Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The third measure in Clause 20 gives the courts the power to make premises closure orders where there is evidence that the premises are being used for activities relating to certain prostitution and pornography offences. Here, too, the safety of the women is put at risk. All the evidence suggests that women are safer working from premises than working on the street. At a meeting I was able to attend with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, we heard from sex workers and their maids, who are the gatekeepers, of the security that they can use in a flat to ensure that violent and threatening clients do not get in. They have CCTV and doors that they can control. This is not so easy to do on the street if they have been thrown out of their premises.

I suggest that more safeguards are needed to restrict the use of this measure to protect any vulnerable people in the household who will be affected. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice suggests that the Government should give assurances that the local authority must first take into account the needs of any children who may be adversely affected as a result of a closure order. I hope the Minister will look favourably on that suggestion in the later stages.

I also hope that at the next stage of the Bill we shall be able to persuade the Government that these offences should not apply to young people aged under 18. Young people engaged in prostitution are victims, not criminals, and criminalising them is objectionable. I support very much the words of the right reverend Prelate. I suggest that the Minister’s reply to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that criminalisation is helpful in getting children engaged in prostitution access to the services they need is a sad reflection on the state of services for very vulnerable young people. The Government’s argument in response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that, if we decriminalise prostitution for those under 18, we are sending out a message that for under-18s to engage in prostitution is acceptable seems to me totally fatuous. Are the Government really so out of touch with the realities of the life of those young people who end up on the streets?

3 Jun 2009 : Column 246

The measures on alcohol misuse are similarly problematic. A number of organisations—I have heard from the Alcohol Health Alliance, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice and others—are concerned that the offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place, in Clause 30, will result in the unnecessary criminalisation of large numbers of young people, whose drinking needs to be dealt with but not in this way. I endorse the thoughtful contribution made by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, on this matter.

The clause might also give smart young people a very bad impression of the rule of law, and will not contribute to their respect for it if they are subject to laws that make something illegal only if it is done once every four months within one year; it is not illegal the first time they do it, nor the second, and they could get away with it a third time if they waited one more month until the following year. It does not give a good impression of the thoughtfulness of the legislature.

I turn to the injunctions to prevent gang-related violence, a proposal which, as Liberty says, continues the worrying trend of blurring the divide between the criminal and civil law which risks stigmatising and punishing the innocent along with the guilty. In effect, these are a mix of control orders and ASBOs for anyone suspected of engaging in, encouraging or assisting gang-related violence. I have watched the growth of ASBOs over the years with great concern and noted the limited evidence of their effectiveness. I have followed the development of the control order regime, and have always had great anxieties about that. In that context, these new powers seem to be a further slide downwards into giving the law enforcement agencies unacceptable powers outside a proper criminal justice framework.

There seems to be little evidence that these measures will be effective in dealing with gang-related violence. Before coming up with these measures, did Home Office Ministers go to Glasgow and look at the community initiative to reduce violence that brings all the services in Glasgow together with the police to deal with the gang as a unit? As I understand it, gang members are invited to meetings that lead to routes out of violence and into education, healthcare and work. It seems to be working very well. Should we not be looking more closely at effective measures rather than at more laws that erode many of the legal protections that we have fought for over centuries?

5.23 pm

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I need to declare that I am closely involved with the Police Federation of England and Wales, because matters arising from the Bill will affect officers concerned with a number of areas within it.

The Bill is long and detailed and covers numerous matters but, as I will be addressing only a couple of items, in practical terms I will not be speaking for long. It is the knock-on effect on the police when the Bill is enacted that should be taken into account.

We have heard a number of noble Lords speaking about Part 2, and I will continue to talk about it. It deals with sexual offences and sexual establishments, and follows a public consultation. The Home Secretary is to be praised for trying to get on to the statute book the various matters included in this part. It is the

3 Jun 2009 : Column 247

intention of the Bill to provide protection to prostitutes, who are often young and vulnerable and are themselves victims who have been forced into the oldest profession by the criminal fraternity or by some form of exploitation.

But how, I wonder, will the practicalities involved in determining sufficient evidence for a conviction be managed without creating a chain of additional bureaucratic burdens? Some of the evidence trail could easily extend across Europe and beyond, which would be hugely time-consuming for the police. There is a risk that local problems could be displaced, which, I suspect, is not what the police or the public want. Police officers work hard in local communities where prostitution is an issue and deliver some excellent results. It is often difficult enough a task without additional requirements which may mean including other officers in the various teams. It reminds me of the Hunting Act, which required officers to attend hunts in an attempt to enforce the law and which proved to be unsuccessful. This Bill will be difficult to enforce and presents many challenges for local policing teams, which, if asked, would indicate that they preferred to target their scarce resources elsewhere to meet many other pressures and demands in the community.

Chapter 2 of Part 8 concerns DNA. The European Court of Human Rights has given judgment on the policy of retaining DNA and fingerprints. I am in complete agreement with its decision that the retention of fingerprints and DNA of people arrested but not convicted of any offence should not take place. Equally, it is my contention that, where a crime has been committed, a conviction proven and a sentence passed—of any kind—the samples of DNA and fingerprints lawfully taken by the police should be retained, contrary to the European court’s judgment. I am conscious that such samples should be used for police purposes only in the prevention of crime and the apprehension of offenders.

In very recent times, there have been a number of high-profile cases in which DNA evidence has proved invaluable to police in solving serious crimes, sometimes committed many decades ago. If DNA samples and fingerprints had been deleted after a specified period, as indicated in the Bill, some people would in all probability have continued to avoid detection for those horrendous crimes. I think that the public would be angered if such offenders could evade justice in this manner. It is with regret that I disagree with my noble friend on this point, but there are two points of view on the retention of DNA and nothing in between. As with the intended identity cards, you are either for or against them. However, a judgment by the European court has forced us to change our long held practice of retaining DNA. In this instance, I would love it if its decision could be ignored. I wish the Bill well.

5.28 pm

Lord Patten: My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Viscount and agree with him that many of the provisions in the Bill would be very difficult to enforce. Similarly, the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, pointed out in his most thought-provoking speech how difficult it will be for the police to enforce some of those measures where policing powers meet child protection powers. I hope that the whole House, including the Minister,

3 Jun 2009 : Column 248

listened very carefully to what the noble Earl, with his 29 years of experience in the Met, had to say about these issues. Even though the police are paid by us to deal with these difficult problems, I have great sympathy with them on this one in particular.

That having been said, I have no declarations of interest, save in the subject itself, although I am interested in finding out just how much the many criminal justice-related measures pushed through your Lordships' House and another place, of which this is but the latest in a list that now reaches 66, have cost. Tens of millions of pounds of Civil Service and drafting time must have been spent in their preparation, money which might well have been spent on the front line in policing, or the front line in childcare and other social service and agency work. I suspect that if I put down a Question to this end, or tabled Written Questions concerning each individual Bill, Answers there would come back to me that the level of cost could be provided only at disproportionate cost, so I shall not trouble the Treasury. It would be the same if I asked for an evaluation of the effectiveness of each criminal justice measure. However, the Minister does owe it us to tell us how much the preparation of this Bill by hard-working Home Office civil servants, who have too often been too freely traduced, has cost in pounds sterling. I look to him to do that; it is a perfectly proper question. I spare him my follow-up question, however, regarding its likely effectiveness.

I turn instead to just two examples of why the Bill will largely be ineffective—public accountability and alcohol misuse in public places. On the first point, in Part 1, on the duties now proposed for police authorities to have regard to public views of policing, we have a classic case before your Lordships of a great waste of public money and Civil Service time as the Bill has proceeded through Parliament thus far. I take as my text whatever Robert Peel more or less said to the effect that the police are the public and the public are the police. Police forces by definition have to take good account of the public and public views all the time, and doubtless would do so even more if they had any time left over from trying to digest the latest legislative offering in the blizzard of 66 Bills that has hit them around the head since 1997. The Inspectorate of Constabulary equally knows well that it must look to the public interest in that respect during its inspections. No police authority can be effective without taking into account public views.

At least the Government have been forced to drop the idea of elected police authorities, originally proposed in this measure. A silver stake needs to be permanently driven into the political heart of that line of thinking. Such bodies, to cite but three of many points, would first of all have encouraged confrontational politics in an area in which—as in the running of our Armed Forces, as the noble Lord knows—they are not needed and would be damaging. At worst, they might have led to the taking over of police authorities by single-issue extremist groups—you know, “BNP for better policing”, or whatever—which we would deplore. Finally, as elections tend to do, they might have produced local authorities in one form of political control and a police authority in another, when we need strong local co-operation not local conflict.

3 Jun 2009 : Column 249

Having an interest in these sorts of issues, I looked around me in the area where I live to try to find someone from the Labour Party to discuss this issue with in the pursuit of proper political dialogue and discourse. In my part of the West Country we have county council elections tomorrow. I can find Liberals all over the place, much to my regret, but there is absolutely no one who can be my counterpart in such a dialogue from the Labour Party. There are no Labour candidates of any sort on any ballot paper for hundreds of square miles around the area where I am seated, as they used to say in your Lordships' House, in the West Country. It is as though some party-selective neutron weapon had carefully targeted the Labour Party in the south-west. It is a terrible position to find that party in.

All that we now have left of the original damaging proposal to have elected police authorities is a fig-leaf to cover the retreating idea originally coined by our equally retreating Home Secretary—that police authorities must now just have regard to the public reviews on policing. Either this is a mere pious exhortation—and the right reverend Prelate knows that pious exhortations do not do much good—that will be left lying dormant on the face of an eventual Act, perhaps subject to some time and money-consuming box-ticking exercise by the inspectorate; or, if that is not the case and this is actually going to be a live measure, do the Government expect full-bore consultation exercises to underpin this duty? If so, who is going to pay for them, and how much? What a diversion of police time and activity that would be in the process, in its turn, of the invariably costly displacement activity that such consultation processes turn out to be, as the same old so-called stakeholders are gathered around the same old meeting tables to discuss the design of the next paradigm shift, or whatever the impenetrable public service jargon turns out to be on that particular day.

It would be much better if there were an elected police commissioner in each area—truly accountable—to whom people could complain directly; someone subject to rerun provisions, who could ensure the open and transparent publication of crime statistics ward by ward with the sort of regular open meetings that are real consultation and not phoney stakeholder consultation. What is Labour’s view on that? We do not know because the review commissioned last year by the outgoing Home Secretary from one of her predecessors, Mr David Blunkett, into police accountability has not yet appeared. I ask the Minister why the delay, because when it was announced in a blaze of publicity before Christmas, this review of police accountability by Mr Blunkett was promised to inform policy-making “before the next election”. Had the new Home Secretary better not ask Mr Blunkett to get his reviewing skates on in case he misses the last chance to shine in this context?

I turn to my second and last illustration. The Bill represents a waste of Civil Service and police time. I just look at one clause in Part 3, Clause 27 on alcohol abuse. We all know that there is an alcohol problem—at least outside your Lordships’ House. We know that alcohol is about two-thirds more affordable than it was when Labour came to power, with own-brand beer in some supermarkets being cheaper than imported

3 Jun 2009 : Column 250

French mineral water per litre sold. That is a remarkable state of affairs, both in terms of the availability of alcohol and in the curious cultural habit that makes people want to spend so much money on water.

Alcohol is not just an issue for the city centres, where half the crimes of violence are very often alcohol-related; it is also so in some market towns and rural areas. Indeed, in my own part of the West Country when some local dwellers get well cidered up it can present a considerable problem for those living in the area. Against all this, just what good will the legislation do? I take one example: Clause 27—already highlighted so clearly by my noble friend Lady Hanham in her penetrating speech—increases the penalty for consuming alcohol in a designated public place. Will the Minister guarantee to me tonight that that provision will reduce alcohol-related crime? What is it intended to do? As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said, what difference does upping the ante by so many thousand pounds actually do? It does nothing. It is just like provisions introduced with a fanfare, photo calls and all the rest of the spin-driven approach to law and order issues that has been the hallmark of this Administration since 1997.

Does the Minister expect this provision to make a whit of difference? If so, how? He is always very straightforward in responding to noble Lords. I have asked him a direct question. I will happily give way now if he would like me to, so that he can explain to your Lordships—in the time for my speech—how this increase in a level of fines is going to stop drunkenness. No, he wishes to reflect on this issue and respond to me in his wind-up speech. I wait with pleasure for that.

Will the Minister explain why—by January, this year at least—under earlier criminal justice legislation there has not yet been one designation of the alcohol disorder zones that the Home Office introduced not long ago? Here is alcohol disorder being a great problem—all that is in this Bill—and it is going to be got rid of by increasing a fine from this level to that level. Why has previous legislation that is on the statute book not even been used to deal with these issues? I am lost for an explanation, but I know that the noble Lord will explain it all to me with great clarity.

This is a power to tackle anti-social behaviour that will be introduced with a fanfare and then briskly forgotten. Why? It is because the police have no time to use their panoply of powers. Despite five red-tape reviews, less than 20 per cent of police time is spent on front-line activities now. When the noble Lord was in the armed services, he did not have every operational decision of his smothered in red tape; he led people who were getting on with the job, and he led them well from all that I hear. I only wish that some who inhabit the fortified bunker—and it is fortified—of New Scotland Yard would leave its walls and share at night the walk home with me from your Lordships' House along Victoria Street. A few yards across the road, and also by the piazza in front of the cathedral, within sight of the windows of New Scotland Yard, there are to be found young and old rough sleepers, very often as much in need of help and preventive work as anything else, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has taught

3 Jun 2009 : Column 251

over the years, including from the mental health world. On other occasions there is behaviour connected with alcohol abuse. But it is quite clear that, in this respect, unused provisions from earlier Acts will not help to clean up Victoria Street 20 yards away from New Scotland Yard—and it is pretty shaming on the Metropolitan Police that such conditions exist 20 yards away—nor will provisions such as Clause 27, which are a waste of legislative time and will by extra burdens reduce even further police effectiveness.

Lastly, why does the noble Lord not say what he really thinks about all this legislation in his usual blunt-spoken way? He certainly would not be at any risk at all if he stood up and told your Lordships what I suspect he really thinks. He is perfectly safe in his post—after all, he is one of the last Ministers left standing in the Government and there seems to be no one to replace him here in your Lordships’ House. Indeed, I am sorry to say that with his commanding bearing, clarity of voice and clear-sightedness, he is in grave risk of becoming the next Home Secretary. I think that it would be much better, whether he or someone else is Home Secretary in the future, if they encouraged the police to apply such laws as are already on the statute book, did not introduce a further legislative avalanche and looked for ways of lifting the burdens preventing the police from putting the front line first. That could help to deal practically with some of the problems that the Bill tries to deal with in a theoretical, seminar-room, legislative way rather than the practical way that many noble Lords on all Benches have pointed out this afternoon.

5.42 pm

Baroness Henig: My Lords, I must first declare an interest as the president of the Association of Police Authorities and as the chair of the Security Industry Authority. This is a very wide-ranging Bill and I want to confine my remarks mostly to the policing issues in Part 1.

Like the previous speaker, I think that it is worth at the outset celebrating what is no longer in the Bill. Along with the Association of Police Authorities, the Local Government Association, Liberty and other noble Lords, I welcome the removal of the proposal to hold direct elections to police authorities. In my view, that would have taken us back at least 20 years to the era of highly politicised police committees rather than the focused, politically balanced and much more effective police authorities that we have now. I am very encouraged that there is cross-party support on this issue—though not, I hasten to add, on the ludicrous idea of elected police commissioners, which I believe is an American import that would politicise policing far more even than elected police authorities. Many Americans who admire the British policing system have said to me that they are amazed that the Conservatives are even advocating such a measure.

The prime job of the police authority is to hold the chief constable and his senior team to account on behalf of local people, to help to formulate policing strategies for their areas and to ensure high-quality scrutiny of performance data and crime statistics on which the force bases its policing plans. Therefore, I

3 Jun 2009 : Column 252

have no problems with the Bill placing a duty on police authorities to have regard to the views of the public, except to say that every police authority that I know, which is pretty much all of them, already engages in regular and extensive consultation with its local communities about the policing precept, local policing plans and a host of other issues. I know that authorities would be happy to take on this additional duty.

More important, however, we are moving to a situation where confidence in the police service that is delivered to local people is to become the key policing measure and the only numerical target to be imposed in the future by government. The police do not, and cannot, operate effectively, display a hands-on approach and can-do attitude, deliver results and generate confidence all on their own. They go a long way but, to be successful, they have to work with other delivery partners and, crucially, with local councils. It will therefore be imperative that a duty is also placed on local partners, particularly local councils, to co-operate with the police in delivering the local confidence target, just as the police and police authorities are under a duty to co-operate with local authorities in helping them to deliver local area agreement targets.

While we are on the subject of local accountability, given that we all want to see continuous improvement in the performance and capacity of police authorities, which will certainly be helped very much by the inspection regime that is soon to begin, the Association of Police Authorities and the Local Government Association need to work with government to ensure that councils have regard to some key criteria in nominating councillors to police authorities. Great weight should be placed on an interest in policing, involvement in local policing consultative bodies, experience in scrutiny and performance management issues and analysis of performance data, which I see as particularly relevant skills for councillor members of police authorities to possess.

I had the pleasure of representing the Association of Police Authorities on the senior appointments panel for about three years, from the time that it was established. Indeed, I am probably the only Member of your Lordships’ House who has had extensive experience of the way in which this body operates. While we are told that the reason for the proposal to make it a statutory body is to give it more independence, I have been around Whitehall for too long to be fully reassured by this explanation of potential benefits. Indeed, I can rather see some dangers stemming from this proposal. The Home Secretary of the day and senior Home Office officials, through the power of appointment to the senior appointments panel, will acquire much greater powers to direct this body to do what they want, including exercising disproportionate influence over appointments at senior police level.

My experience of this body was that it worked pretty well. There were issues and concerns but, in general, the balance between the Home Office, ACPO and police authority representatives was maintained. Decisions were well judged and vigorously debated but then agreed in a consensual way under the watchful eye of the inspectorate of police. The Home Secretary got involved rarely, but then decisively. My job was to

3 Jun 2009 : Column 253

ensure that police authorities had confidence in the long-listing process for senior appointments and in the order of appointments. We must never forget that chief constables are locally accountable and need to be chosen by local police authorities to suit the needs and preferences of local communities. Needs and preferences should not be imposed from the centre.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page