Members in the Chamber will know that I am not given to opposing the Government at every twist and turn. It is not my way of doing business, but on this issue I do not think the Government have gone far enough. That does not mean, however, that I will vote against
Second Reading tonight, or even abstain. The Government have moved to some degree to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment and should be given the chance to respond in Committee and on Report and Third Reading on this important part of the Bill. I will push the Government for a fuller implementation of the judgment that takes account of the complexities of the issue more clearly, but that does not mean that I want to jeopardise the other provisions in the Bill on account of that one disagreement. In that, perhaps, I differ from some of those who have spoken in the Chamber today.
Finally, the provisions on gang-related violence have hardly been mentioned in the debate, but I consider them extremely important. I support wholeheartedly the extension of the provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 to a younger age group-specifically, the 14-to-18 age group. The problem is not new. From what we read in the media, most people would believe that gang-related violence is a symptom of the new millennium, but that is clearly not case. Mention gang-related violence to anybody over the age of 70 or 80 in Sheffield, and they will quiver with fear and talk about the Mooneys, one of the most dangerous gangs ever to have operated in the city of Sheffield, especially in Sheffield, Attercliffe. That does not mean that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has to deal now with a problem on a similar scale. He does not.
We have had gang-related violence in the past. Sheffield had it in the 1930s and London in the 1950s and 60s. It is not a new problem. Such violence is not related to the use of guns or knives. It is an age-old problem, but we need to deal with it. The emergence of postcode gangs is a new development and an extension of the old form of gang warfare which I find particularly worrying. The use of the internet and mobile phones makes it so much easier for such gangs to organise. I do not know whether any hon. Member in the Chamber has had a good look at some of the internet sites of postcode gangs. They are terrifying. One sees very young individuals, typically aged 12 upwards, in balaclavas and uniforms, handling what look like terrifying weapons-guns, knives and so on. More often than not, we see cannabis leaves and cannabis on those websites. I have raised the matter with the local police, and they point out the problem that one cannot prove that what is being smoked in video clips on such sites is genuinely cannabis, or that the guns and knives are anything other than replicas. The situation is very difficult, but my point is that those sites are meant to intimidate and terrorise, and they exist throughout the city of Sheffield. The S3 and S4 gangs are particularly difficult, and we have had gun-related gang killings in Sheffield. One case went to Crown court recently, and it resulted in long life sentences for two or three individuals. There are gangs in S6 and S12, too. Whatever the postcode in Sheffield, there is likely to be a gang attached to it.
We need to do something about that problem, because it absolutely terrifies the communities that make up cities such as Sheffield. When I was a councillor in Attercliffe, we had a problem with a gang that was peddling drugs and taking control of the neighbourhood. Tackling that problem took a partnership between the police, us councillors, and local residents, who had to be given the confidence to gather the necessary information
to nail the gang leaders. But we reached the point whereby news about a private meeting that had been called to discuss the issue got out to the local community, and we ended up with almost 100 people in the hall. They did not care that the meeting was private; they turned up because they wanted to discuss the issue. It had become so serious that their lives were being seriously hindered and hampered by the behaviour of that gang of young people, who were led by the children of one family-peddling drugs and causing havoc. I therefore stress the need for such partnerships, which involve elected representatives, to deal with those issues.
Michael Fabricant: I am listening to the hon. Lady with considerable interest, and particularly with regard to the websites that she just mentioned. I fully understand that it may be difficult to prove that people are smoking cannabis or handling real guns, but has she investigated, or does she know whether the police have investigated, any way in which they might just close down the website and, therefore, stop communication between gang members?
Ms Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The police say that a ten-minute Bill, making it either easier to close those sites down or harder to set them up in the first place, is probably the way forward. However, gangs are increasingly tuning into the use of the web as a way of threatening and intimidating people, and that is very worrying.
Some people will oppose the Bill, saying that the measures on 14 to 18-year-olds employ a lower standard of proof, but we do not have any real choice, because some of the activities in which those gang members are involved are so extreme. Serious crime is being perpetrated by the users of guns, knives and-this is why I have raised the issue-dangerous dogs. I was absolutely delighted to hear the Home Secretary make it clear that he believes that, increasingly, gang members are using as weapons not just knives and guns, but dogs. A dog that is dangerously out of control is as dangerous as any gun or knife. I look forward to the Minister's comments on that issue, because we must ensure that the gang-related violence provisions that are extended to that younger generation are applied equally-regardless of the weapon that they employ.
In London, in particular, there is a growing problem with the use of dogs as dangerous weapons-so much so, that the Greater London authority is pressing for changes to legislation on the issue. There has been a nineteenfold increase in the number of dangerous and status dogs in London since the early 1990s. The problem is emerging in Merseyside and Birmingham, too, and it will not be long before we see it in Sheffield and other cities and communities throughout the country.
It is my firm view that we must look again at the dangerous dogs legislation, and strengthen it. We need to strengthen the penalties for gangs, in particular, and the police's ability to respond to gang members' use of dangerous dogs as weapons. We need also to give the police the tools that they need to deal with the issue, and that means increasing the penalties that are available to the courts to deal with people who own dogs that are dangerously out of control and endangering innocent people in our communities.
The provisions on gang-related violence are to some extent supported by strong legislation on the ownership of a knife, and how and when one carries it, and on the
ownership of guns. We have strict legislation on knife and gun ownership, and I applaud it. No way would I want this country to liberalise the ownership of those weapons as the United States has. However, we need to think more seriously about supporting the provisions on gang-related violence, particularly those involving the use of weapons. We need to make sure that our dangerous dogs legislation is just as tough and effective at ensuring that individuals do not deliberately use dogs to intimidate, threaten, injure and, sometimes, kill other individuals.
It is self-evident, to me at least, that the problems we have discussed today are real. The moot point is whether we have the right answers. Today's problems cannot be addressed effectively by eroding civil liberties, and there has been enough talk about the balance between the freedom of the individual and the all-important security of society. Of course that is important, and it should be as central to this debate as to any other, but many people believe that the scales have fallen too heavily on the side of the interests of the state, at the expense of guaranteed rights that we have recognised for centuries. Those rights and freedoms meant that we stood out as an example of a civilised system that provided for the interests of the individual alongside the interests of society or the state. That used to be the situation, at any rate.
Recently, Amnesty International published a report on the state of the world's human rights in which the then secretary-general said that giving one group of people security at the expense of other people's rights is bound to fail, and that many anti-terrorist measures and laws have failed because they do not give that element enough consideration. They have, she said,
"done little to reduce the threat of violence...and much to damage human rights and the rule of law."
The tension between this form of legislation and human rights has led to several recent cases in the Strasbourg Court. There are genuine concerns in this Chamber and there will be in the other place. I do not make these points simply to play politics; it is my sincere belief that there are some very bad and insidious parts of the Bill. I do not impute any wrong intentions to the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism or to any of his colleagues. However, I believe that some of this legislation must be thought through a great deal before it can go through.
Here is another crime Bill, a pre-election one. As always, it contains some sensible measures; tucked in with them, however, are measures that are not sensible and even insidious-a continuation of the sad trend to which I have alluded. But I should say that I welcome without qualification the proposed provisions on airguns. I also accept and appreciate without qualification the compensation for victims of terrorism abroad-indeed, I applaud it. We will have to see how the legislation on wheel-clamping works out, but I am pleased that the Government are recognising the problem.
I shall now attempt to explain-hopefully in short order-why I do not think that the provisions on domestic violence are necessary. That is not to say that I underplay
the problem of domestic violence. I practised in that area of law for many years and know how awful that problem can be. I agree in large part with what the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) said. It is my belief that there is sufficient provision to deal with what the Bill proposes to address. We do not need to introduce a plethora of new legislation; we should ensure that the current legislation is properly employed. That is an honest response to that aspect of the Bill.
"The blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences"
"right to respect for private life"
under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. I would say further that the right to life is an absolute right, although it can be limited in certain cases. This general case, however, has not been made out.
It has been said before but I feel obliged to say it again: every person has the right to be presumed innocent until the opposite is proven, and acquitted persons must be treated in the same way. The national DNA database risks stigmatising people, as inclusion on the database leads to the perception that suspicions exist in relation to that person-as somebody said earlier, "no smoke without fire". The retention of samples and profiles of unconvicted people may be especially harmful in relation to children; currently, unconvicted children and minority ethnic people are hugely over-represented on the database.
The proposed replacement measures in the Bill are really and truly only a marginal improvement on the existing regime. Those arrested but not charged or convicted may still have their DNA profile kept on the database for at least six years and as many as eight. In the view of Justice, retaining the DNA profile of an innocent person for six years is both excessive and unnecessary. The organisation opines that the Government have failed to follow the much more appropriate model in the 1995 Scottish legislation, under which the DNA of persons arrested but not convicted is destroyed following an acquittal or a decision not to charge. If they are enacted, the Government's proposals would replace the existing "blanket and indiscriminate" retention policy with one that is only slightly less sweeping and is still disproportionate.
The other thing that I find a little concerning is that a chief police officer will make a decision on whether to extend that time, based on national security needs. I am not being disparaging of the police, less still of senior officers; my own brother is a fairly senior officer in north Wales. However, I do not think the police are necessarily qualified to decide on what is a security issue. As somebody said earlier in this interesting debate, the police are there to do their job and to do it in any way they can: they want to maximise convictions and to bring down crime rates, and that is to their credit. However, some elements within the police might be over-zealous in the way they go about it, and that is a problem.
Under-18-year-olds arrested for a recordable offence but not convicted will have their fingerprints and DNA retained for three years unless the offence is a qualifying offence of a sexual or violent nature and the child is aged 16 or 17, in which case their fingerprints and DNA will be retained for six years. Neither of those more limited periods of retention applies if the chief officer for a particular police area determines that that is necessary for the purposes of national security. A determination to that effect can be made every two years, and there is no limit on the number of such determinations. Effectively, then, an unconvicted person's DNA could be retained indefinitely despite the European Court ruling of December 2008. Since then, the four Welsh police forces have added 23,778 DNA profiles to the database, and only 10 have been removed. That shows how difficult this is. I am sure we have all had experiences of trying to assist constituents who feel hard done by under this provision. It really is a disgrace, because it can genuinely affect people's lives in many different ways, including their job prospects. To put it in a simple form of words, it is not fair.
Looking at the DNA regime in general, there is the whole notion of a person who has been arrested having a greater tendency to reoffend. Evidence from the Jill Dando Institute is not exactly evidence that one can heavily rely on. Mr. Justice Beatson, the outgoing president of the British Academy of Forensic Science and a High Court judge, has referred to research in this area as being less than convincing. He says:
"The issues involved raise difficult scientific and technical questions, and the policy choices in this area also have constitutional and civil liberties implications. The need is for an objective, impartial and balanced assessment in which the public can have confidence. Bearing these factors in mind, I suggest that the issue is one on which, for most of the twentieth century, advice would have been sought from a Royal Commission made up of the leading experts in all the relevant disciplines or a body such as the Law Commission."
I do not accept the idea that a person who has been arrested is more likely to offend in future: that offends common sense. There are serious flaws in the Government's research and analysis. Frankly, this part of the Bill should go back to the drawing board.
There are problems with the manner in which the new domestic violence protection notice is meant to be enforced, in that the offender and the person who has been offended against have a right to be heard by the superintendent in charge. There is no superintendent in the constituency that I represent, which covers an area that is 100 miles from north to south and 100 miles across. Need I say more than that this is balderdash in terms of practicality? It might work in an urban area, however.
Mr. Hanson: The order was suggested by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has examined the matter practically. Secondly, it will be established as a pilot so, if legislative approval is given, the issues the hon. Gentleman raises may be considered as part of our examination of that pilot.
I am pleased that there will be a pilot because this aspect of the Bill is flawed. The proposal could not be made to work in a rural setting, and it is
unnecessary for several other reasons. I note what the Minister says but ACPO would say that, would it not? The proposal would allow the say-so of one police officer to get something done without reference to the courts, meaning that the result would be achieved first, and there would be a subsequent court hearing.
Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman points out that his constituency is 100 miles from north to south and from east to west. However, is it not worth emphasising that his constituency is so hilly, with such difficult terrain, that the time it takes to get across it would be equivalent to that for a constituency in England that was 200 miles from east to west, and 200 miles from north to south?
Mr. Llwyd: I am not absolutely sure about that. I have a motor car; perhaps the hon. Gentleman still has a mule- [ Interruption. ] Let us not continue to talk about motor cars just now-I am sure the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism will not sink to that level.
Travelling is difficult, for sure, and this is a genuine issue. I do not downplay the need to protect people-they are mostly women-in such situations, and I have never been blasé about this. I worked in the field for many years. I am still disgusted and appalled when I think about the things I witnessed, so I am not making light of this. However, under the Family Law Act 1996-I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became that Act, and I was pleased that it made the statute book-it appears that there is sufficient protection for women in such a position, through an ouster order and a non-molestation order, coupled with the power of arrest. Indeed, if there is a more serious initial assault, the perpetrator can no doubt be bailed on very strict conditions.
I will not expand on other relevant considerations because I do not want to take up too much time, but the hon. Member for Woking made a comprehensive case in support of the view that we already have these powers in place. When I asked the Home Secretary about the difference between the provisions in the 1996 Act and those in the Bill, I did not get much of a response, so I await one from Ministers. I do not understand how the need for the Bill's provisions arises.
The proposals on gang-related violence risk introducing a whole panoply of criminal penalties on a civil standard of proof. This is not the first Bill to do that, and it is a disturbing tendency. Those provisions could be challengeable on behalf of young people. Again, I am not playing the problem down. We do not have this kind of thing in my local town, thank God, but I heard the speech made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and I have no doubt that it is a major problem in some places. However, we need legislation that will stand the test of time and tests in the courts. In the McCann case, the House of Lords found that even though antisocial behaviour orders were civil orders, the criminal standard of proof-beyond reasonable doubt-should be employed, not the civil standard, because the finding of guilt has with it serious criminal penalties. I make that point because the proposals in the Bill might be challenged on similar lines. However, I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said, and perhaps I live in a fool's paradise from that point of view.
I am very concerned about the keeping of DNA and fingerprint samples, and I am not the only one. [Interruption.] The Minister whispers from a sedentary position; if he would like to turn around, he will see that there is huge support behind him-massive support for the Bill!