people have with alcohol—a new offence of persistent possession of alcohol in a public place; a new offence that will enable the police, if necessary, to direct young people between the ages of 10 to 15 to leave an establishment; and new measures to allow us to take tougher action against retailers who persistently sell alcohol to young people.

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Keith Vaz: I am sorry to return to the theme that I explored with the Home Secretary earlier. What the Government are doing to deal with retailers is absolutely right, but the fact remains that supermarkets provide alcohol very cheaply. As a result of their promotions, young people are going in and buying alcohol. It may well be that the supermarkets are complying with the code, but the availability of cheap alcohol is the real problem. What are we going to do about that?

Mr. Coaker: I was about to mention to my right hon. Friend that the Bill also contains an enabling power that allows us to establish a mandatory code for the sale of alcohol, which will tackle the problem of irresponsible promotions. It will deal not only with the on-trade, but with the off-trade, and it might well enable us to tackle some of my right hon. Friend’s concerns about promotions in supermarkets, which are often linked to price. As I say, the Bill will help us to tackle some of the alcohol abuse that we see around us.

Ms Keeble: Will the Minister conduct an extensive consultation so that the public and the different organisations that feel very strongly about this matter can comment on and contribute to the code?

Mr. Coaker: I can tell my hon. Friend, who made an earlier contribution to the debate, that we intend to conduct extensive consultation on what should be included in the conditions—not only those in a mandatory national set of conditions, but those that local authorities will be able to choose.

Alongside the debate on accountability, policing and alcohol, we had an impassioned debate about sexual offending and the new strict liability offence in respect of prostitution. Let me first commend my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart): whether or not Members agree with her—some will not—many will have recognised the power of her speech. I thought that she made an excellent speech, which made an enormous contribution to our debate, as I hope those who disagreed with it would also accept.

Just over a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to conduct a six-month review into the whole demand side of prostitution. In connection with that, I visited Sweden, where I saw legislation at work that makes paying for sex a criminal offence, full stop. I heard the evidence from that country relating to the concern—it was raised in another context by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne)—that the legislation had driven prostitution underground. That was a real worry, as was the applicability of the same law to this country.

We also went to Amsterdam. I say to hon. Members in all sincerity that if they think that the legalisation of prostitution is the answer to tackling the exploitation that we see, they should go there and see the trafficking that takes place alongside legalised brothels; they should see the serious and organised crime that takes place alongside legal brothels; and they should also see the exploitation. The idea that legalisation or decriminalisation somehow provides a magic wand that ends exploitation and abuse or stops trafficking is simply not the case. I brought that evidence back from Amsterdam.

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