Previous Section Index Home Page

The Gracious Speech confirmed that we will introduce the Child Poverty Bill in the current Session. It has already been widely debated in this Chamber and there is support from both sides of this House for further action to reduce substantially relative, absolute and persistent child poverty, as well as material deprivation. The Bill will legally bind the Government to taking the sustained action necessary to meet the 2020 target, whether that is by increasing parental employment and skills, providing financial support or improving health, housing, education and social services. It also commits us to report annually to Parliament on progress on the
25 Nov 2009 : Column 576
2020 target. The Bill will create a child poverty commission to advise the Government on policy development and will place a clear duty on local authorities both to reduce poverty locally and mitigate its effects.

Under the provisions of our Bill, our focus on supporting the poorest families in the country will not merely continue-it will intensify. We are already creating up to 95,000 new jobs from the £1 billion future jobs fund; the first jobs became available in October and there will be thousands more in the coming months. Additionally, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week further steps to tackle youth unemployment in order to avoid at all costs what happened in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of young people were left to drift into long-term unemployment.

Let me now turn to the Crime and Security Bill, which comes at a time when there are more police officers than ever before, with substantial support from police community support officers, which did not previously exist, and with more money than ever available to spend on tackling crime. This country's police and support staff have presided over the first sustained reduction in crime in almost 100 years, with violent crime having decreased by 41 per cent. since 1997 and public confidence increasing. However, there remain communities across the country in which the fear of crime is endemic and antisocial behaviour is far too prevalent. We should not portray this issue as if it is some kind of battle between the generations, not least because 60 per cent. of antisocial behaviour orders are handed to adults and because, as we saw with the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, teenagers are as likely to be the victims as the perpetrators. The vast majority of young people are law-abiding and hard working, and make a positive contribution to their communities. However, some of them drift into antisocial behaviour and gang-related crime.

Keith Vaz: Of course I agree with the Home Secretary that great progress has been made. As he knows, the Bill deals with the DNA database. Is he as concerned as I am about reports that a number of young people are being arrested just so they can be put on the DNA database, that the DNA profiles of about three quarters of all young black men are on the database, and that 750,000 innocent people are still on it? I know that the Government have said that these names should be cleared within six years, but is he prepared, during the passage of the Bill, to engage with Members on both sides of the House to try to ensure that that number is reduced?

Alan Johnson: I welcome the debate on this matter, which was why we agreed to pull these clauses from the Policing and Crime Bill and include them in the Crime and Security Bill. As I said in an article in this morning's edition of The Guardian, this is a sensitive matter that needs to be carefully debated. I would be concerned about yesterday's reports if I felt that they were accurate. I understand that they have come from one retired police officer who has said that he thought that the police were deliberately arresting people-we should not forget that people get on the DNA database by being arrested for a recordable crime, for which they can serve a prison sentence-merely to get them on the DNA database. I think more highly of our police service than that, and certainly the response from the Association of Chief Police Officers and others in the police service
25 Nov 2009 : Column 577
expressed the fact that they were extremely offended by that suggestion. My right hon. Friend will be conducting a review of the issue with the distinguished Committee that he chairs, but I do not believe that this report reflects common practice in the police.

Mr. Hepburn: Has the Secretary of State closed his mind altogether to the possibility of having everybody on a DNA database? The problem seems to be people getting off, and people complaining about those people getting off and not getting locked up. Has he closed his mind to that fact?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend might wish to table his proposal as an amendment as the Bill goes through the House. I understand that he makes a very serious point, which relates to the issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) raised about a disproportionate representation from the black and minority ethnic community. I believe that that is a problem for the criminal justice system as a whole, not just the DNA database, although the DNA database reflects it. The way round it would be to have a DNA database containing everyone's DNA, but I am not proposing that. I have not even opened my mind to that, never mind closed it again.

Chris Grayling: May I take the Secretary of State back to the issue of young black men on the DNA database? I am sure that since yesterday's reports he will have asked for information about the current situation, so will he share it with the House? Is it correct that the proportion of young black men who are on the database is as was stated? If so, what proportion of those on the database have actually been convicted of an offence?

Alan Johnson: The information that I have received is that last year the proportion of young black men on the DNA database was about 9 per cent. and the proportion of the Asian population on the database was 5 per cent. The figure for the Asian population is about proportionate to the population as a whole, but the 9 per cent. is not. The 9 per cent. figure for those on the database is much higher than the 2 per cent. represented in the population as a whole. That is an issue, but we knew that it was an issue before yesterday's reports.

Several hon. Members rose -

Alan Johnson: I am not even on to the DNA database yet-I shall be coming to that in a second-but I shall take one further intervention.

Mr. Vara: The Home Secretary has just referred to black and Asian DNA figures. Is there any way of determining which groups that means within the Asian community, such as Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and so on? In the black community, there is a huge difference between those from Africa and those from the Caribbean countries. Is it possible to be a bit more precise rather than being so generic? It is a bit like referring to the figures for Europeans in the same way.

Alan Johnson: It probably is possible to be more precise, but that is the information that I was given yesterday. There is a paucity of good research on this and perhaps we need to do substantially more to ensure that we have more accurate figures. I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in these issues, so I shall look to see whether there are any further figures on the breakdown and furnish him with that information.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 578

I was talking about the groundbreaking powers in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which, for the first time, provided the police, local authorities and other agencies with civil powers to deal with behaviour that, although it was not yet criminal, was a major source of insecurity and unhappiness. Along with the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, that has provided police and local authorities with the powers that they need to tackle antisocial behaviour effectively, including acceptable behaviour contracts, antisocial behaviour orders and powers to close crack houses and evict irresponsible tenants.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has demonstrated yet again his profound misunderstanding of the powers that are now available to tackle such problems. In a newspaper interview last week, he said that there should be informal solutions that the police could use-there are. He said that ASBOs should be more of a last resort if nothing else is working-that is precisely what they are. He said that the police should be allowed to impose grounding orders and instant community penalties-they can. Indeed, some groundbreaking work is being done in the west midlands in that respect, although all police authorities have that power.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion-he did not mention this point in his speech, but it was yet again included in his Daily Mail interview-that the police should be able to confiscate mobile phones and iPods from 13-year-olds. He said that that would be a simple, non-criminalising intervention. So, a police officer could simply take a child's property-presumably with no authority, no consultation and no reference to the parents, otherwise it will hardly be simple and quick, and with very little, if any, documentation-as an arbitrary punishment for a minor offence. That is the kind of simple, non-criminalising police intervention that is unlikely to bolster confidence in the police among the young. I suggest that it would also be unlikely to please parents, although I suppose that they could always fill in a form of complaint provided that there is something on there to say whether they were married or not.

Parenting orders have been of immense importance when parents of children who are persistent offenders are either incapable of stopping their child's bad behaviour or remain stubbornly ignorant of it. The Bill will further address that by ensuring that courts consider a child's parenting need before they place an ASBO on 10 to 15-year-olds. At that point, a voluntary parenting contract or a parenting order could be imposed. If that ASBO was subsequently breached, a parenting order would automatically be triggered, rather than being discretionary.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Should it not be the case that when a young person commits a criminal act, the parents should be financially liable for the cost of reparation?

Alan Johnson: In some cases, the parents are asked, as part of the informal arrangements, to get their child to go and do something to restore what happened, which they would have to pay for. That is very much what is happening in the west midlands at the moment. In all cases, parenting orders are not a soft option. They are a contract between parents and the authorities-not just the police, but local authorities, housing authorities and social services-to end the kind of behaviour that sometimes leads to children being disruptive. Whether there is a
25 Nov 2009 : Column 579
financial or a physical obligation to change, that certainly requires the parents to do something and not simply to put up with their child's behaviour.

Dr. Starkey: Although it is interesting to suggest that parents should be made financially liable, is it not important to avoid what I might call the Bullingdon club syndrome, whereby rich students commit a lot of damage in a restaurant for fun, financially recompense the restaurateur as they leave and think that that just wipes out the problem?

Alan Johnson: If antisocial behaviour orders had been around at the time, I am sure that one would have been served on the former Member for Henley and his colleagues.

Chris Grayling: Will the Home Secretary clarify? In the event of an informal solution being applied-for example, if a police officer agrees with a family and a young person that that young person should go and do some community work the following weekend-what is the legal consequence if that work is not completed?

Alan Johnson: As it is an informal civil order, it does not even get into the realms of bureaucracy and, as it is the kind of thing that the hon. Gentleman rightly said should be available and that is available, there would not be much of a consequence. That is the same with all informal measures. The problem is that taking an iPod away from someone goes beyond the idea of restorative justice and is much more serious and threatening.

The conditions that the courts impose on parents will vary in each case. They might require the parent to make sure that their child is at home and supervised during certain hours at night, or they might ban the child from associating with other known troublemakers. The parent might be instructed to seek treatment for drug or alcohol problems, or attend intensive parenting classes. More usually, there will be a combination of such conditions.

Let me turn to the subject of gang injunctions. Although the number of young people involved in gang violence is small, the impact that those young people have on the communities in which they live can be extreme-both in terms of crime and antisocial behaviour and in terms of generating a fear of crime. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 gives police and local authorities new powers to issue injunctions to prevent gang violence. The Crime and Security Bill will extend such injunctions to 14 to 17-year-olds. They can be used to prevent the young person from going to a particular place, from meeting other gang members or from using dogs as weapons to intimidate the community. In addition, they can be used to direct young people towards targeted support that will help to address any underlying issues that might be prevalent.

The good news about domestic violence is that the British crime survey shows a 65 per cent. reduction in it since 1995, and the conviction rate is rising. The bad news is that it still accounts for 14 per cent. of all violent crime and its impact continues to ruin the lives of women and children. One woman every week is murdered by a current or former partner. It used to be two or three, but the situation is still unacceptable.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 580

Today, the violence against women and girls strategy was published. It sets out how we will intensify our efforts to prevent domestic and sexual violence, in particular by challenging attitudes that condone such behaviour and by providing greater support to victims. The strategy goes wider than domestic violence, but Chief Constable Brian Moore was asked to examine that specific issue from a policing perspective, and one of his recommendations relates to the introduction of domestic violence protection orders. They would give the police powers to ban the attacker from the home of their victim for up to 28 days to provide vital respite for victims to consider their options. Crucially, that means that it would not be the victim who would be forced to leave her home, as is too often the case at the moment, but the perpetrator.

We have included that proposal in the Crime and Security Bill, which will also make it an offence not to keep air weapons under lock and key and well out of the reach of children. Introducing a compulsory licensing scheme for wheel clampers will also allow us to set limits on the fines that they can impose, and we will outlaw rogue operators who extort vast sums from drivers and bring the entire sector into disrepute. Finally, this Bill proposes a new framework for the retention of DNA records.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I want to take the Home Secretary back to the earlier intervention by one his colleagues. The Government have created the largest DNA database in the world, with 1 million innocent people included on it. Is not the logic of that that the Government should go for a universal database that covers everybody? Surely that is the logic of their position.

Alan Johnson: No, it is not, as the database includes people who have committed a crime or been arrested but not charged. The European Court did not say that it was wrong to include on the database people who had been arrested but not charged, but that we should not keep that information for an indeterminate time. That was its decision, and I believe that the changes that we are proposing in the Bill will meet the points made by the European Court.

Mr. Burrowes: The Home Secretary has spoken about domestic violence, gang crime and antisocial behaviour, but there has been no reference to drugs and alcohol. The right hon. Gentleman has taken off his glasses, but will he take off his rose-tinted glasses and recognise that we top the European league for the problematic use of drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines by young people? A total of £1.5 billion has been paid into the pot for drug treatment, enforcement and prevention, but what are the results?

Alan Johnson: In many ways, parenting orders get to the problems caused by antisocial behaviour. All hon. Members will know from their constituency experience that there are constant problems with some families. They can be caused by children, parents or people visiting the home, but there is usually a drug or alcohol problem at the heart of the behaviour that needs to be addressed.

Drug use in this country is at the lowest level that it has ever been. Young people make up the most difficult group, but drug use among the young is down by 5 per cent. Progress has been made, although perhaps not enough, but the remarkable thing is the number of
25 Nov 2009 : Column 581
people-over a quarter of a million-who are receiving treatment for drug addiction. Making the drug intervention programme part of the criminal justice system has been the biggest and most important contributory factor in that.

I have not mentioned drugs before because I have only a certain amount of time to deliver this speech and the Bill contains nothing specifically about drug legislation, but it is a very important issue.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I am genuinely not sure that the right hon. Gentleman meant it, but he said that drug use in this country is lower than it has ever been. Did he mean that?

Alan Johnson: Yes. The British crime survey puts it at 10.1 per cent. of the population, which is the lowest level since records began. I wish the hon. Gentleman would look at the statistics in the British crime survey occasionally, as they might explain some of the problems that arise in these debates.

Damian Green: But the lowest ever?

Alan Johnson: Since records began.

Mr. Burrowes: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Alan Johnson: I will, for one little millisecond.

Mr. Burrowes: I am ever so grateful for the Home Secretary's generosity, but does he disagree with the report from the European Monitoring Centre For Drugs and Drug Addiction? It compared drug use in 28 countries in Europe and revealed that the UK has the highest proportion of cocaine use among adults, and among 15 and 16-year olds. That finding is supported by the UK Drug Policy Commission report, which says that we have the highest problem of drug use.

Alan Johnson: I do not disagree with that at all, but my point is that the level is the lowest since records began. I cannot argue that it is the lowest ever, given that no one recorded it before the previous Government introduced the legislation-

Damian Green: But you said that it was the lowest ever

Alan Johnson: No one knows what the level was before we started recording it. The hon. Gentleman intervenes from a sedentary position, but he has been in the House long enough to know that a statistical argument is based on when those statistics began to be compiled.

I was also asked about alcohol. The British crime survey was introduced under the previous Government and it is the most robust and accurate measure of crime. It shows that alcohol-fuelled crime is down by a third. The link with the Licensing Act 2003 is fictitious. There is, of course, a link between excessive drinking and violence, and I understand that it is a very important issue that we have still to address in full. One fifth of all violent crime takes place in or around pubs and clubs, and nearly half of that occurs between Friday evening and Monday morning.

Next Section Index Home Page