Serious Crime Bill [Lords]
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Fergus Reid, Oliver Coddington, Committee Clerk s
† attended the Committee
Amendment 38, in clause 50, page 44, line 5, leave out “doing anything described in the injunction” and insert “engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang-related violence or gang-related drug-dealing activity;”.
‘(1) The Secretary of State may, by orders, establish Dissuasion Panels in a Police Force area.
(2) A police officer may refer a person aged 14 or over to a Dissuasion Panel under this section if the following three conditions are met.
(3) The first condition is that the officer is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the person has engaged in or has encouraged or assisted—
(a) gang-related violence; or
(b) gang-related drug-dealing activity.
(4) The second condition is that the officer thinks it is necessary to make the referral for any of the following purposes—
(a) to prevent the person from engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang-related violence or gang-related drug-dealing activity;
(b) to protect the person from gang-related violence or gang-related drug-dealing activity.
(5) The third condition is that the conduct that the person has engaged in or has encouraged or assisted—
(a) would not be eligible for criminal prosecution where the police officer believes that a custodial sentence of more than six months would be the most likely outcome of any such criminal prosecution; or
(b) is an offence listed in orders by the Secretary of State.
(6) A Dissuasion Panel must be comprised of at least three people from the following backgrounds, with preference given to persons or professionals with prior knowledge of the individual—
(a) medical, including mental health;
(b) social work;
(d) any other person or profession that the court believes will be useful and as it directs.
(7) The Dissuasion Panel will—
(a) assess the individual’s personal circumstances,
(b) consider whether these have impacted on the activities at subsection (2), and,
(c) determine whether interventions are needed to—
(i) prevent the person from engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang-related violence or gang-related drug-dealing activity;
(ii) protect the person from gang-related violence or gang-related drug-dealing activity.
(8) Following assessment of a person by a Dissuasion Panel under this section, the Panel may—
(a) make no further intervention; or
(b) require the respondent to do something which they reasonably believe will—
(i) prevent the person from engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang-related violence or gang-related drug dealing activity;
(ii) protect the person from gang-related violence or gang-related drug-dealing activity.
(9) Requirements may include, but are not limited to—
(a) treatment for those who are drug dependent;
(e) reporting to the Panel for review.
(10) If the person does not agree to the proposed requirements they will be referred to court for alternative action under section 34 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, as introduced by section 47 of the Serious Crime Act 2014.
(11) At any review by the Dissuasion Panel, the Panel may—
(a) permit the contract to continue with its current terms;
(b) vary the contract by—
(i) adding a requirement;
(ii) removing an existing requirement;
(iii) amending an existing requirement;
(c) cancel the contract and refer the person to court for alternative action under section 34 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, as introduced by section 47 of the Serious Crime Act 2014.
(12) If the person breaches the contract, he or she will initially be referred back to the Dissuasion Panel who may—
(a) permit the contract to continue with its current terms;
(b) vary the contract by—
(i) adding a requirement;
(ii) removing an existing requirement;
(iii) amending an existing requirement;
(c) cancel the contract and refer the individual to court for alternative action under section 34 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 as introduced by section 47 of the Serious Crime Act 2014.
(13) For the purposes of this section, something is “gang-related” if it occurs in the course of, or is otherwise related to, the activities of a group that—
(a) consists of at least three people, and
(b) has one or more characteristics that enable its members to be identified by others as a group.
(14) In this section “violence” includes a threat of violence.
(15) In this Part “drug-dealing activity” means the unlawful production, supply, importation or exportation of a controlled drug.
(16) “Production”, “supply” and “controlled drug” have the meanings given by section 37(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.’
The amendments aim to strengthen the clause, which introduces changes to the circumstances in which injunctions can be handed out to prevent gang-related violence. No one would object to that particular aspect. However, the new provisions make it clear that such injunctions can be given to offenders as young as 14 years of age; no age specification existed previously. The new provisions also allow courts to impose an injunction on individuals if they consider that the individuals involved have engaged in drug-dealing activity.
The amendments were first discussed in the other place—they were tabled by Baroness Meacher—but they were never pressed to a Division. They were originally tabled as supplementary amendments to a new clause that she hoped to add to the Bill. I have retabled the amendments, as I believe that they would improve the clause immensely.
Amendment 37 would increase the burden of proof on authorities so that they must be satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt”—the criminal burden of proof—that the respondent, or the youngster, has engaged in gang-related violence or drug-dealing activity. That would be in place of the weaker standard, “on the balance of probabilities”—the civil burden of proof. I am aware that the latter wording is in part 4 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, but I maintain that it should be changed. When all is said and done, a young person can be criminalised by a single police officer deciding on the balance of probability—the civil burden of proof—that some criminal activity is being engaged in or might be engaged in, and an injunction could last a very long time.
I will give an example. I am indebted to Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and I declare an interest as a subscriber to that organisation. The example concerns a young person who was handed an injunction. I quote Frances Crook:
“Sam was 20 when he contacted one of our solicitors. He had never been convicted of a gang related offence. He had been shot. The police imposed an interim gang-injunction on Sam without warning and without representation, claiming it was a ‘protective measure’. The sheer scope of the restrictions on his life were astonishing: he could not enter his home town—meaning he was effectively made homeless as he lived with his Mum there; he could not see, contact or even ring his partner, so he couldn’t see his son unless the child was in the care of someone else; and he was banned from contacting the majority of his friends. During this time Sam had the constant threat that even though he had done nothing wrong, if he breached any of these requirements he could be sent to prison.
“As the police can impose interim gang injunctions without the authority of the court, it was a year before it was finally decided that the interim injunction on Sam was not appropriate or lawful. This was a year of a young man’s life.”
I stress that I am not anti-police. I come from a police family and I am the first to defend police officers at any time. I know that the vast majority—99%-plus—do a very good job on our behalf. Thank heaven they do. However, I am concerned about the way in which this injunction is proposed. There is a danger that the clause could spell stop-and-search all over again, with all the same ill effects as we saw with that tool. There is also a danger that these injunctions would be used
That is especially problematic considering that the new provisions are open to the authorities in cases in which drug-related activity is suspected. I firmly believe that offenders who become mixed up in the drugs world should be signposted to intervention and treatment wherever possible. That is particularly true of young people. I recognise that the clause specifies that the measure relates to drug-dealing activity, but in many cases individuals will be dependent on drugs themselves. I agree with Baroness Meacher and other members of the other place, including Lord Howarth of Newport, who, during a debate there, argued:
On that point, I am concerned that clause 50 will create a criminal offence by the back door. I dare say that that is not intended, but I think that that is a consequence. Individuals will be required to go to court, where the injunction will be issued, however many months or even a year later. Breaching an injunction will always result in contempt of court, resulting in a high risk of imprisonment. I do not believe that that is always the correct way to tackle gang-related activity, particularly when the individual can be as young as 14. I repeat that these provisions may well have a disproportionate effect on young black men.
I make this point in passing. The Select Committee on Justice, of which I am a member, recently looked at joint enterprise. We found stark evidence that too often police decide to throw a net over everyone on a street corner regardless. People are then charged with offences merely because they were standing there and were perceived to have had some knowledge of what was going on. That is equally true in relation to this set of injunctions. We can imagine 14-year-olds standing on a street corner. Perhaps one of them has drugs in his or her possession or is even dealing to another, and then it is imputed to everyone that they have some knowledge of what is going on.
That is unfair, risky and disproportionate, because there are already a number of criminal offences on the statute book that can be used for gang-related violence and drug dealing. There is also the common-law offence of conspiracy. If individuals have taken part in a criminal activity, there are sanctions that can be brought against them.
I believe that, if courts are given the power to use these provisions, we will be standing on the edge of a rather slippery slope. Again, we are legislating in haste. We do that whenever there is a perceived problem. I am not making a political point against any particular Government, but there is a tendency to rush to legislation, especially in the criminal field. The number of criminal Bills that we have had in the last 15 years is phenomenal. These offences are coming out almost monthly.
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we seem to be running the risk of criminalising young people unnecessarily, which will add to our ever-rising prison population, especially among the age groups and ethnicities to which he is referring?
Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As a member of the Justice Committee, he has studied these things closely and he has expertise in these matters. I am very concerned about criminalising young people early in their lives and especially on such specious terms as we are talking about with this set of injunctions.
Two years ago, I was in Italy and I saw the youth courts at work there. In statute in Italy, a young person has one chance. In other words, a young person is allowed to make one mistake without being criminalised. That is a useful way of dealing with things. All the authorities come together. The matter is dealt with without imposing a criminal sanction. I think that is not an unhappy situation to be in, and I commend to the members of the Committee the way in which youth courts work in Italy. I know there is a more benign way of dealing with things in Scotland, as well.
Coming back to where we are now, I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We are in danger of criminalising youngsters and creating a more disjointed society. We already complain that youngsters do not take part in the political process. Sometimes they find it difficult to get jobs, and so on. The measure before the Committee is not going to help with those and many other things.
For related reasons, amendments 38 and 39 are an attempt to curtail the powers that the authorities can have by way of the injunctions. I do not see any reason why the injunctions should relate to anything other than
I have tabled the amendments as probing amendments. The Government should carefully consider the impact that such injunctions have on young offenders—on people who have been made young offenders—and whether other interventions could be more beneficial in the end and less harmful to such individuals’ lives.
I recognise the need for some form of injunction, and that there is a problem in many areas, but we must be careful not to rush in with suggestions that might create further problems. I also recognise that, under the guidance issued when gang injunctions were implemented in 2011, the body proposing to apply for an injunction has a duty to consult the youth offending team. However, I have doubts about whether the injunctions are the right instrument in the first place.
I referred earlier to the Howard League for Penal Reform and to Frances Crook. The Howard League is of the opinion, in any event, that imposing the injunctions on children as young as 14 could well be a breach of article 15 of the UN convention on the rights of the child.
It is a serious matter, and I know that the Solicitor-General will deal with it in a serious manner—I know him well and have great respect for him—but I make my comments because I sincerely feel that there should be a proper debate about the injunctions. Otherwise we might rush headlong towards answers that we think will fit the bill, but which in the cold light of day might well not, and might indeed be detrimental.
Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. Thank you for your helpful advice on procedure before the sitting. I am still relatively new to such affairs.
New clause 20 introduces the option of referring a person who has been involved in low-level gang violence or drug dealing to a panel that would help them to turn away from gang life before their offending escalated to more serious levels. A similar proposal was made by Baroness Meacher in another place.
The Government’s response was that gang injunctions are enough on their own, but they are not. A gang injunction, even as amended, is not clear enough about placing an offender on a programme designed to stop them reoffending and to get their life back on track. Given that 70% of young offenders reoffend within 12 months, we desperately need a new approach. The new clause has the potential not only to save people from becoming victims of crime, but to save public money.
Gang injunctions are a useful tool in tackling gang violence. They were introduced by the previous Government in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 and we welcome the provisions in the Bill to strengthen their use. Early intervention and community dissuasion are powerful tools in preventing gang involvement by young people. They have proved their worth in other countries—notably in parts of the United States. Communities in the UK should have the same options available to them.
There is growing understanding of why a tiny minority of young people get involved with violent gangs. I was leader of Lambeth council—just across the river—before being elected to Parliament. The council asked Professor John Pitts, who is a recognised expert on youth gangs, to undertake research into the issue. It was important to gain a better understanding of it, because three young people in the borough had been killed over a six-month period as a result of youth gang violence. Professor Pitts made the insightful observation that, for some young people, joining a gang was, perversely, a rational choice, because better and safer options were not as easily available to them. That is a counter-intuitive thing to say, but I will try to explain.
The Myatts Field estate is about two miles from where we are holding this debate. A large percentage of the young people living on that estate, and on others like it, are members of gangs. Those gangs get involved in drug dealing, fighting and street robberies, and they have been known, far too frequently, to use guns and knives against each other and against innocent bystanders.
I was interviewed by the BBC about gang crime on that estate. That same day, a few hours later, two boys—members of a gang—chased another boy across the estate and plunged a bread knife through his heart, killing him there and then. On another occasion, on a different estate, in Brixton, two teenage boys cornered another boy in a cul-de-sac and ferociously stabbed him to death as he struggled in desperation to clamber over the garden fence of a nearby property. He had no involvement in gangs; his killers had mistaken him for a member of a rival gang. I met the devastated parents, who were left to mourn the loss of their son and of his bright future.
Those killers deserved the harsh punishment they received, but what more should and can we do to stop young people growing up thinking that it is acceptable to commit such horrific acts of violence? Mercifully, knife crime is falling, but gang violence is still far too prevalent in some neighbourhoods across our country.
Communities such as the ones I have described are very poor. On the two estates I mentioned, upwards of 70% of households live in poverty on benefits, most children grow up in single-parent households, knowing almost no adults in secure or long-term employment. Those parents who have jobs often have to work long hours for low pay, and they are left with precious little time to safely parent their children. Many had children while they themselves were no more than teenagers, and they often had little personal experience of good parenting to fall back on or to learn from.
Too often, the only people youngsters growing up in such circumstances see making any money are gang leaders. In that terrible context, it is far too easy for an impressionable young person to aspire to the wrong things. Professor Pitts pointed out that for a young person growing up in such a community, where the majority of other young people are members of one violent gang or another, their choices are to join gang A and gain some protection from gang B, to join gang B and gain some protection from gang A, or to join neither and be subject to assault and attack by both. The tragedy is that the rational choice for that young person is to join one of the gangs to gain some degree of safety. Their choice may be driven by fear, by a failure to recognise positive alternatives or even, to some extent, by a desire to be involved and included by their peers. Many young people in that situation, especially if they lack the structure of a secure family at home, have even been known to refer to the gang as their family.
Once in a gang, the young person is slowly encouraged to commit, or even coerced into committing, more and more serious offences. They are on a crime escalator, and as they get involved in more serious offending, they leave a growing trail of victims in their wake. We have to give these young people better options.
The Howard League for Penal Reform published research in 2011 showing that 71% of violent young offenders have been involved with, or in the care of, social services. One in four were the victim of violence at home. One in 20 of both sexes were sexually abused. A 2013 study led by Queen Mary university of London provided, for the first time, shocking evidence of the prominence of mental health problems among gang members. It surveyed 108 gang members and found that 85% had an antisocial personality disorder, a third had attempted suicide, a quarter screened positive for psychosis, more than half were drug-dependent, two thirds were alcohol-dependent and more than half suffered from anxiety.
Those figures confirm what MAC-UK, a charity working with gang members, and the Centre for Mental Health both told the Home Affairs Committee inquiry on gangs. Mental health issues are a significant cause of extremely aggressive behaviour, and yet most of the children affected by those issues do not receive the help they need.
The Committee may also be aware of the work done by charities such as Redthread, which places youth workers in hospitals to act as a single point of contact
Dissuasion panels, which are also being proposed, would operate on a similar principle of making help and support available through a single point of contact, with the purpose of preventing reoffending and, by doing so, preventing other innocent people from becoming victims of crime. Where a police officer sees fit—and it would be entirely the decision of front-line officers who know their community best—a person over the age of 14 may be referred to a panel made up of
I emphasise the importance of including someone whose authority the individual respects or trusts. It is important that the individual sees this process as something that is done with them, not to them, if they are to accept and understand the need to change their behaviour. The panel would then assess the individual’s circumstances and decide on a course of action that is designed to keep them out of gang life and gang-related crime. This may include treatment for drug dependency, counselling, education or training.
This proposal is not a soft option and the proposed new power would not be without teeth. There are important provisions in the proposed new clause to ensure that dissuasion panels would be used alongside gang injunctions and other custodial measures where necessary, rather than replacing them. Failure to attend the panel or to agree to its requirements would lead to the individual being sent back to court for alternative action, including being locked up.
There are also conditions that must be met to ensure that referrals to panels are not used for the most serious violent crimes. Referrals would not be available to individuals who would otherwise face a custodial sentence of more than six months, ruling out their use for crimes where it is in the public interest to prosecute. The Home Secretary would also have the power to decide for which offences referrals to panels could and could not be used, the most obvious example of the latter being violent crimes that cause serious injury.
That would give the Home Office the power to set up a pilot to test how the panels would operate in practice alongside other measures such as the strengthened gang
The principle underpinning the proposed new clause is that prevention is always the best approach to cutting crime. There is a clear public interest here—both making the streets safer and saving money. Seven in 10 young offenders reoffend within 12 months. Cutting youth reoffending rates by just 10% would save £1 billion of public money annually. Preventing a single murder, leaving aside the life that would be saved, would save on average £1.7 million.
Early intervention, delivered through a dissuasion panel, could prevent at-risk young people from troubled backgrounds from being drawn further into the world of violent crime and prevent innocent people from ever becoming their victims.
The Government have taken bold and positive steps forward with their work on troubled families. This proposal is in the same vein. I hope the Minister will recognise the important opportunity it represents, and will at the very least consider running a pilot.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The shadow Minister is absolutely right to say that prevention is the best way of dealing with crime, rather than picking up the pieces afterwards. I am also interested in his dissuasion panels proposal. Would he be interested in considering the dissuasion commissions that, as the Minister with responsibility for drugs, I proposed as a way of dealing with drug use? They would work along the same lines as his panels.
Although I support the Government’s provisions on injunctions, it is also important to recognise the work it has done and continues to do to provide alternatives. It is important that we continue that work. The shadow Minister mentioned Redthread; one of the last things that I did as a Minister was to increase funding for Redthread, as the Home Office recognised that it performs a valuable function in getting to injured young people in hospital, at the point when they are perhaps most willing to listen to their peers and move away from involvement in gang life. Redthread is an extremely good organisation that I was happy to support.
I was also pleased during my time in office to visit MAC-UK, which does a fantastic job of providing role models for young people to help them understand that there is an alternative to the gang lifestyle into which so many of them get drawn. The shadow Minister did not mention Fight for Peace, a fantastic organisation in Newham, east London, which provides an alternative family. He is right that gangs are sometimes seen as a surrogate family. We must break that view, and perhaps we can do so by providing an alternative family. Fight for Peace provides kickboxing and other activities, and I was astonished to discover how successful it has been. People with a criminal past—sometimes for serious offences involving guns and so on—have found themselves at home in that organisation. Many of those I spoke to told me with some pride that they had secured a certificate for an activity they had taken part in. It was humbling to find that that was an effective way to deal with such issues.
It is right that we deal with serious crime properly. It is right that when someone commits an offence involving a knife or similar, they are dealt with properly, and that
Lastly, let us not forget that gangs include not only boys but girls. We must watch out for the appalling sexual violence visited on girls in gangs. The deputy Children’s Commissioner has done excellent work to draw attention to that issue. Girls are now being used, for example, to carry guns and drugs in order to prevent the males who require them from being caught and prosecuted. Let us ensure that we also take care of girls in gangs, which is a serious problem in our society.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair Ms Clark. I have some general observations to make on injunctions, the limitations of prosecution and the introduction of legislation to deal with difficult social problems. Nobody in this Committee doubts that prevention is the best way forward; the question is, how to build that into the system as a whole.
Many excellent projects have showed the way forward on good practice. The problem sometimes is embedding those projects into the attitudes and culture of the agencies tasked with crime prevention. I cannot help thinking about the antisocial behaviour orders introduced by the previous Labour Government, of which I had a lot of experience in Stockport and whose limitations I understand.
One thing that was effective, though, was the introduction by the Stockport community safety team of antisocial behaviour contracts, which were a step before prosecuting a young person. As part of those contracts, young people were given positive activities, attention and support in return for making their behaviour more acceptable. That has to be a way forward, and I would be interested if the Minister told us how it can be built into injunctions, whatever the range of injunctions may be, particularly when they are taken against quite young children—I regard 14-year-olds as quite young children—because we must be very careful about introducing children into the criminal justice system. It is true that their offending behaviour has an impact on their victims, but it also has an impact on themselves. When young people get into the institutionalised criminal justice system, it is difficult to get them out because, unfortunately, they meet other young people who may support attitudes that we would not wish them to have. We must try to see injunctions as the last resort. Where injunctions are served, the courts must ensure that there are positive programmes for the young people on whom they are served.
Of course, the magistrates courts became very reluctant to impose antisocial behaviour orders because lawyers successfully argued that the court was granting an order that, if broken, would result in severe penalties. The effectiveness of such orders became limited, and I suspect that will eventually be the outcome for some of these injunctions as they make their way through the court system.
We should also remember that we cannot divide the world and young people into victims and offenders. In one sexual exploitation case in Greater Manchester, a girl was one of the groomers. She enticed other young girls to become the victims of the gang of which she was a member, but she had originally been groomed herself, so was she a victim or an offender? The category does not matter because, underneath everything, the girl had serious mental health and emotional issues that needed to be addressed. My concern is that an injunction, in its generality, will not at that point be able to identify which young people are the victims and which are the offenders. I suspect that, for each of those young people, it is a mixture of both.
We also have to remember that we are asking the police to do a difficult job with young people. We tell them that their job is to protect vulnerable people, and traditionally, the police’s approach has been to do so through criminal investigations and prosecutions, but now we are asking them to go out and seek children who have been sexually exploited, for example, rather than waiting until a victim reports a crime. We understand that victims of sexual exploitation do not report the crimes that happen to them because they feel complicit, and perhaps because they are offenders themselves. The relationship between the police and young people is therefore very difficult.
I talked to some young people in preparing my report for the police and crime commissioner, and the difficulty of that relationship was evident. For example, young schoolgirls attending a school in Greater Manchester would not report to the police that they were routinely approached, touched and sexually assaulted by men on the streets. When I asked them why, they said, “The police don’t like us.” Their experience was of the police approaching them in groups in a particular way and questioning them in a particular way. Again, we have to be conscious that, if we are asking the court to serve injunctions on young people, the police also need to be able to offer something to those young people. Police and crime commissioners have a great role to play in that regard, because they have access to much of the finance for supporting victims. It would be helpful if the Minister told us how the police might be supported in offering alternatives to the young people whose offending behaviour they are asked to police, but who may also be victims.
One successful approach in my constituency is the use of detached youth workers, who form a bridge between the police and young people on an estate where they would not dream of divulging anything that happened in their lives to children’s services, health, police or anybody else. Detached youth workers can provide useful information to the police, telling them what is actually going on in that neighbourhood and enabling them to intervene and prevent harm coming to people. That innovative approach should underpin the serving of injunctions, which I think we all accept is not enough.
“Whilst some of the gang members have complied with the injunction and used it as an opportunity to start a new life, others have left the city and have been encountered by the police in other areas”,
which is a wonderful phrase. Clearly, often, a problem in one area is just moved on to somewhere else. Unless
In addition to detached youth workers, peer-mentoring schemes also work well. When I talk to young people, it is clear that there is widespread distrust of authority and of what those in authority tell them. We cannot wag a finger at young people and say, “You’ve done wrong. Sort yourself out. Get your life on track.” However, they will listen to that message from people of their own age, particularly those who have been through similar experiences themselves, because they trust them and feel they understand their life and the limited options they sometimes have. Sadly, they think that most of us just do not understand, so they do not listen to us.
I welcome the use of injunctions, for which there is of course a place, but to be effective they have to be accompanied by positive interventions. Every time a child or young person appears in court, before an injunction is made, the magistrate or whoever is hearing the application should ask what measures are in place to address their problems. An injunction should not be made unless there is such a programme in place, because without it the legislation will not be as effective as it could and should be.
Andy McDonald: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North in proposing the new clause and congratulate him on a thorough, expert speech. It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, who is clearly expert and well-informed about the wider issues. I want to focus mainly on early intervention.
The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said that we recently had the pleasure of visiting some criminal justice facilities in Texas. One might think, “What on earth can the Texans tell us about the criminal justice system?” Texas has a population of 25 million, 175,000 of whom are incarcerated. It is a state the size of Europe and, of course, the Texans have retained capital punishment, so perhaps they cannot tell us a lot. However, we had the privilege of seeing some interesting and challenging projects. Hon. Members will be aware that the state of Texas is run by a Republican Administration. It is considerably to the right in its attitude to criminal justice, and it prides itself on being incredibly tough on crime. However, those who govern Texas—I heard this straight from the horse’s mouth—have come to the conclusion that that approach simply does not work. They have poured a huge amount of money into building prisons and locking more and more people up, only to discover that to do so does not work and costs them a fortune. Purely from a fiscal perspective, they have come to the conclusion that they should stop doing that and instead knock some prisons down, lock fewer people up and focus better on early intervention.
We saw some impressive projects, not least the nurse-family partnership, which mirrored a programme in New York state. In a community that has its challenges, the one professional who is welcome in people’s homes is a nurse, not a social worker, a police officer or anybody else. A nurse can imbue a teenage mum-to-be with parenting skills, including breastfeeding. Those parenting skills cascade upwards and outwards in the community to sisters, colleagues and the teenagers’ own mothers, who are probably also of childbearing years.
Empirical evidence from New York state, where the programme has been run for 35 years, demonstrates a differential of some 57% in the numbers of young men who enter the criminal justice system, compared with a community where there is no such programme. That is pretty impressive evidence that such long-term commitment to policy works. We hear from many people—the former head of the civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, said this yesterday in the context of a mindfulness session—that the biggest offence in this place is the absence of long-term commitment to, and the constant interruption of, policies. Hon. Members across the House probably agree with that observation.
The nurse-family partnership was only one of many programmes that we saw. I want to mention the attitude to drug rehabilitation, which was echoed in the dissuasion panel that we heard about this morning. Texas runs the Success Through Addiction Recovery programme, through which people who have been involved in drug-related activity are brought before the courts and a conviction is settled, but they are not imprisoned. Instead, they are subject to intensive case management involving the sort of expertise that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North has outlined. One judge manages the same cohort of convicted drug offenders over a lengthy period, with the sanction available to her to send someone back to jail if they are found to be in breach of the management programme to which they were subject. That is a terribly powerful weapon, but it is used only in the context of case management. A case manager is attached to each offender, who has the benefit of all the therapies and other inputs that might be necessary.
When we visited, the progress was there for all to see. Offenders were rewarded and applauded openly in court when they reached milestones of sobriety over three, six, nine and 12 months. Watching people in a courtroom applaud criminals may have been anathema to British politicians, but that was the culture. Interestingly, the judge was able to monitor individuals, and knew who they and their children were. One incredibly articulate and intelligent young man, who had been involved in drugs, gangs and knife crime, told the judge about the progress he was making. He said that he was developing his relationship with his daughter again, that he was making progress to stay out of jail and that he was putting his life on the right tracks. However, the judge said, “You didn’t turn up on the 4th”, and threatened him with jail. One of his fellow criminals, from the back of the court, said to the judge, “You can’t send him to jail; it was 4 July and nothing was open”, so he escaped going to jail by the skin of his teeth.
Early intervention and methods of dissuading people away from the life that they have fallen into have been successful in certain jurisdictions. The reason why that approach was embraced in the first place is because, ultimately, it is cheaper. It is important to make that point. However, when we talk about early intervention, we cannot escape the fact that many of our communities are blighted by grinding poverty, and we must address that huge issue.
The Solicitor-General (Mr Robert Buckland): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark, and to respond to a debate that has encapsulated the merits of clause 50. I will also address the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and the hon. Member for Croydon North.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. It is always a pleasure to hear from my former colleagues on the Justice Committee, with whom I worked fairly well, I think, over a number of years. This debate will be a reflection of our common work.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, the former Minister, rightly highlighted the work that he did in government and that the Government continue to do. The Government are alive to the powerful points that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough made about drugs intervention, which is why diversion techniques are being piloted in custody suites and why the police use a range of approaches, rather than simply resorting to prosecution for simple possession on every occasion.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the Texas model. The Hawaiian model is another good example of what we call big judges getting involved in the process. Those interesting models can stimulate debate. In England and Wales, drug rehabilitation requirements, which courts can apply to offenders, have had a marked effect over the years. I welcome the comments of the hon. Gentleman and others about drug misuse, which is responsible for part, if not all, of the underlying behaviour that drives many people into gangs.
The hon. Member for Croydon North made some excellent points from his own experience about why young people often feel safer in gangs and why they think of them as their families. They have to make a choice in their communities; staying on the sidelines is not an option. In acknowledgment of the stark realities that the hon. Gentleman portrayed, the Government decided to enhance the legislation that the previous Government passed in 2009 to take into account the developing realities of life in gangs.
One of the most important changes that we are making to the 2009 legislation is to remove the requirement that a gang must be associated with a particular area. We all know that gangs are highly mobile and that young people are procured to perform criminal offences elsewhere. For example, young people from London are often made to travel long distances to commit serious offences involving drugs. The current legislation was inadequate to deal with that recent phenomenon. The Bill will deal decisively with a point made by the hon. Member for Stockport and others about moving the problem on. The change to the definition goes to the heart of the Government’s approach. We are following the trends to ensure that the legislation is fit for purpose and up to date.
We all know from our own experiences as constituency MPs about the devastating impact that gang and youth violence can have on our communities. We have heard about knife crime and the dangers that the carrying of knives involve when it comes to young people. There is not one agency or Department that can tackle this issue alone. It requires many people working together and using the right kind of interventions and tools. The measure is very much a part of that equipment. It is by no means the only part; in fact, it is one of a number of options that the police find extremely useful when trying not only to act after the event, but to prevent the growth and spread of gangs in particular communities. The preventative point is one that is very much understood.
Gang injunctions are a valuable power, which can only be imposed by a court. I know that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd referred to a particular example about a police imposition, but he might have fallen into error because they are court injunctions. They cannot be imposed by a police officer alone; they have to go to a court.
Mr Llwyd: Far be it from me to argue with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I was talking about an interim injunction. I believe that I am right in saying that an interim injunction can be imposed on the street by a police officer. If I am wrong, I am quite prepared to say so.
The Solicitor-General: I never like correcting the right hon. Gentleman, but I have to do so on this occasion. An interim injunction has to be imposed by a court as well, so we have that important safeguard of judicial oversight that both he and I hold very highly indeed as upholders, as we like to think of ourselves, of the rule of law. Therefore, it is preventative work here that allows the injunction to be a useful tool.
Naturally, hon. Members have talked about young people coming into the criminal justice system, but let us remind ourselves that these are civil injunctions. We are talking about injunctive relief here, not criminal sanction. There is an important difference there. I entirely accept the point about the dangers of stigmatising very young people as criminals early in their lives. The injunctions do not do that, but help to save young people from getting involved in danger to life and limb. They are protective measures.
The example the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd gave from the Howard League, which, of course, I know well, was interesting, However, I have to turn it around and say that there will be cases in which young people need that protection. We all know of them and I have represented, in my previous professional life, many young people who get in with the wrong crowd and who, if only they had the right influences and the positive stimuli, would not be in the criminal justice system. That is what the injunctive system allows us to do. Therefore, when we talk about a civil remedy, it is right that the civil standard should apply.
I have talked about the general changes and I have also talked about changing the definition of gangs, but I want to deal with the particular amendments that the right hon. Gentleman has tabled. As I have already mentioned, amendment 37 seeks to change the standard of proof away from the balance of probability—the civil standard—to the criminal standard, but there is a
With the civil standard, of course, a whole different set of rules will apply. The civil procedure rules will apply, as will the rules of civil hearsay, which the right hon. Gentleman knows are somewhat different, to say the least, from criminal hearsay. In other words, it is a question of not so much admissibility when it comes to hearsay, but the weight that is given to the evidence. All such material could therefore be admissible before the civil court, and that will allow the wider community to have their input so that the sort of evidence that needs to be aired can be tested according to the civil standard. We trust the courts to impose injunctions only when necessary and only when they are satisfied.
“three years’ experience of the law shows that the police and local authorities (correctly, in our view) are using Gang Injunctions as a weapon of last resort, often when they are unable to bring criminal prosecutions, usually because witnesses refuse to co-operate out of fear, or because they also are involved in criminal activity. Gang Injunctions have proved effective in these situations because the civil burden of proof and rules of evidence permit the applicant to use police reports of serious incidents and, to a lesser extent, police intelligence as the basis for applications. This obviates the need to call witnesses who are vulnerable to intimidation.”
“An appellate court has previously ruled that Gang Injunctions are compliant with the Human Rights Act, although further challenge should be anticipated. We urge Parliament to take the opportunity of the debate on Clause 50 to re-iterate the need for the civil burden of proof, which overcomes the very real problems encountered in proving gang-related criminal cases caused by the reluctance of witnesses to engage with the police.”
Although we understand the aim of the amendment, we simply do not think it is needed. New section 34(3)(a) the Policing and Crime Act 2009 already provides that a court must be satisfied that it is necessary for a gang injunction to be granted for that purpose. Importantly, making provision for a court to prohibit a respondent from doing anything described in the injunction affords it significant flexibility to set out appropriate conditions to prevent the respondent from engaging in gang-related violence or drug dealing.
Moreover, attaching clear conditions to an injunction allows all parties a definitive understanding of what the respondent will be prohibited from doing. That is essential if the injunctions are to be enforced properly. The bitter experience of those of us who are legal practitioners will reinforce that important point.
Similarly, amendment 39 is not required, because new section 34(3)(a) also provides that a court must be satisfied that it is necessary for a gang injunction to be granted for the purpose of protecting a respondent from gang-related violence or drug dealing. Likewise, making provision for a court to require the respondent to do things described in the injunction allows it the necessary flexibility to set out the most suitable activities that the respondent should get involved in to help them leave the gang and turn their lives around. That was the point made eloquently by the hon. Member for Stockport: this should be about not just saying no, but saying what we want to do not so much for someone, but with them. She made excellent points about peer mentoring and ex-gang members, who speak with such authority and who are believable to the young person. I know from my long-standing interest in this issue that that approach has a real effect on turning people away from life in gangs.
Proposed new section 34(4) of the 2009 Act is identical to the provision in the existing section, which, as I said, affords the court the flexibility to specify the prohibitions and requirements that would be appropriate to a particular person. That provision has worked well since the introduction of gang injunctions, and it is perhaps axiomatic that, again, I am not persuaded to change it.
In the period from January 2011 to January last year, 108 gang injunctions were put in place, and two were against people under 18. That puts very much in context the concerns hon. Members have raised about the criminalisation or stigmatisation of young people. Clearly, the measure in the Bill properly targets adults. Yes, there will be cases in which young people might be covered by an injunction, but the figures speak for themselves, and they allow us great confidence when considering the way in which young people are dealt with by the authorities.
Let me deal now with the point raised by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. Breach of an injunction will be dealt with as a contempt of court. There are no provisions, unlike in some other areas of the criminal law—for example, breach of antisocial behaviour orders—for a separate criminal offence. The standard of proof used to prove a contempt will be higher; it will be akin to the criminal standard of proof for breach proceedings. The maximum sentence under the contempt provisions is two years’ imprisonment. That is akin to the case law that developed under the antisocial behaviour regime, where the courts said that the more significant the sanction, the higher the standard of proof. I hope that gives hon. Members quite a degree of reassurance that we are not seeking to jump to criminalisation on breach. Yes, a breach of an injunction is a serious matter, but the courts, with their years of experience of dealing with breaches of civil orders, can be trusted to apply the law as it stands.
Mr Reed: I apologise for interrupting the Minister. What he has to say is incredibly interesting, and I look forward to his comments on the new clause. However, on gang injunctions, he proposes widening their use, and that is the right thing to do, but it will inevitably have an impact on youth offending teams. Over recent years, those in London have seen their funding cut by 23%; in other parts of the country, resources have been cut by 50%. Case loads on individual workers in YO teams are extremely high, and people are struggling to cope. Has the Minister made an assessment of the implications for YOTs of widening and increasing their work load? If so, can he share with us what it showed?
I entirely accept the motivation for proposing dissuasion panels, but I venture to suggest that the very problem the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned—more administrative burdens and more burdens on youth offending teams—might well be exacerbated by the creation of such a mechanism. In his proposal, dissuasion panels would put in place a contract to help to divert an individual referred to the panel from engaging in gang-related violence or drug-dealing activity, subject to the qualifications to which I listened carefully and which are set out in the amendment.
Crucially, the intention behind the new clause appears to be to prevent applications for gang injunctions from being considered by the court until the case has first been referred to the panel. Furthermore, the panel would have the power to determine in most cases whether the case should be considered by a court. Even if a person breached the conditions agreed with the panel, a referral to a court would not be automatic. Our concern is that the new clause could mean that only a small number of cases would ever be referred to the court. I worry that rather than being the step forward that I know the hon. Gentleman wants, the new clause could add another inefficient and costly layer to the existing regime.
Mr Reed: The decision to refer an offender to a panel or to the court would be entirely at the discretion of the police officer, who understands the locality and hopefully the community affected. It would be entirely at that police officer’s discretion, and they would take an informed view based on that.
The Minister mentioned the issue of costs. It is our intention that the proposal should save, not cost, public money. It costs more to send a young offender into custody than to send a young person to Eton for a year, yet on release, 70% of those young people will reoffend within 12 months. We are hurling money at a problem without any success whatever. Surely that money would be better targeted at measures that will prevent reoffending to a much greater extent rather than wasting it as we are currently doing.
The Solicitor-General: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Although I do not disagree with the points that he makes, let us return to the point that I think we all understand: a lot of that work is already going on. The youth offending teams, to which I talk regularly,
Mr Reed: I am grateful for the opportunity to push the point, as it is important. I will draw again on my own experience from Lambeth. The community on the Myatt’s Field estate, including young people themselves, started to take direct action by offering informal peer mentoring, running sports activities and making contacts with local businesses. Over the course of three years, they got 80 young people out of gangs and offending and got their lives back on track with almost no funding, whereas the council, spending several million pounds a year on targeted interventions across the entire borough, got fewer young people out of gangs than that single community could. So we know that giving communities more power and control and using models of prevention and dissuasion are massively more effective at preventing that kind of crime than the sorts of intervention on which the Minister is relying.
The Solicitor-General: Again, I find it hard to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. There is nothing I like better than to see community-inspired projects that, as he said, come from people who know what they are talking about, know the nature of the problem and can deal with it. He makes my point very well for me: when we obsess about formal structures, we miss the point, and we miss the flexibility that the sort of community-inspired interventions he talked about have delivered. I am not sure whether the point he is making actually supports new clause 20. I say that in the spirit of friendly persuasion rather than trenchant criticism, because it is not that sort of debate. We all agree about what we want to achieve; we are debating the way we go about it. I have considerable reservations about the mechanism in question.
I am not going to nit-pick about drafting infelicities; I know there is often time pressure. The composition of the dissuasion panel set out in subsection (6) is a little confused. Paragraph (d) specifies
I am a little unclear about the involvement of a court. I thought the whole point was, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the police should be allowed to make decisions, and that there would be a locally focused panel. I am not here to make legalistic criticisms, but in the context of that point it is important to say that such provisions need to be thought out carefully, lest unintended consequences mean that young people are dissuaded from dissuasion panels.
I am concerned about new clause 20 also because an advantage of the gang injunction regime is judicial oversight. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd placed quite heavy emphasis on that. We are talking about a court being satisfied that tests have been met; and there is an important separation of functions. There would be difficulty about the new clause putting everything in the hands of a police officer. Important safeguards would be missed if we adopted that line.
I have already alluded to the fact that, as to remedy, the panel does not have powers to compel a person to abide by the contract, and it has no powers of sanction. We must ask how it will dissuade. I say that in a spirit of constructive criticism. Such things must have consequences if they are going to work.
In determining the prohibitions or requirements that will be attached to an injunction, the court will take a decision on the basis of the evidence presented to it. That will include medical evidence, where appropriate, and evidence from social workers. In applying for injunctions against young people—to return to points made by other hon. Members—applicants must consider their duties towards young people in general.
That means, of course, the Children Act 2004, which contains duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That must be part of the consideration, and it must involve any child protection issues, as well. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Stockport. It means that the applicant would have to—would be expected to—seek the views of any social services or children’s services department that was engaged with the child. That is set out in the statutory guidance. I think that within the framework the court will be mindful of everyone’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Of course, an injunction has proper teeth. As I have already explained to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, there will be sanctions.
I want to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Croydon North about youth offending teams. The cost of the measure is set out in the explanatory notes, and as I have said we are aware of only two gang injunctions imposed against under-18s. We estimate that the provisions in the Bill will lead to an additional 26 injunctions a year against under-18s in the entirety of England and Wales. Therefore, I do not agree that there will be a sudden increase in the burden on youth offending teams. I make no apology for repeating the point that early interventions save costs in the long term. The question is how we go about that.
In conclusion, although we are united in what we want to achieve, there are dangers to adding the sort of layer envisaged in new clause 20. I want to see a flexible regime that properly takes into account the individual before it, whether a young person or an adult, and balances the prohibition provisions of injunctions with their positive aspects.
Ann Coffey: How will the Minister monitor the effectiveness of the orders? No doubt, in the next Parliament there will be more Home Office legislation, and it will be helpful to know what has proved to be effective and what has not. How will the Department monitor not just how many orders have been issued and what breaches there have been, but how effective the requirements to find positive alternatives for young people have been?
The Solicitor-General: I am happy to say that we have a wealth of information relating to the period from 2011, when the regime was introduced, which is qualitative as well as quantitative, and I expect that process to continue. We have the input of people such as Paul West, who has great experience in such matters and has
This has been a valuable debate about the reality of life in gangs in our society. I hope I have given sufficient reassurances to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd about his amendments. I respectfully disagree with the hon. Member for Croydon North about the thrust of his new clause. I urge the right hon. Member for Dwyfor to withdraw his amendment.
Mr Llwyd: The purpose of my amendments was to have a good debate, and we have had one. Matters have been explained to me that I should perhaps have understood previously, and I am indebted to the Solicitor-General for that. He avoided using the time-honoured word “otiose”, which is used only in Parliament—it is not used anywhere else in the western world—but he may have the opportunity to use it this afternoon or on Tuesday.
I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for responding in full to the debate. We have learned a lot during the past hour or so. We heard powerful speeches from the hon. Members for Croydon North, for Stockport and for Middlesbrough. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough was evidently wide awake during the tour of Texas, unlike some—I will not go there. This has been a very good debate and it has improved my knowledge of this part of the Bill. I am grateful for that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Solicitor-General: I intend to address the Committee briefly, bearing in mind that a number of clauses—51 to 64—address the question of how the police are to deal with the increasing use of drug-cutting agents.
The trade in drug-cutting agents enables organised criminals to increase the volume of illegal drugs on our streets. Illegal drugs—particularly cocaine—are frequently adulterated with chemical substances that are not, of themselves, illegal to increase the volume of the drugs and, therefore, the profits of drug dealers. In addition to the health risks caused by illegal drugs, these drug-cutting agents themselves may be far from harmless.
As we announced in our 2010 drug strategy, we are committed to stopping criminals profiting from the trade in drug-cutting agents. Giving our law enforcement agencies the powers they need is of the utmost importance. That is why part 4 of the Bill confers bespoke powers on UK law enforcement officers to enter and search premises
By tackling the supply of drug-cutting agents, we can reduce the availability of illegal drugs on our streets, which will in turn drive up the street price of illegal drugs and help to reduce drug use, as part of our wider approach on drugs. I can speak from professional experience about the use of cutting agents and the sheer simplicity of bulking up expensive illegal drugs with other substances to make more money. We have powers under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to seize cutting agents, but there are no explicit powers to tackle the domestic trade in these substances. That means that loopholes exist that can prevent law enforcement from seizing suspected cutting agents.
The proposals will ensure that law enforcement officers do not have to return seized cutting agents to a dealer, in circumstances where they would most likely be used to facilitate the supply of future illegal drugs. In developing the provisions, we have taken particular care to minimise any impact on legitimate businesses. In addition to judicial oversight of the powers, part 4 includes a compensation provision to deal with the unlikely event of a legitimate company having its property seized.
Clause 51 introduces prior judicial authorisation for powers to search premises for substances suspected of being intended to be used as drug-cutting agents and to seize any such substances found on those premises. It enables a justice of the peace or, in Scotland, a sheriff, following an application by a police or customs officer, including a National Crime Agency officer, to issue a search and seizure warrant. The justice of the peace will need to be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a substance intended for use as a drug-cutting agent is on the premises. In making that decision, the civil standard of proof, which we have debated this morning, will be applied. Using the civil, rather than criminal, standard is appropriate for these powers, because we are talking about targeting the substances themselves, rather than criminalising individuals.
The process broadly follows that used in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in relation to seized cash. It is an established and well-used process, which is familiar to law enforcement agencies and, indeed, to me, because I conducted many cash forfeiture applications on behalf of South Wales police when the Act was brought into force in 2003.
To ensure the most effective use of the powers, there will be no requirement to inform someone likely to be affected by the warrant about the application. That is good sense, because it will prevent suspect substances from being removed in anticipation of a search.
The provision is in keeping with existing powers and safeguards in relation to search warrants under PACE whereby, in some cases, the warrant applied for may allow for all the premises owned by an individual to be searched—in other words, it is an all-premises warrant. That may be necessary where an individual owns a number of properties but it is not clear which might contain the drug-cutting agents. The warrant might also
Having a bespoke search and seizure warrant is essential for the execution of such powers. Law enforcement officers must be able to enter and search premises if they are to tackle effectively the trade in drug-cutting agents. I hope that clause 51 will stand part of the Bill.
I have two preliminary comments. First, we had a wide-ranging and intelligent debate earlier about gangs covering the factors that bring people into gangs in the first place; how one can educate; prevention; dissuasion; and, in that context, drug rehabilitation. During that excellent debate, emphasis was rightly put on the importance of a prevention strategy, as well as the effective enforcement of the law where appropriate.
Secondly, the Solicitor-General is absolutely right that this is about criminals who profit from the drug trade and make a great deal of money out of human misery. It is absolutely right, in line with the now long-standing approach on proceeds of crime, that we deprive them of their ill-gotten gains.
We have not tabled an amendment to the clause as we support the Government in their efforts to close the loopholes surrounding the acquisition of products for their use in bulking illegal drugs. Even if the people involved in the sourcing and supply of cutting agents do not themselves sell drugs, their actions can have a huge impact on the drugs trade. There was a particularly horrific case recently of two brothers in London who set up a company purporting to be part of the pharmaceutical industry but were found with up to a tonne of cutting agents in their possession. According to the Metropolitan police, that amount of cutting agent, mixed at a conservative ratio, could have assisted in the production of 1,800 kg of street-level cocaine with a value of at least £90 million. In some cases, drug-cutting agents can increase the quantity of drugs by up to 50%, increasing not only illicit profits, but the availability of drugs and thus the damage that they can do.
Although there have been prosecutions of people who have been in possession of large quantities of such products, we welcome the Government’s moves on a number of fronts to strengthen the law and close any loopholes in the existing legislation. However, it is vital that any legislation that is introduced can make a difference. It is not only about what we say; it is what we do, what we legislate for, and then, crucially, the enforcement of the law.
Under this Government, the record on drug seizures is not inspiring. There has been a 14% overall reduction in drug seizures by the police in England and Wales. This has been particularly pronounced for some of the most dangerous class A drugs, such as heroin and methadone. Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, there has been more than a 60% drop in the quantity of heroin seized by the police. In 2009-10, 687 kg was seized
Yet, at the same time, the crime statistics for England and Wales suggest that the use of heroin and methadone, as well as many other drugs, has either increased or stayed constant. Furthermore, in the last year alone, Border Force figures show a 96% drop in seizures of cannabis resin and an 81% drop in seizures of ecstasy, with that overall failure letting more than £36 million of illegal drugs—a conservative calculation—flow into the country last year.
The Solicitor-General spoke about the importance of legislation being fit for purpose, of which there is absolutely no doubt, but it is crucial that the legislation is effectively enforced. The statistics on the growing failure to tackle hard drugs speak for themselves. Sadly, they sit alongside the fact that 16,000 police officers have already gone, the 27% reduction in the budget of the Crown Prosecution Service and the cutting of the budgets of other agencies that play a crucial role in this area. While I support the Government’s proposals, I would be grateful if the Solicitor-General addressed how they will go about ensuring the effective enforcement of the new law. I stress again that this is about not just what we say and legislate for, but how we enforce what is rightly a stronger law.
The Solicitor-General: I shall respond briefly, given the time. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but this year there has been an increase of large seizures of illicit drugs at the UK borders. That is an important point, because when it comes to drugs being seized in what I would call the wholesale quantity, we are dealing with the problem more or less at source. What often happens is that the police—it is no fault of theirs and I make no criticism of the work they do—make smaller seizures and then deal with the retailers of drugs, rather than being able to get, and I will use the phrase, Messrs Big.
Drug seizures, although important, are only part of a complex picture. We have talked a lot about prevention and drug misuse. It is right to say that there has been a downward trend in drug misuse, which is encouraging. That is a result of a number of factors: not just being tough in dealing with offenders, but offering a range of different mechanisms to help drug users themselves. As somebody who has prosecuted and defended hundreds—probably thousands—of drugs cases over 20 years, I know that the situation is always evolving, in terms of both the types of drug used and the profile of drug users. The police are making good progress in seizing significant quantities off our streets.
Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend has seen the evidence submitted by the British Transport police, which raises some concerns about clauses 60 and 63. I am not sure whether we will be taking those clauses in a group or if there will be an opportunity for him to respond to these important points further, because they suggest that further ministerial input would be welcome.
In conclusion, the proposals contained in clauses 51 to 64 represent a practical, sensible and bespoke solution to some of the problems that our police are encountering when dealing with cutting agents. Those are no longer just benign substances such as glucose, but sometimes complex ex-prescription drugs that are no longer safe