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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Policing and Crime Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Hugh Bayley, † Sir Nicholas Winterton
Austin, Mr. Ian (Dudley, North) (Lab)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Cawsey, Mr. Ian (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing)
Dorries, Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield) (LD)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab)
Chris Shaw, Andrew Kennon, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 26 February 2009


[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Policing and Crime Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
PC 68 Association of Chief Police Officers
PC 69 Northumbria Police
PC 70 Dr. Nicola Mai
PC 71 Terrence Higgins Trust
PC 72 Susan Marie Harris
9 am
The Chairman: I have cut it rather fine this morning. I had a particular problem that I will not go into with the Committee. We made excellent progress on Tuesday and have arrived at clause 89, to which a number of amendments have been tabled. I gather that the first group is rather important. We have to break at 10.25 to get into the House for Prayers and Question Time. I have no doubt that the arrangements made through the usual channels will be met, although perhaps with some difficulty and requiring some discipline on both sides of the Committee.

Clause 89

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move amendment 290, in clause 89, page 103, line 2, at end insert—
‘(ba) sections [Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence] to [Interpretation] and Schedule [Injunctions: powers to remand],’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 11— Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence—
‘(1) A court may grant an injunction under this section if two conditions are met.
(2) The first condition is that the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the respondent has engaged in, or has encouraged or assisted, gang-related violence.
(3) The second condition is that the court thinks it is necessary to grant the injunction for either or both of the following purposes—
(a) to prevent the respondent from engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang-related violence;
(b) to protect the respondent from gang-related violence.
(4) An injunction under this section may (for either or both of those purposes)—
(a) prohibit the respondent from doing anything described in the injunction;
Amendment (a) to new clause 11, at end insert—
‘(6) In this section “gang” shall mean a group of people who see themselves or are seen by others as a discernable group and exhibit any one or more of the following factors—
(a) engaging in criminal activity;
(b) identifying with a particular geographical area;
(c) having some form of identifying organisational feature;
(d) being in conflict with other similar gangs.’.
Government new clause 12—Contents of injunctions.
Government new clause 13—Contents of injunctions: supplemental.
Government new clause 14—Applications for injunctions under section [Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence].
Government new clause 15—Consultation by applicants for injunctions
‘(1) Before applying for an injunction under section [Applications for injunctions under section [Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence]], the applicant must comply with the consultation requirement.
(2) In the case of an application by a chief officer of police, the consultation requirement is that the chief officer (“the applicant chief officer”) must consult—
(a) any local authority that the applicant chief officer considers it would be appropriate to consult, and
(b) any other chief officer of police whom the applicant chief officer considers it would be appropriate to consult.
(3) In the case of an application by the chief constable of the British Transport Police Force, the consultation requirement is that the constable must consult—
(a) any local authority that the constable considers it would be appropriate to consult, and
(b) any chief officer of police whom the constable considers it would be appropriate to consult.
(4) In the case of an application by a local authority, the consultation requirement is that the local authority (“the applicant local authority”) must consult—
(a) any chief officer of police whom the applicant local authority considers it would be appropriate to consult, and
(b) any other local authority that the applicant local authority considers it would be appropriate to consult.’.
Amendment (a) to new clause 15, after subsection (2)(b) insert—
‘(c) any primary care trust, mental health trust or other NHS authority that the applicant chief officer considers would be appropriate to consult; and
(d) any youth offending team, local probation service or office of the National Offender Management Service that the applicant chief officer considers would be appropriate to consult.’.
Amendment (b) to new clause 15, after subsection (3)(b) insert—
‘(c) any primary care trust, mental health trust or other NHS authority that the constable considers would be appropriate to consult; and
(d) any youth offending team, local probation service or office of the National Offender Management Service that the constable considers would be appropriate to consult.’.
Amendment (c) to new clause 15, after subsection (4)(b) insert—
‘(c) any primary care trust, mental health trust or other NHS authority that the applicant local authority considers would be appropriate to consult; and
(d) any youth offending team, local probation service or office of the National Offender Management Service that the applicant local authority considers would be appropriate to consult.’.
Government new clause 16—Applications without notice.
Government new clause 17—Interim injunctions: adjournment of on notice hearing.
Government new clause 18—Interim injunctions: adjournment of without notice hearing.
Government new clause 19—Variation or discharge of injunctions.
Government new clause 20—Arrest without warrant.
Government new clause 21—Issue of warrant of arrest.
Government new clause 22—Remand for medical examination and report.
Government new clause 23—Further provision about remands.
Government new clause 24—Guidance.
Government new clause 25—Supplemental.
Government new clause 26—Interpretation.
New schedule 2—Injunctions: Powers to Remand.
Mr. Coaker: Good morning, Sir Nicholas. We are pleased that you have arrived safely and on time, even if it was a little touch and go. Good morning to the Committee.
In your opening, Sir Nicholas, you pointed out that this is an extremely important group of proposals. I am sure that the hon. Members for Hornchurch, for Chesterfield and for Oxford, West and Abingdon will agree that there are important points that must be made. We have managed to have lengthy debates in Committee when necessary, while making progress. I think that we may spend some time discussing these proposals and I see no problem with that. I am sure that other hon. Members will agree. Quite frankly, I am sure that the public would expect us to reflect on and debate the issue of gangs at some length, given its importance.
I will make a few introductory remarks before reading for the record what the provisions will do. I am sure that hon. Members will wish to respond to that and I will respond to their points as we go through.
As I have said before, I believe that there are significant pieces of social reform and public policy changes in the Bill. I will not go through them all, but Committee members will agree that we have had worthwhile and significant debates on alcohol, prostitution and police collaboration, to name just three. The issue of gangs is as important as any other that we have discussed. I am sure all Committee members agree that the phenomenon of gangs is one of the big questions that confronts us. It is easy to make populist remarks on how we should deal with gangs and to produce throwaway headline solutions. Trying to achieve something that deals with the issue is much more difficult.
Let us be clear what we are not talking about. We are not talking about a group of kids at the end of a street. We are not talking about some young people hanging around, and I will come to whether they are under 18 or over 18 in a moment because there is an issue there. We are not talking about people hanging around on a park bench. People often ask me, “Didn’t you sit around outside on a park bench?” I was often near a telephone box. It was even push button A and push button B, if hon. Members can remember that. That shows how long ago it was.
These measures must not be looked at in the context of trying to criminalise young people up to 23 or 24, or whatever. We can argue about the exact age later. We are not trying to criminalise young people. These new clauses are about tackling serious, violent, aggressive, dangerous individuals. Those individuals have no regard for other members of society. Frankly, they do not frighten other people, they terrorise them. It would be remiss of this Committee and of this or any Government not to reflect on what we do about that.
This may be a point that the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Oxford, West and Abingdon may raise, but if these people can be prosecuted through the criminal justice system it should be the first option. Nobody disagrees with that. Let us try to lay two myths: first, this is not about teenagers or people slightly older than that hanging around. Secondly, it is not about avoiding using the criminal justice system when that is the best option. It is important to put that on the record.
Public policy with respect to gangs, as with respect to all such matters, is undermined by debate about whether one is a wishy-washy liberal or a tough law enforcer, wanting either to hang and flog or to hug everyone. This area of public policy is bedevilled by that schism. No one who is of sound mind would argue that it is sufficient for someone who is dangerous, is breaking the law and has done seriously wrong, simply to say sorry. Tough law enforcement is the appropriate and the first approach.
Alongside that, we want a preventive approach and a diversionary approach as well. I had the pleasure over the weekend of going out on Operation Staysafe, which is about police and children’s services working together to try to get vulnerable young people off the streets, particularly when they are under the influence of alcohol, taking them to a place of safety, working with social workers and then engaging the parents. The shadow Home Secretary was apparently trying to do something similar on Monday morning.
Those introductory remarks are important. What are we trying to deal with here? If they have not already done so, all members of the Committee should have a look on the internet—it is hard to know how to describe this, without giving gangs the respect they crave—to see some of the musings and information about gangs. Anybody who says that we are trying to deal with kids hanging around should go on the internet and have a look. It is appalling. The most appalling thing about the gang stuff on the internet is that it is put there, not by people talking about things they do not do but by those actually boasting about the things they do. It is a way of communicating and trying to get at other gangs. Just Google “gangs”, “street gangs” or “violent street gangs” in any major city and see what comes up. That is what we are trying to wrestle with. This is about serious street violence and trying to do something about it.
After my introductory remarks I will read into the record what the new clauses do. In looking at what to do, we saw the success of what happened in Birmingham and then determined—following the judgment in the courts—that we needed to correct and change the law. This approach—where people feel it appropriate and with the proper judicial oversight—could be used subject to two conditions: first, that somebody had been engaged in or had encouraged or assisted gang-related violence and, secondly, to prevent it in the future.
One of the key new clauses—I suggest members of the Committee read it again—includes some prohibitions and requirements. I will pick a couple of the prohibitions to give a flavour to the Committee. For example, somebody cannot go into a certain area. This is to try to combat the territoriality—the postcoding—that gangs have. There are people dying on our streets because they go into the wrong postcode. That is how serious it is. There are young—and older—people being shot, stabbed or attacked because they go into the wrong postcode area. So there is an issue of territoriality.
The second issue I would draw attention to is that of wearing colours. Somebody asked me about football supporters. I am not talking about football supporters. One has to inject some common sense and realism into this. I am not talking about somebody wearing a rosette or a scout badge. That debases the debate. Anybody with an ounce of sense realises that. We are talking about people who wear colours to display the gang they belong to so that when they go into other areas people will know. It is like a uniform. If we fail to recognise some of this, we will not be able to tackle the scale of the issue. Before I, the hon. Member for Hornchurch or others are attacked, I emphasise that I am not saying that this applies to every young person or that it takes place in every area of the country. Let us get that out of the way before we are attacked for portraying everybody in that way. I am not. The vast majority are law-abiding. I am talking about a serious problem in some areas.
There is also a prohibition regarding the internet, which tackles something I was talking about earlier. A further very disturbing issue is the use of animals as weapons; the increasing use of dogs. We know what sort of dogs we are talking about. They are used as status symbols but they are also used to intimidate, attack and threaten. That is where we are with some of this. That is what this measure tackles. Many of us have visited police forces and communities, and the police increasingly say that such use of animals is of growing concern. Before anybody starts, I am not talking about poodles or pets, but about animals that are used as weapons. I am labouring the point, but if we are not careful the debate will move off sensible discussion about real problems and on to concerns—albeit, I suppose, legitimate—that can undermine the debate. So, the prohibitions are important.
9.15 am
I come now to the under-18s. The injunctions in Birmingham apply to over-18s; injunctions for under-18s are difficult. Technically, the injunctions can apply to under-18s. That is an important point, because there will be a lot of discussion about who the injunctions apply to and their impact on children. Injunctions, however, have to be enforceable and it is unlikely that they would be enforceable for somebody under 18: the court cannot fine someone who does not have a source of income and most gang members would not have a legitimate source. Nor can the court sentence someone under 18 to detention in a young offenders institution—the penalty for breaching one of these orders—for a civil contempt of court.
Changing the law to enable the courts to use injunctions for under-18s would involve a major change in how civil law interacts with minors—under-18s. However, I recognise that a tool for managing under-18s would be welcomed by those on the front line, seeking to manage gangs, and by those communities most affected by gangs. This area is very contentious and I will therefore try to involve others. I have asked my officials to work with others across Government to see whether we can amend how civil injunctions work to enable the provision to be used for under-18s. I am progressing this with trepidation and care and I shall try to involve as many people as possible.
The injunctions are good, but as they are constituted there are problems with under-18s. The hon. Member for Hornchurch is a lawyer and will understand that better than I do. However, who has been arrested for the recent murder in London? Who has been arrested for many of the other murders, not only in London but across the country? It is not people aged 19, 20 or 21, although it often is—many of the injunctions in Birmingham were against people of that age group. Those arrested in these cases are aged 15, 16 or 17 and, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch says, there are problems with even younger people.
This is a difficult area. I do not mean this sarcastically, but it is a shame that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon is not here. I can hear what the retort will be, as the Bill progresses through the House, about using such injunctions against under-18s. But no one standing where I am, with my responsibilities, could ignore what was happening on the street. The public policy challenge—the social reform challenge—is how to tackle that, given, as I said at the beginning, that we would use the criminal law first and try to divert people. But there are now 15, 16 and 17-year-olds and younger children involved in serious violent gang activity, and 15, 16 and 17-year-olds who are not involved in such activity but are now before the courts on a murder charge. Our task is to see whether a civil preventive tool, alongside everything else, would prevent that from happening in the first place. We should find a way, no matter how difficult or controversial, to legislate and create a civil preventive tool that prevents a 16-year-old from going to an area, wearing colours, associating with others or being used by people over 18 to do their errands or dirty work, which is increasingly happening as 19, 20 and 21-year-olds use 11, 12 and 13-year-olds to do things for them. If we can do that alongside the action that we are taking, as well as the measures that we need to take, we will contribute to making our streets safer.
I feel very passionate about the issue, because I chair a cross-departmental group that is part of our tackling knives action programme. The group examines events on a weekly basis and met yesterday morning. No murders had been reported to it for a number of weeks, but it was told of four murders at yesterday’s meeting. That is what we are about; we are trying to prevent those from happening. Anyone can make jibes, but all will agree that we need to prevent people from being murdered on the streets, wherever they may be. The debate centres on how best to do that.
I apologise for detaining members of the Committee on this issue, but I hope that those important remarks are helpful to them. I know that the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Chesterfield, and maybe other members of the Committee, will have something to say on this crucial and fundamental debate. I should also note that Government amendment 290 relates to England and Wales.
I will spend a few moments on further amendments. New clause 11 sets out the two conditions that must be satisfied before a court may grant an injunction. The first is that the court should be satisfied that the respondent’s past conduct has included engaging in, encouraging or assisting gang-related violence. The court must consider evidence of past behaviour to a civil standard on the balance of probabilities. The second condition is that the injunction is necessary to prevent the respondent in engaging, encouraging or assisting gang-related violence and/or to protect the respondent from such violence. A court may make such prohibitions or requirements as it considers appropriate, provided that they are necessary either to prevent the respondent from engaging in, encouraging or assisting gang-related violence, or to protect the respondent from such violence. New clause 12 provides for that in more detail.
New clause 11 also defines gang-related violence as
“violence or a threat of violence which occurs in the course of the activities of a gang or is otherwise related to such activities.”.
The clause also stipulates that threats of violence should be included in the definition. Whether violence or threats of violence are gang-related will be a matter for the court to decide.
New clause 11(4) explains that a court may
“prohibit the respondent from doing anything described in the injunction”
“require the respondent to do anything described in the injunction.”
Of course, a court must be satisfied that those prohibitions or requirements are necessary in order to prevent gang-related violence as per subsection (3) of the same clause.
New clause 12 gives examples of the effects that prohibitions or requirements could have, and that a court could consider, including effectively preventing gang-related violence. The Government have learnt from Birmingham city council’s use of injunctions that exclusion zones and non-association prohibitions can be particularly effective in disrupting gang-related violence. Our intention is that courts should be confident in applying such restrictions, and they are therefore provided for in subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b). The clause’s requirements include notifying the applicant of a change of address, a curfew, or the need to participate in particular activities. Requirements must have the effect of preventing gang-related violence.
The types of activities that we envisage respondents being required to participate in include community call-in or mentoring sessions. Such activities give authorities and community leaders the opportunity to engage with gang members, to explain the effects of gang-related violence in their area, and to offer them opportunities to learn, develop and exit the gang lifestyle. Committee members will also note that we have included a specific safeguard—that is really important—within the clause that prevents prohibitions or requirements from interfering with religious beliefs, or the respondent’s work or education.
New clause 13 guides how courts should manage the length of the injunction. It makes it clear that the injunction can be made for a fixed period, or until further order of the court. It also allows the court to set a review hearing, during the life of the injunction, to consider whether it needs to be varied or discharged.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend clarify two points? The first point regards sanctions, which I presume he will come on to. The second point is on the issue of what is accepted as a religion, because that can be very important with young people, for example, with Rastas. There are different religions that might not be recognised.
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Prepared 27 February 2009