James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentlemans point about the importance of focusing on graffiti is relevant. There is a debate about designing out crime. So much can and should be done to make our communities look cleaner, such as ensuring that they are well lit. Aspects of design can assist in ensuring that areas are safer and that less crime is committed. He is right that we should consider the concept of the broken-window society. If an area looks unsafe or unkept, in some ways the problem becomes self-perpetuating and the crime arises. Sadly, we have obviously seen this in many different communities that we have had involvement with.
There are two points. There is also the cost to businesses and small shops that perhaps have their shutters or their buildings continually defaced by graffiti. That highlights that graffiti is not an insignificant crime. So many businesses really struggle, because after the first occurrence
I understand and recognise the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about the importance of not criminalising young people and not drawing them into the criminal justice system at too early a stage. However, if someone is going round tagging and creating graffiti, that is really quite important, because it can be the precursor to other offending. By simply saying that an officer of the local authority would effectively deal with graffiti, there is a risk that these offences will be viewed as less serious if they are taken outside of their current remit. In no way am I suggesting that the hon. Gentleman is making that point, because he is not.
I absolutely agree that restorative justice can demonstrate to a community that somebody is paying for the crime that they have committed, that they are seen publicly in their community to be either repainting a building or clearing up litter, and that people recognise that somebody has received a punishment in those circumstances. However, I fear that an unintended consequence of what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting may be that graffiti is seen as less of a crime and less of a threat to a particular community, because it would obviously then be for the local authority to try to arrange the community punishments. That would take the local authority into a realm that it is perhaps not so familiar with, albeit that partnership arrangements could be established with youth offending teams and that whole aspect of the system.
There are significant issues and potential problems with what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Furthermore, if we recall the debate that we had this morning about gangs, some gangs may use tags as a mean of identifying territory, so that there is a more sinister aspect to the use of graffiti. We can talk about graffiti being a mark on a wall, but sometimes, as the hon. Gentleman will know, those tags mean something; they can have links to more serious offending. That is why the approach of involving the police, who often log these tags and have a database of them so that they can tie that graffiti to other offending, is quite important.
Paul Holmes: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a quite clear distinction and it would be at the designated officers discretion to establish that distinction? He would be working with the community disorder reduction partnerships and the police. Clearly, if it is serial tagging, gang tags or that sort of issue, why would the officer adopt this approach, unless they thought that it was appropriate for somebody just to get involved? If it is somebody who has just been caught spray-painting or chalking on a wall for the first time that we know of, why start to go through the heavy-handed legal procedures? So the decision would be at the discretion of the relevant
James Brokenshire: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman talks about the discretion of the relevant officer in this situation. I would argue that there should be discretion for the relevant police officer in how they deal with community safety and with offences in their community. It may be the case that an officer in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has indicated might, on a one-off occasion because he knows the person responsible and is very familiar with them, seek to exercise discretion in a particular way. I am just suggesting to the hon. Gentleman that that might be a better route in terms of being reasonable and dealing appropriately with offences in the community. There needs to be discretion and judgment on the part of police officers in these circumstances and that may be an appropriate way to address this problem, through the increasing use of community policing and safer neighbourhood teams, which I wholeheartedly support, who have a clearer understanding of the communities and neighbourhoods that they are policing.
Ms Keeble: My reading of this, and one reason why I think that it would not work, is that it involves
an authorised officer of a local authority
not a police officer, but a council officer. The person has to confess to the council officer that they have done it. It starts a new hare in the criminal justice system. That is why I have difficulty envisaging how a local council officer could be made to use a legal procedure such as this against a kid who is doing graffiti. It is an issue for the police officer, not the council cleaner.
James Brokenshire: I hear clearly what the hon. Lady says, but, as she should notice, I have talked about the discretion of police officers, working in conjunction with local authorities, which have a key role in the crime and disorder reduction partnerships that the hon. Member for Chesterfield alluded to. I have been to parts of the country where, for example, community police teams work hand in hand with council enforcement officers. Therefore, a combination of council-related issuesclear-up or using local environmental protection byelawsand working with the police creates a partnership approach. That is almost an alternative model that could be adopted and, in many ways, could achieve some of the elements that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Paul Holmes: On the partnership approach, are hon. Members aware of the pretty widespread practice, not only in Chesterfield, but also across the country, of council officers working with the police on many issues? Sometimes, the council officers take the initiative. In Chesterfield, we have a system of rangers who go around the parks and housing estates tackling graffiti and working with the police on offenders. If the offenders are council tenants, they will serve notices or warnings on them. There are already working examples of council officers taking the initiative on such issues. The policethe beat officerand the council tenant liaison officer will visit a problem family together. The police will say, Well, if you dont get your act together, these are the legal outcomes and the tenant liaison officer will say, And you can be evicted as well. That double act works very well. This is not new ground; it is already happening to varying degrees.
James Brokenshire: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I support close partnership working among the police, local authorities, probation teams and the NHS to address the issues in our communities. We see success where strong partnership elements are working. However, I question the necessity for the new clause in terms of where the relative responsibilities for dealing with the issues should lie. In my judgment, we are talking about criminal offences and if we want to debate young people in the criminal justice system, this is not necessarily the way to do it, although it is a valid point.
Going back to intelligence and potentially gang-related tags, the hon. Gentleman talked about the discretion of the officer, but, in reality, the police maintain the database of tags from photographic evidence and are better able to match them up. Would the local authority officer be in a position to make a judgment or use discretion? They would not necessarily have all the information at their fingertips. Equally, there is a cost impact on local authorities if they take on a new enforcement and community punishment role that is not currently envisaged for them.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point and, although I am not convinced, highlighting the impact of graffiti on our neighbourhoods and communities is relevant and valid, but I am not sure that this is the right way to approach it.
Mr. Campbell: I thank the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) for drawing this issue to the Committees attention, because this is an interesting amendment. When I discussed the proposal with my ministerial colleagues, we thought that there might be something in it. I cannot guarantee the hon. Member for Chesterfield that I will delight him, but I might give him a tiny bit of pleasure.
We have wide agreement on the broken-window theory, but I assure the hon. Gentleman, in view of his comments, that we all take those matters seriously, because graffiti and fly-posting are serious matters that can blight areas. It is right that the appropriate authorities react quickly to them and use enforcement powers when necessary. However, he begins to bring us into a more general debate on keeping young people out of the criminal justice system at an early stage, and he and I have some agreement on that.
I also agree with the points made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch on the need to be careful before going down that route. Making such a change or going too far down that route would send out a message to the individuals who might get involved in that kind of activity and the wider community. The community expects that graffiti and fly-posting will be put right by someone, and it is best put right by the perpetrators rather than at the expense of the council tax payer or anyone else. I want to say briefly where I think the Government are in that debate and reassure the hon. Gentleman of some of the things we are doing.
Paul Holmes: Before the Minister embarks on that explanation, which might be a direct answer to this question, I would like to say that we have already been in that territory to some degree in our debate on community payback. I remember visiting one group of people doing community payback in Chesterfield. One individual was in the army and his career would have ended if he had had to go to prison for those nine days, but the
Mr. Campbell: I remind the hon. Gentleman that restorative justice is already embedded in the youth justice system, and we are constantly looking at what more can be done to make it more widely available to avoid some of the scenarios to which he has rightly drawn the Committees attention.
With regard to the measures already in place, the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced fixed penalty notices as an alternative to prosecution for certain types of environmental crime, including graffiti and fly-posting offences and, we believe, offers an effective and less burdensome alternative to prosecution. Fixed penalty notices for graffiti and fly-posting offences can currently be issued by local authorities, the police and police community support officers who have been designated by their chief officers.
One of the difficulties with the new clause and the further introduction of community service punishments is that it would have implications, not least for cost, a point to which the hon. Member for Chesterfield alluded. For example, what about the practical and funding problems for probation services or anyone tasked with ensuring that the community service was carried out? It also runs counter to the current focus on unpaid work in community service that is often directed towards highly visible work projects for offenders convicted of relatively more serious offences, and I use the word relatively because I do not underestimate how serious graffiti and fly-posting can be.
Other out-of-court disposals are available to address that kind of behaviour. For example, adult conditional cautions allow low-level, low-risk and mainly first-time offenders in uncontested cases to be offered a caution with conditions attached. The conditions must either be reparative, such as the payment of compensation to a victim or unpaid work, or rehabilitative, to address the root causes of the offending behaviour. Later this year, we will begin testing the youth conditional caution. The youth restorative disposal is also currently being piloted, which will allow low-level, low-risk, first-time young offenders to undertake reparation for those types of offences and similarly enable their conviction to be discharged if completed.
The idea brought forward by the hon. Member for Chesterfield is interesting. I am sure that we have not heard the last of it. I reassure him and other Committee members that we are satisfied that we have a comprehensive range of disposals available and do not need to go down this route. I hope that he will withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 5
After section 24B of the Aviation Security Act 1982 (c. 36) insert
24C Police powers to search aeroplanes
(1) If the Secretary of State has any reason to believe that an aircraft that is in flight over the United Kingdom is or has been or may be involved in an act of unlawful rendition then he or she may require the aircraft to land at a suitable aerodrome.
(2) If an aircraft is required to land in accordance with subsection (1), a responsible person must, as soon as practicable after the aircraft has landed, enter and search the aircraft.
(3) The Secretary of State or a responsible person must enter and search an aircraft if he or she has any reason to believe that
(a) an aircraft in an aerodrome is or has been or may be involved in an act of unlawful rendition; or
(b) in respect of an aircraft in an aerodrome, incomplete or incorrect information under sections 32 and 33 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 (c. 13) has been supplied.
(4) For the purposes of subsections (2) and (3), a search of an aircraft is to be carried out to determine if
(a) the aircraft has been, or may be involved in an act of unlawful rendition,
(b) a criminal offence has been committed, or
(c) allowing the aircraft to continue on its journey could place the United Kingdom in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights,
but these powers may only be exercised when it is not reasonably practicable to apply for a warrant of entry in accordance with section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60).
(5) A person who carries out a search under this section may remove any items from the aircraft if it may be evidence of any of the matters set out in subsection (4).
(6) In this section
an act of unlawful rendition means an act, not being in accordance with formal lawful extradition or deportation procedures, involving the forcible transportation of a person to a territory where he or she may be subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment;
a responsible person means
(a) the chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area in England and Wales;
(b) the chief constable of a police force maintained under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (c. 77);
(c) the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland;
(d) one of the Commissioners of Her Majestys Revenue and Customs;
(e) a constable designated by any of the persons specified in paragraphs (a) to (c)..
Brought up, and read the First time.
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