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For all the Home Secretary’s enthusiasm for the Bill, it reeks of a decaying Government. Instead of a systematic approach to tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, we are left with a sort of closing-down sale of everything that the right hon. Lady found at the back of the Home Office policy cupboard. The Bill contains a whole series of missed opportunities. Where we could have had a fresh approach to gang crime, we have a hotch-potch of measures, some of which do not even apply to people under the age of 18. Where we could have had measures
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to make crime statistics believable by making them independent, we have a blank space. Where we could have had a review of the problems with our 24-hour drinking laws, we have a code. Where we could have secured an absolute preservation of the principle of innocent until proven guilty, we will still have people’s DNA held for many years, even though they have committed no crime, and perhaps not even been charged with any crime.

Moreover, there are a number of measures on which, had the Home Secretary been sufficiently bold, we would have supported her. We would have welcomed detailed measures to cut police red tape and get officers back on the beat. We would also have welcomed proposals for directly elected police commissioners. The reason why we would have welcomed those measures is that the Government have continued to fail on crime. Where they promised to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, they have actually been soft on crime. Their legislative hyperactivity has been an alibi for their failure to get at the roots of crime in Britain today.

I shall turn to the specifics of the Bill. It could and should have been an opportunity for the Government to do the right thing and preserve absolutely the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but they have not done that. Ministers are still trying to get away with doing as little as they possibly can, instead of taking real action to remove innocent people from the DNA database. The indefinite retention on the national database of the DNA of people who have never been charged with any crime, or have been acquitted by a court, is unacceptable in a society founded on the basis that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

Under the national DNA database as currently constituted, however, that presumption is reversed. A person is always regarded as potentially guilty unless shown to be innocent. Everyone is a potential suspect. Instead of thinking through the DNA issue before the Bill came to the House, the Government sought a legislative blank cheque, so that once they had finally made up their minds following their consultation they could do what they liked, with little parliamentary scrutiny. We retain significant misgivings about the approach that they are taking and the length of time involved. We do not share their views on this matter. In government, we would follow a system based on the Scottish model, and we believe that the present Government should do the same.

Another missed opportunity in the Bill concerns people’s use of alcohol. When 24-hour drinking was introduced, we were promised a continental café culture. We have certainly ended up with drinking in the street, but not quite in the way we imagined. There are still too many things wrong with our licensing system. In particular, we need stronger powers to ensure that retailers who systematically break licensing laws are closed, permanently. Those powers need to be simple and they need to be quick. We cannot allow the culture of public binge drinking and the resulting public nuisance to continue unchallenged.

Back in the days when the content of the Bill was merely a Green Paper, the Government trumpeted their plans for more democracy in the governance of policing. To quote them directly:

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They also noted that the Association of Police Authorities’ own polling showed that 55 per cent. actively supported that policy and only 19 per cent. disagreed with it. Sadly, however, that proposal has gone. It has disappeared, and it will be left to a future Conservative Government to bring to local communities the accountability on policing that the Government promised but failed to deliver.

Perhaps the Government’s biggest mistake has been to tie the hands of police officers with targets and bureaucracy. The Bill could have been a real opportunity to get to grips with the byzantine bureaucracy that keeps the police off the streets. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has advanced a comprehensive programme for freeing up the police and getting them back on the beat. The Government could have used the Bill to look at ways of changing the hugely time-consuming disclosure process that takes up so much time in our police stations. The Bill could also have abolished statutory charging for more offences, which would have given back to custody sergeants the power to charge offenders so that they no longer had to fill in forms seeking approval from the Crown Prosecution Service. The Bill could have cut the unnecessary requirements imposed on police to fill in regulation of investigatory powers forms before conducting routine police surveillance and investigations. Instead, as a consequence of this Bill, the police will spend little more time on the beat than they do at the moment.

The Government could also have used the Bill to get to grips with antisocial behaviour. The number of young people entering the criminal justice system has gone up by a fifth in five years. In 2007-08 more than 93,000 youngsters aged 10 to 17 received their first caution or conviction, up from 78,000 five years ago. At the moment the tools given to the police by this Government have proved largely ineffective. Just about the only power in the Bill that is designed to deal with antisocial behaviour will mean that the police can move on 10-year-olds if they are causing trouble in the evenings. I do not think we should be shifting 10-year-olds out of their home areas; I think we should be sending them home to bed.

The Bill is the product of a tired Government who are scratching around for ideas. They have already run out of ideas, and very soon they will run out of road. It is time for a change.

9.43 pm

Chris Huhne: This is a mixed bag of a Bill. We have seen it passing like the proverbial bus, loaded with the various parcels that the Government have seen fit to put on it. We certainly welcome some of its provisions, including those on the extension of foreign travel orders for sex offenders, which seem proportionate and sensible. We support the Government on that issue. New clause 22, which amends the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in relation to penalties for encrypted data involving indecent images of children, is also to be welcomed as useful for tackling the terrible crime of child pornography. The new sex encounter establishment licensing regime is also a useful development that we welcome. It will allow lap-dancing premises to be considered
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as such for licensing purposes, which will allow local authorities to make decisions based on their own situations, which we very much welcome.

Against the positive aspects of this portmanteau Bill, however, we must set a number of real problems. The Government are proposing to address the S and Marper judgment on the DNA database in the wrong way and by using the wrong principles. They are the wrong principles because the proposal they have brought forward seriously questions the long-standing commitment of our judicial system to the principle that everyone should be presumed innocent until they are proven to be guilty; and it is the wrong way because the Government propose to use secondary legislation—statutory instruments—for a change that is of such significance and controversy that it should be properly debated on the Floor of the House and implemented through primary legislation. The precedent is provided in the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008, which was a response to another court judgment. There is absolutely no reason for the Government to go ahead in the manner they are suggesting.

There are also missed opportunities in the Bill, particularly on police reform. My party has long been committed to putting more police on the beat and to an increase in police officers. We are still an under-policed society, in comparison with other western democracies, but even more importantly, we are a society for which policing could be much more effective than it is. The discrepancies between the best performing and the worst performing police forces are enormous, yet there is no suggestion in the Bill to allow police authorities to pressure forces that are underperforming to reach best practice.

We need real police reform and a move towards real local accountability—not elected sheriffs, on the model proposed by the Conservative Front-Bench team, because that would not adequately represent minorities in important parts of the country. If we are going to get better policing, what we need are directly elected and accountable police authorities. Yes, there is a cross-party consensus on dealing with the issue of police bureaucracy, but let us not disguise the fact that there is a massive difference, for example, between the effectiveness of the best performing police force in North Yorkshire, with a 67 per cent. clear-up rate of violent crime, and the 36 per cent. for the Metropolitan police. We have to find ways of improving police performance towards best practice. That, I am afraid, is a opportunity missed in the Bill.

I believe that the measures personally championed by the Home Secretary on sex offences and prostitution are misguided. They are misguided because they introduce something that the House should always set its face against: a strict liability offence. There are many basic principles of legislation that we abandon at our peril. One is obviously retrospection, but another is the strict liability offence. The reason is simply that people do not know when they are committing a strict liability offence; and if they do not know, anybody deciding whether that offence has been committed—whether it be a magistrate or a more serious court—will regard the offence as unfair.

What we always see with strict liability offences of the sort in the Bill is that the penalties are absolutely puny. Why? It is precisely because of the unfairness of the original offence. That is why I very much hope that
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when the other place considers our deliberation on the Bill and reflects on how it has been hammered through this Chamber with many parts completely unconsidered, it will amend it and do its absolute worst.

What we have seen is a Bill that has some good elements, but others that are frankly against many of the fundamental principles that this House ought to hold dear. We have heard all the usual tough talk, rather than tough action, from the Government about tackling crime, and we have seen a failure to get to grips with some of the real problems of fighting crime in this country—notably, police reform and police accountability. I very much hope that our colleagues in the other place will look at the record of our deliberations—outrageously truncated as they have been by the timetable motion pushed through earlier today—and then very substantially amend the provisions. On that basis, we will not press for a Division, but we will hope for a very substantial degree of amendment in the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Business without Debate

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 4, 5 and 6 together.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Climate Change

Question agreed to.


Traffic Noise (M6)

9.50 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Young James Morgan and his mum came to see me to ask for relief from the constant noise that they and all their neighbours endure from traffic on the M6 motorway, which runs past their home. I have asked the Highways Agency to make a number of changes to help them, but have been given no firm commitment to action.

The Petition of residents of the Borough of Stafford, and others,

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Water Charging (South-West)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Steve McCabe.)

9.51 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): This is one of those extraordinary occasions on which, when we talk about the south-west, the evidence that the south-west has been abandoned by the present Government is clear because no Minister is present to listen to what I am about to say, let alone respond to it. That must mean that, in the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves, Ministers are simply not interested in what is going on in the south-west.

Water and sewerage services are a fundamental household necessity which we too often take for granted. Unlike those in much of the developing world, we in this country are lucky enough to find it unimaginable to be without running drinking water and flushing lavatories. That privilege must, of course, be paid for, but in a manner that is both just and fair. The initial purpose of privatisation back in 1989 was to encourage investment, and, indeed, by 2010 the water industry as a whole will have invested £68 billion to improve services and meet higher drinking-water and environmental standards throughout the country. That is surely irrefutable evidence that privatisation has been beneficial, but the investment comes at a price.

Since privatisation, water and sewerage bills have risen faster than inflation. On average, charges are now 42 per cent. higher in real terms than they were in 1989. It is widely recognised, moreover, that customers of South West Water have been paying disproportionately larger costs than those in any other part of the country. At £497, the current average annual bill in the south-west is more than £150 higher than the average bill throughout England and Wales. That disparity must be addressed immediately.

Before privatisation South West Water had been suffering from a chronic lack of investment, and little had been done to protect the coastal bathing waters of the south-west. During that period, 40 per cent. of the south-west’s waste water was being discharged directly into the sea without any treatment. At that time, it was not uncommon for beaches to be closed. Indeed, in July 1990 pollution signs were erected at Leas Foot beach at Thurlestone in Devon warning swimmers not to go into the sea because of raw sewage. The beach was rated the most polluted in Europe in 1985, when levels of sewage were 16 times the maximum allowed and 3,200 times the recommended level. With the advent of privatisation, a century of under-investment had to come to an end.

I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to the debate.

In 1990, the Government adopted higher water quality standards, as imposed by the European Union. The most significant contributory factor to South West Water’s high water charges is, therefore, a “statutory driver”, or, rather, the requirement to meet European directives relating to bathing water. In 1991, South West Water thus launched the “clean sweep” programme to intercept 250 crude or inadequately treated sewage discharges to the marine environment and to improve one third of the bathing waters in England and Wales while meeting
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directive compliance. South West Water has invested more than £1.5 billion in the programme over the past 16 years.

There are 144 designated bathing waters in the South West Water area, which is about one third of the total in England and Wales. Ten years ago, only 51 per cent. of designated bathing waters in the region complied with the EU guideline standard, but following a large amount of work and investment, there has been a dramatic change; so much so that the 2007 “Good Beach Guide” stated that

Malcolm Bell, the excellent director of South West Tourism, has also stated:

According to a South West Tourism survey in 2005, 15 million people visit the south-west each year; this is the highest rate of domestic tourism in the UK. The industry is predicted to grow by 39 per cent. over the next decade, a factor which will inevitably put increasing pressure on the south-west to maintain its beaches and coastline in a pristine state. Twenty years ago, the south-west had a serious problem that it needed to confront: the sea was badly polluted, the region’s beaches had a reputation for being dirty, and the area was struggling to attract visitors. Now, as well as the large number of tourists who flock to the south-west each year, the area is host to a number of major surfing events, with surfers from all around the world visiting the region. In addition, Fistral beach at Newquay is set to host the 2010 lifesaving world championships, involving more than 6,000 competitors from 50 countries. To secure an event such as this, it was of very great importance that the water was of the highest quality.

There is certainly a pride within the region that compliance with mandatory bathing water standards in England has increased steadily from 89.9 per cent. in 1998 to a record level of 99.5 per cent. achieved in 2006, but this pride is often tinged with bitterness and resentment. While visitors from all over the country, if not the world, come to enjoy the now clean seas and beaches of the region, the bill payers of the south-west are forced to pay for it. Does the Minister think that that is acceptable?

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): As my hon. Friend knows, I, too, have constituents who face such charges. Surely the point is that it is not possible to justify this extra charge for what is really a national responsibility, the cost burden of which should be spread across the nation.

Mr. Swire: My right hon. Friend shows his commitment to this subject by being present on the evening of his birthday. Without his support, I do not think we would be shifting policy in the direction we want. My right hon. Friend has been a champion of equalisation and fairness for South West Water payers for a long time, and I think he will be pleased with what I have to say.

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