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If we go down that route, we will run the risk of a major infringement of our civil liberties. If there is evidence of that, I think the criminal standard ought to be applied, bearing in mind the severe restrictions available through the injunction process and the fact that a breach of an injunction will be a criminal offence. As I have said, so far as young people are concerned the
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injunction process is pretty pointless; the ASBO is the only way in which can be dealt with, and, as the House of Lords has said, that should be judged by the criminal standard.

6 pm

The other issue that I particularly want to raise is set out in amendment 43 and new clause 20: the duration of an injunction. Injunctions can be of indefinite duration—they can go on for 10, 15 or 20 years—if there is no maximum period. We have tabled this amendment and new clause primarily because we think it is important for the House to have the opportunity to consider whether there should be a maximum term. That is especially the case in relation to the interim injunction process. That is not subject to a maximum time limit, but the whole point of an interim injunction—which can be obtained without notice to the individual concerned, and on a lower standard—is that it should be interim and subject to a proper hearing fairly promptly afterwards to determine whether it should be converted into a full injunction.

So far, we have been unconvinced by the Government’s arguments as to why injunctions of indefinite duration are necessary. They say that if there were a maximum time limit—we have put forward a suggestion as to what it should be, merely for purposes of debate—those applying for the injunctions would automatically apply for the finite maximum period. The alternative argument, however, is that if there were a maximum period, the investigators applying for the injunction would then have to start thinking hard about getting the necessary evidence for a criminal prosecution, rather than relying on the softer option of the available indefinite injunction.

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We do not have much time to speak on these matters, and as I will not be able to respond in detail to my hon. Friend’s remarks, may I put on the record the fact that we will look at the issue of time limits and duration in respect of injunctions?

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As a result of that assurance, I do not feel the need to put my argument any more strongly today. I am aware that other Members wish to speak, so I shall now bring my remarks to a close.

James Brokenshire: As many Members will be aware, the background to the Government’s gang injunction proposals is the approach in Birmingham, where injunctions under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 were deployed to combat gang-related violence. Discussions of their use with West Midlands police and Birmingham city council have made it clear that they regarded the injunction as a useful tool to combat serious gang activity, basing a claim on the nuisance caused by gang activity and seeking to bring this within the remit of the Act. In many respects, the use of the injunction to disrupt gang activity is a model based on the tools used to disrupt gangs in Boston, where the injunction is seen as an important mechanism available to law enforcement officers.

We should be under no illusions about the nature of some of the challenges currently facing young people in this country. The children’s charity NCH—now Action
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for Children—highlights the shocking situation of young people growing up with the real fear of becoming a victim of crime, particularly violent crime. Therefore, we are certainly prepared to consider the application of injunctive relief to communities and neighbourhoods. The House will be aware that injunctions are used to prevent domestic violence, for example, and their application in a preventive sense in respect of harm is understood by the courts. However, in the case of Birmingham city council v. Marnie Shaft and Tyrone Ellis the use of section 222 injunctions was ruled to be inappropriate by Nottingham county court, and that decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal last October.

As I said in Committee, I understand why the Government have thought it appropriate to bring these proposals before the House. One of the most insidious aspects of the organised criminal gang structure is that gangs consciously focus their recruitment of new members on some of the most vulnerable members of society, such as those with poor educational attainment, weak family structures, addictions and mental illness. They also try to undermine the family ties that do actually exist.

Various approaches have been taken to combat gang crime and pernicious gang activity in different parts of the country, reflecting the fact that gangs are different in their structure and nature in the different areas in which they operate. It is right, for example, that Birmingham should be able to adopt a strategy different from that followed in Manchester, Liverpool or London, based on the particular problems it experiences and the nature of the relevant gang activity. Some gangs are simply interested in territory; others are motivated by broader criminal intent and the wish to fund a lifestyle. What they all tend to have in common is a sense of identity, often using colours to distinguish which gang people are part of, and aping some of the activities of gangs in the US.

The key question is whether the injunctions sought by the Bill are appropriate, and in particular whether they overstep the line from being preventive to being punitive, with all of the consequences in human rights law that that would impose. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has made a number of important points in its fifteenth report, and I am only sorry that the response to it—promised in the Home Secretary’s statement today—had not reached the Vote Office prior to the commencement of the debate on this Bill, so that Members have not had a proper opportunity to assess and assimilate the Government response. I hope the Minister will be able to set out some of the Government’s thinking on some of the key issues that have been highlighted, in particular the application of the criminal standard. The Minister will be aware of the McCann case, as we have discussed it at length.

The issue of the treatment of children is also relevant. It is my clear understanding that these injunctions would not be suitable for application to children, but from my brief look at the Government response to the Joint Committee it appeared that there was some suggestion that they could be used in certain restricted circumstances. We need to have a clearer understanding of the application of these provisions if they are intended to operate in that way; the Minister will be aware of issues in respect of enforcement and the fact that they would come not before the youth court but before the High Court or county court. There is certainly a very different enforcement
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regime governing breach of what is a civil injunction than breach of an ASBO, for example, which would be treated as a criminal matter and the individual concerned would be brought before a youth court.

The Minister will be aware that the injunctions seek to impose positive conditions on the recipient. That goes much further than what might be considered to be protective, either for the individual concerned or for the community affected. These provisions will inevitably be challenged, ultimately before the courts, on their compliance with applicable human rights law. The Minister needs to satisfy the House that they are likely to withstand this challenge. This is particularly the case for injunctions that are designed to be open-ended in duration and without formal review within a specific period as to their continuing suitability or necessity. I heard, however, what the Minister said about this being a live issue that the Government are looking into, and I welcome that.

On a slightly more conciliatory note, I should acknowledge that the Government have sought to address some of the concerns highlighted in Committee. These injunctions centre around the concept of gang-related violence but without defining what is understood by the term “gang”, with Liberty asking:

We understood from what the Minister said then that it was not, and the Government have now brought forward an amendment to provide some greater clarity, but we need still more clarity. We have tabled an amendment in relation to this issue, and the work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and the Centre for Social Justice has set out some of the alternative thinking. The definition of the term “gang” is important if we are to define the application of these provisions properly, so that they are used in a manner appropriate for serious gang activity.

We also believe it is appropriate for relevant NHS bodies, and for probation and other relevant agencies, to be involved in the consideration of these injunctions. I note that the Minister has introduced further amendments to address those issues, which we welcome.

The further issues and concerns highlighted in Committee and in some of the amendments introduced today are important, and a response to them is necessary. Too many young lives are being lost as a result of gang-related disputes over postcode territories or minor disagreements where a perverse notion of “respect” is seen to have been challenged. We need to be satisfied that these injunctions are appropriate, and the Government still need to make out their case for certain important aspects.

Paul Holmes: As was said during the programme motion debate, this complex issue was introduced late in the Public Bill Committee—in the last week. That meant that we could not discuss it in full and prepare properly in Committee, and we have a derisory 30 minutes to discuss it now, so clearly nobody can be satisfied with the amount of scrutiny that we can give it at this point.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that both Ministers have excused their inability to answer questions by saying that they do not have enough time? Is it not time that they realised that the time is in their hands, and that the reason why they do not have enough time is that they have denied themselves that opportunity?

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Paul Holmes: Absolutely, but as the case was well made during the debate on the programme motion, I shall not go back over that ground.

The injunctions on gang members were said by the Government to be very effective in Birmingham, but Nottingham county court and then the Court of Appeal ruled that, first, the evidence being used to justify such draconian controls on people was too flimsy to justify them, and secondly, that existing powers and legislation were adequate.

In the short time that we had to debate this matter in Committee—perhaps this will also be the case in the two or three minutes that the Minister will have to answer today—the Government have in no way been able to make an adequate case as to why they think the existing legislation is inadequate and needs this draconian step forward; why such serious restrictions, which could almost amount to a control order, depending on how they are imposed, should have a lesser burden of proof—the civil burden of proof rather than the criminal standard—and why the state should protect people against their will in some cases, other than, obviously, in cases involving mental health legislation.

The Government have not given us any evidence, either, that they have considered the USA evidence from California and Chicago. The Stanford Law Review examined the approaches there, which have been in use for 20-odd years in some cases, and said that gang injunctions appear to work, but in fact simply move the problem to the next neighbourhood and do not have any effect, except to stigmatise large groups of people. It cited the case involving a 16-year-old, in which the police told the school involved that he was a cousin of some gang members who lived on his street and was thus probably in the gang, so he ended up being suspended from school, although there was no evidence that he had any involvement at all.

The university of Manchester has done research in Britain that shows similar stigmatisation occurring. It has studied the American examples and shown how the gang injunction process in America has slipped into mainstream law. In Committee, I, like other hon. Members, raised the issue of the way in which various pieces of legislation—counter-terrorism legislation—have similarly slipped into use in mainstream law in terms of controlling peaceful demonstrations at arms fairs, environmental events and so on.

Finally, the Government have not explained why, given that most of the examples the Minister gave at the start of the debate in Committee involved 15, 16 and 17-year-olds carrying guns and knifing each other, this legislation does not apply to anybody under 18 and, as has been said, is therefore a toothless paper tiger. Liberal Democrats believe that, as I argued in Committee, for such serious restraints on people’s liberty, which potentially amount to control orders, a criminal standard of evidence, and time limits, should apply to injunctions. We expressed doubt about the state imposing draconian restrictions on someone “for their own protection”, so we tabled our amendments, which are very similar to the conclusions reached by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the amendments that resulted from those.

Given the derisory and insulting amount of time— 30 minutes—that we have had to debate this matter today, which means that the Minister will barely be able to answer, I do not propose to push the amendments
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standing in my name and those of my colleagues to a vote. I know that in Committee the Minister feared that this provision would not get through the House of Lords. I hope that that House will take note of what was said in Committee, and what has been said—very briefly—today, and will go through this in great detail and at great length. I hope that either it will insist that the Minister makes some very convincing arguments, which we have not yet heard, or it will radically alter the Bill when it reaches the other place.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith: I shall be brief, because everyone is waiting for the Minister to sum up. The only reason why I wish to speak is that I produced a report, having sent a number of people around America and the UK, whose outcome tends towards this approach. The Government have drawn some of the provisions in this particular area from the report, and I therefore congratulate them on having read it. They are going in the right direction, but I wish to make two points.

The UK has a major and growing problem with street gangs. The way in which cities in other parts of the world, particularly in America, have been successful in tackling the problem has been based on the idea of getting to younger kids earlier, on a looser parameter—not to make criminals of them; quite the contrary: the aim is to draw them out of criminality. The voluntary sector is involved, these people go into remedial education and they are got out of the gangs. Very few of them end up going through the criminal process in Boston—only the ringleaders do—and this approach is crucial in pulling them out of that once they have been identified. What follows is the necessary step of other organisations in the police stations picking them up straight away, and that has yet to be resolved.

The definition is crucial in all of this; the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) was right to say that we need a clear definition. We know that the Home Office has a definition and that it has stuck it back in as an amendment, but we do not think it is sufficient; we think that the better amendment is one based more on what has been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), because it is drawn directly from our report. There was a reason for that definition too, because we drew that from what people in Boston, New York, Glasgow and Liverpool, where there had been remarkable success, said to us.

6.15 pm

The point about the definition is first, that it must be good, and secondly, that all countries should use it. The Home Office definition is not used by every police force—it gets changed—but it should be universal, so I urge the Government to get the definition right and make it universal. I say to the Government and to colleagues on both sides of the House that gangs are a major problem. My area of Waltham Forest has seen murders and continuing violence from street gangs, and the situation is getting worse, not better. The police are tearing their hair out over this, and they need some help and support. Tackling this issue needs all the Government agencies, as well as the police, to operate, so I congratulate the Government on making the right moves forward, although much remains to be done.

Mr. Coaker: I wish to make a couple of quick points in the time available to me. I thank all the Members who have spoken, albeit briefly, because some important
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points have been made. I particularly thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), because we have tried to draw on the work that he has done.

Before I deal with the issue of under-18s, I wish to make another point. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) asked about the evidence. In Birmingham, the injunctions were used for over-18s, not under-18s. In Handsworth-Lozells-Newtown, the level of robberies in the four months prior to the injunctions averaged 55 a month—compared with 33 a month while the injunctions were in place; after the injunctions were removed, the level rose again to 48 a month. In Aston-Nechells, an average of 11 firearms incidents took place in the four months preceding the orders, compared with four for the period when the orders were in place, and after the court judgment the figure rose to nine—

Paul Holmes rose—

Mr. Coaker: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall continue.

Firearms usage in the city centre dropped from eight incidents in July 2007 to one in September 2007, but again, after the injunctions were removed firearms usage increased, leading to a peak of nine incidents in May 2008. We thought that that evidence demonstrated that the injunctions had made an impact in respect of over-18s and that, given the fact that the courts had said that Birmingham had exceeded its powers, we ought to bring something forward to enable this approach to be used across the country.

I am not a lawyer, but lawyers tell me that there is an issue to address about using civil injunctions for under-18s and that it arises from the inability, in most cases, to enforce any breach. As that would be a civil contempt of court, one cannot imprison under-18s for it, and somebody has to be able to pay a fine in a legal way, and not many of those who would be subject to one of these injunctions would. I have said that the Home Office is looking to see how it can introduce similar legislation to deal with the under-18s issue in due course, and we will certainly try to do that.

The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and the hon. Member for Hornchurch asked about definitions. We have included a definition of a “gang” in the Bill, but it will need to be debated. I am sure that as it is debated, as the Bill goes through Parliament, we will be able to improve it still further, but we have started the process and I hope that we can end up with something that we would all want. We are looking, as we said we would, at putting guidance before the House to ensure that people are properly informed about the use of these injunctions, and we have widened the number of people who will be consulted on whether or not the injunctions are used.

I agree absolutely with those who say that gangs are a major problem in our society in some parts of our cities. These injunctions will be a useful tool with which the police and local authorities will be able to combat some of the most serious and damaging individuals in our society and—

6.19 pm

Two and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

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The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.

Question negatived.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Clause 32

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