|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I am happy for hon. Members to explore the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Woking in more depth in Committee-I promise that I will pop back to discuss them on Report-and I take seriously what he and others have said. The Government do not want to
do anything except introduce effective measures that build on all that we have already done on domestic violence.
I do not accept people's broader points objecting to the principle of ASBOs-I will not say that those points were tediously made, but I have been listening to them for 10 years-and now to gangster ASBOs, or GASBOs. Where ASBOs have worked, up and down the country, they have worked tremendously effectively. They have worked incredibly well for many communities, but I take the point that some hon. Members made about the interface between the law, some local councils-although, to be fair, they are getting better-and the Crown Prosecution Service and the local prosecutorial powers. All those elements need to be lined up properly if the orders are to be effectively, and sparingly, used. I welcome the advances made in relation to GASBOs, if I may use that shorthand to describe them.
I want to finish by mentioning three elements that are not in the Bill, but which matter and which merit serious discussion in regard to the policing world. It is my profound regret that, at one of my first meetings as Minister with responsibility for policing, I had to tell the Lancashire and Cumbria police forces that they could not merge. I shall leave that on the table and say no more, save that I absolutely agree with Hugh Orde, the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, when he says that 43 police forces to cover the best part of 54 million people is simply not sustainable. I believe that we could have between nine and 12, which could then become much more localised-rather like the Metropolitan police are seeking to do-and hold the police accountable at that very localised level. The notion of having 43 forces for 54 million people in England and Wales is complete nonsense, and that is a matter that we shall collectively have to return to-
Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman has a lot of experience in this area, but there are real problems with the case that he is trying to make in regard to size per se. The biggest police force in the country certainly has a lot of problems that other police forces-even those in other urban areas-do not have. It also has some pretty poor performance indicators, compared with other police forces. So bigger does mean more beautiful.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is now coming to the end of his remarks. He said that he wanted to make three points about things that were not in the Bill. Perhaps he will bear that in mind as he closes his remarks.
Mr. McNulty: I was simply using the device of a Second Reading debate to mention other things that could have been explored but were not. I was not asking for a debate with the hon. Member for Eastleigh, although I would be happy to have one if that is the best response he can make.
There are two further points that we need to address. I do not think that either side has got them right yet. There needs to be much more accountability at local level, and we have not got there yet. Police commissioners are a daft idea-that is not the way to do it-and if Boris Johnson is the answer, it must have been a silly question. The only new moneys that the Metropolitan police will get over the next two years will be the 2.7 per cent. increase from this Government. From Boris Johnson, they will get absolutely nothing, and we will make sure that the people of London know that.
Lastly, I realise that this matter is not appropriate for a fifth Session Bill, but at some point the House will need to address the issue of police finance. It cannot be right that the lowest contribution to the overall budget gathered locally from any police force is just 18 per cent., while the highest is 56 per cent. A couple of years ago, that disparity worked out at £80 a head as opposed to £260 a head. These disparities exist for a whole range of historic political reasons that make no sense now. Of course policing in the south-west is different from that in the north-east, but the price should not be as disparate as that.
These three issues will have to be addressed in the near future, hopefully by a Labour Government in power, but beyond that, and beyond my little critiques-unusual for me-about areas where the Government have wimped out, especially on mobile phones in prisons and wheel clamping, I commend the Bill to the House. I shall be happy to come back on Report and look at what the Committee has done.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Although I share the concerns of hon. Members of all parties about the DNA aspects of the Bill, the House will be pleased to know that I do not intend to talk about that subject at this late hour. Neither shall I bring up any issues that do not appear in the Bill.
I want to speak about some provisions to which I am sympathetic, including those on wheel-clamping. I shall tell two brief stories about incidents, one affecting a constituent, the other my own office. A constituent came to see me to complain that they had parked their car on private land outside a shop where they actually worked, yet it had been clamped and towed away, requiring a payment of £600 to get the car back. The constituent did not have the resources to pay that bill. It turns out that when these private companies-in some respects, I view them as nothing more than thugs-go in and intimidate people, they do so on the basis of choosing someone who may not own the land or the shop but who just happens to be around to sign a contract. That contract allows them to clamp people and issue these vile fines of hundreds of pounds.
The story relating to my own constituency office is that I received a phone call from one of my office staff, telling me that a small sign had gone up, saying that clamping was in place and fines would be applied. I was told that two hefty men were there to enforce the said fines. How had they got permission to carry out this clamping on what was private land, servicing about five or six different shops or businesses? Apparently, these men went in to someone who had a temporary lease in a shop and said that a lot of illegal was parking going on. They asked whether the person would like that parking
stopped and said there would be no charge to them whatever. "Yes, sign the paper", they said, and the next thing was that all and sundry were getting tickets.
Fortunately, we were able to get that retracted and to take the signs down so that the clamping ceased. I accept that not all the companies involved are like this, but the vast majority brought to my attention in my Ilford, North constituency are certainly nothing more than extortionists. This must be stopped. I would like to see these people completely banned from doing it. I believe that there is a role for local councils in respect of parking enforcement, but not a role for rogue traders to take money from innocent people going about their work and legitimately parking their cars. I add that there are no appeals against these companies. There is either small signage or no signage whatever and I say again that this practice should be made illegal.
Let me touch briefly on domestic violence. Without question, it is vile and we all abhor it. However, in many cases drawn to my attention at my constituency surgery, young women have told me that it can happen because of intimidation, low self-esteem, fear or even because the man has had children with the partner and is concerned about their future, yet they say that the attack has never taken place. Except through some measures already in place and measures proposed in the Bill, if someone says, "It did not happen; I walked into a door; I fell down the stairs", it would not be covered. That greatly concerns me. I am not asking to be made a member of the Committee, but if I were on it, I would raise the issue again.
Let me say a few words about antisocial behaviour orders and parenting orders. Antisocial behaviour is a blight on our communities, but we must distinguish what is antisocial behaviour from what is not antisocial behaviour. Groups of young people who gather together doing no harm is not antisocial behaviour, no matter how disconcerting their presence may be. Groups that intimidate people and make people fear to leave their homes is antisocial behaviour, however. I believe parental responsibility is vital in this context, and I want to commend Peter Terry, the borough commander in Redbridge, and his colleagues for the work they have done with me in tackling this problem.
I am aware of the time and of the fact that other Members wish to speak, but let me tell a brief story. There was a problem with some youths, and one Sunday morning I went out and met them. I asked them why they wanted to cause these disturbances, and I asked if they would be happy if this was happening to their grandparents and they were too scared to leave their homes. The problem did not go away-these problems never will go away completely-but I am pleased to be able to say that reports of antisocial behaviour fell by more than 70 per cent. after the police and I had held those meetings.
Finally, I want to touch on the issue of gang-related violence. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) said, this is nothing new. I am told by people who are older than me that in the '60s there were groups called mods and rockers. Obviously, I am far too young to remember that myself, but we all know that violence took place in seaside towns such as Margate and Southend. The major concern today is the age of the people involved in the gangs, however. I do not remember in my youth boys and girls as young as 12, 13
or 14 being involved in gangs and carrying knives and other weapons. This is a serious issue, and it must be tackled.
I support parts of the Bill, therefore. Sadly however, because of the DNA provisions and other measures, I will not be voting for it this evening, but I hope that in Committee we can all come together to change the parts of it with which we disagree.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): There is not much time left in the debate, but I must say that I have greatly enjoyed the contributions to it, and it has occurred to me that most of the Bill's provisions ultimately come down to a simple argument about the price of civil liberties as against the price of security. While travelling into London on the tube this morning, I was reading the dreadful stories of what is going on in Haiti. I suppose that at present the people in that country have the ultimate in civil liberties, in that they can go out and do and say what they want and steal what they want, but is anyone more secure for it? No, they are not. Would anyone want to live in Haiti at present, or in any of the other failed states of the world? No, they would not.
Mention was made earlier of one of the Gulf states, where apparently there is a universal database. I forget the name of the country, but I remember thinking that it is a country where many British people and other westerners have gone to work. They are perfectly happy in that environment. It may not be the paradise of a Liberal Democrat-run council in the desert, but people feel very safe regardless of the level of civil liberties they apparently enjoy.
What I am trying to say is that, in many ways, security is more important to us than civil liberties. Security has to come first. We all remember that in the '70s we used to say, "Better dead than red", but the reality is that I would prefer just about anything to being dead or to living in a failed state, even if it meant giving up some of my civil liberties.
David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman was very generous in giving way to me, but time is now running very short because of his contribution and many others, so if he will forgive me, I shall continue.
Let me now turn to the practical elements of the Bill. I am not a philosopher. I do not pretend to be one-and, to be honest, there are too many people coming out of universities with degrees in philosophy, and they cannot relate what they have learned to real situations, which is what it should all be about. The DNA database might have an impact on civil liberties, but is it making us more secure? Yes it is, and the vast majority of Members fully agree that it is a wonderful thing and a very useful tool.
I commend the Government's enthusiasm for getting this database going, because they were clearly bringing about something to reduce levels of crime. Of course someone could say that just putting on to it everyone who was arrested was not entirely logical, but what are the extremes? One extreme is to put everyone on it,
which would probably be impractical, although I would not have any problem with my DNA being on it. I have no intention of taking up a career as a burglar or some other kind of criminal if I ever leave this place, so what would I have to fear? I would have nothing to fear. Perhaps all those in favour of the database-on both sides of the House-ought to be willing to put our DNA on it and encourage the police and the judges to do so too. The other extreme is to have almost nobody on the database, but I do not think many in the House would wish that to happen.
Of course I am aware of the concerns about disproportionality, but when one examines the statistical evidence, one finds that it is very hard to say that just because somebody is black they will end up on the DNA database; we heard statistics of 70 per cent, then 50 per cent. and then something else. The reality is that the police do not go around arresting people for no reason. If a police officer arrests somebody erroneously, they get bawled out by a custody sergeant in front of their colleagues. So arresting somebody for no good reason is not an option that police officers have and it is not something that they go out and do. In most cases, the people who have been arrested have been perfectly properly arrested.
If one wants to talk about disproportionality, one could mention the fact that four fifths of the people on the database are men. I am a man, but I do not mind the fact that four fifths of the people on it are men. I do not think that the police are discriminating against men. I happen to think it unfortunate that more men are committing crimes. It may well be that more black youths are committing crimes. Most people do not want to consider that, but we should consider it. I suspect, however, that if one looked at the statistics, one would find that white youths from certain backgrounds-those from deprived backgrounds, broken homes and so on-would feature in them just as prominently. I do not think that this is as straightforward as some speakers have tried to suggest.
Those on one side of the House are saying that we will keep the details on the database for six years and those on the other side are saying that we will keep them on there for three years, although we may extend that by a further two years, if necessary. There is not much difference between what those on either side of the House are saying, because we all accept that some people who may be found innocent by the courts will nevertheless have their DNA retained on a database-I am perfectly comfortable with that.
When listening to the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), I was reminded of the confusion that police officers can create when they say, "You are on the database." What they actually mean is that someone is on the police national computer, which is something very different. When police officers put details in, a strict radio protocol is in operation and they do not get into conversations about who is on what database. They are told, "This person is known not wanted" or, "This person is known and wanted". The former description may be followed by certain other codes, one of which I recall from the following anecdote. I remember stopping somebody once in my capacity-I should have declared this-as a special constable and the code given to me was "Foxtrot, India". As that is code for "FI", my colleague said to me, "Leave him alone. He is a female
impersonator. He is harmless enough, he is a transvestite." As it turns out, "Foxtrot, India" stands for "firearms"-"India, Foxtrot" would have been the code for "impersonates females"-so we got that one wrong and that person went merrily on his way. The reason I tell this story is because even if we had twigged that he was likely to have a firearm on him, we would not have been able to search him; that would not have been grounds for a stop and search.
That brings me neatly to what I really wanted to say, which relates to stop and search legislation. Again, I give the Government a bit of credit, because section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was a good idea. It was not about, and it was not meant to be about, catching lots of people. We can quote statistics all day long, but every day thousands of people are searched at airports and how many bombs do we find? We rarely find any bombs, and thank goodness for that. So the statistics are that thousands of people are searched, but only a handful are arrested. We continue to do those searches because if we did not do so, people would get on to planes with bombs. That was what section 44 was all about. It was not designed to catch lots of criminals; the aim was to send out a message to potential terrorists that they could be randomly stopped and searched, regardless of what they looked like. That is why section 44 was important, and I hope that the Government will address in the Bill the recent and very unfortunate European Court of Human Rights ruling.
If we accept that people who are deemed innocent by a court can have their DNA kept and that people can be randomly stopped and searched under section 44 or, because they are in an area where a lot of crime occurs, under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, it is perfectly reasonable and logical for us to say that where somebody has a criminal record for carrying a firearm, it is perfectly logical to search them if they are stopped for carrying out another offence. However, under the rather complicated legislation that police officers and Ministers have to wrestle with, that is not possible. The gentleman whom we thought was a transvestite but who was actually a gunman was in no danger of being searched because, unless we had evidence that he had a firearm on him at that moment in time, we would have had no grounds to search him. That is why, during the passage of this Bill, I want to see an amendment to section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that would allow people to take into account somebody's previous criminal record when deciding whether a search would be warranted. It would be an easy change to write into the relevant code of PACE.
Let me turn, very briefly, to some of the other aspects of this Bill. The Government have come up with some proposals to deal with gang violence and my party, quite rightly, has come up with even more stringent proposals. Both sides of the House seem to recognise that gang members can start forming and causing problems at quite a young age. It does not matter to the victim of gang-related violence whether the person involved is 18, 17, 16 or 14. The victim wants action to be taken and action is what we are suggesting. It is a shame that some Members of the House, on one particular wing, do not feel willing to support that.
I would say to the gangs that if they do not like it, they need to wake up a bit. We went to talk to gang members with the Home Affairs Committee. They said
to us, "We carry knives and guns because the other gang carry knives and guns." I asked why they did not tell the police about it and they said, "Oh, we don't trust the police and we've got a code. We never grass people up." I am afraid that if that is their attitude, they will have to accept that the police will have to have fairly wide powers to deal with the lot of them. If they think that it is unfortunate that the gang down the road have guns, and that is why they want them-although they are very sad about it-we will help them out. We will give the police the powers to take away the guns and anything else that they can to try to help the gang members and their neighbourhoods.
Let me say one last thing before I sit down. Although I welcome the new provisions on domestic violence, I am very sad that there is no mention in the Bill of female genital mutilation. We passed a law seven years ago and not one person has been convicted of that heinous crime. There is also nothing in the Bill to do with forced marriages despite the fact that we know that thousands of young girls are being virtually sold into domestic servitude by their relatives. I shall certainly play my part, on the Committee or not as people decide, and I look forward to contributing to the Bill as it proceeds through Parliament.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|