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This is a valuable and worthwhile Bill, although I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that it may have a few bamboo tendencies within it. There are many important clauses within the Bill, especially those that modernise the law on prostitution and sexual offences. However, in my remarks this afternoon, I want to focus narrowly on the way in which the Bill increases effectiveness and public accountability of policing.
In particular, I give a hearty welcome to Clause 1, which places a new duty on police authorities to have regard to the views of the public in exercising their functions. That adds enormously to the role that police authorities follow. They already have a duty to obtain the views of the public. The Bill helpfully states that police authorities should not only obtain the views of the public but should have regard to them. I trust that most of my colleagues in police authorities, who fulfil their duty admirably in obtaining those views, are also having regard to them when they exercise their functions.
None the less, that is important, because it makes it explicit that the purpose of consulting and listening to peoples views is to take note of them and to modify plans accordingly. When I was involved in health service matters, it was expected that consultation began only once a decision had been made. The important point about the clause is that it makes it clear that when we seek the views of the public, we do so with a genuinely open mind, listen to what emerges and take it into account.
Given that I suspect that police authorities will embrace that and do it automatically, I am not quite sure why Clause 1(2), giving Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary the explicit power to inspect the performance of police authorities in respect of that duty, is necessary. Police authorities will be doing that as part of their natural work. Given that that has been specifically selected for Her Majesty's inspectorate to consider, along with all the other things that it is supposed to consider in respect of police authorities, can my noble friend explain why there is no mention of the Audit Commission in the process, given that there is now an expectation of joint inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate and the Audit Commission of the work of police authorities?
None the less, this is a helpful and useful clause and one that builds on the work of police authorities. To give one example of why that role of external engagement and listening can be so important, earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. As a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, I led a major exercise three years ago in listening to the views of Londoners about the implications of counterterrorism measures taken by the police service. There was a major engagement with lots of focus groups, inviting young peopleyoung Muslims in particularto meet a panel of police authority members. There were very lively sessions, not all of them easy.
Several issues emerged from that, for example, about the use of the Section 44 power under the Terrorism Act. As a result of that consultation and the work that was done, significant changes are being put in place in the way that that power is being used in the Metropolitan Police district. That is a consequence of police authorities going out, listening to people, having regard to the views expressed and articulating the point by working with the police service in pursuing its strategyin an area which is recognised to be difficult, about which there are strong feelings and about which there are felt to be strong operational necessities in the use of Section 44.
Clause 5 sets out a new legal basis for collaboration across police force areas. Again, that is welcome. In the absence of legislation before us to merge those police force areas which are less viable than others, to recognise the fact that some police force areas are too small, there needs to be a sound basis for collaboration. In the discussions that I have been involved in about the organisation of services relating to counterterrorism and the need for national co-ordination, I have been aware of how complicated discussions between police forces can be, especially given the particular responsibilities of chief constables in the management of police forces and officers in their area, although it may be an operation directed from elsewhere. It is very important that those collaborative arrangements are clear.
Having said thatI appreciate that there has been enormous effort to try to get this rightI am not clear that the current drafting necessarily deals with all the points. It seems to separate police authorities on the one hand and chief officers of police on the other. It seems to create a distinction between collaboration between police forces and collaboration between police authorities. I wonder whether that is helpful.
To pick up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was making earlier, as we know, the Police Act 1996, which anyone interested in policing has by their side constantly, is amended by Parliament at least once a year. It was as recently as 2006 that the Section 8 of the Police and Justice Act inserted a new section into the Police Act 1996, Section 6ZAthe fact that it is Section 6ZA is an indication of the sheer number of changes made adjacent to Section 6which confers the power on the Secretary of State to make an order requiring police authorities,.
It is difficult to track down, because all the changes to the Act have not yet been consolidated into one single version of the Police Act 1996at least, not one that is readily accessible using the parliamentary internetbut that section may not yet have been implemented, even though it has been languishing on the statute book for the best part of three years.
I wonder whether building on that basis, rather than on the set of clauses in the Bill, might be a better way forward. In particular, I am slightly concerned that what we have before us in the Bill may conflict with that section, should it be implemented in future. The precise way in which the provision works to avoid duplication and conflict between the role of police authorities and chief officers of police is important. There should be clarity as to who is responsible for driving through the arrangements for collaboration.
I shall briefly touch on two other aspects of the Bill. The first relates to Clauses 6 to 8 on the cross-authorisations in the regulation of investigatory powers. I commend these provisions to your Lordships. A police officer in force A, who is engaged in a joint operation involving a number of police officers, has to obtain an authorisation under the strict terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act from an officer in the same force rather than from the officer who has responsibility for that joint operation in the first instance. The way the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
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Finally, I shall say a word about Clauses 77 and 78 on aviation security. These are long overdue. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who is perhaps coloured by the collaborative relationship that exists between the railways and the British Transport Police, and thinks that in this legislation we are trying to create something that is too onerous on the airports. My understanding of most British airports is that they are major multiple retail outlets in which people are obliged to spend long periods of time before they can get on their plane. They are major revenue-driving operations for the companies that own them. That one or two of the companies are having financial difficulties and some of them have been sold overseas is another matter.
If you want to operate an airport, it is surely a requirement upon you that you ensure that there is adequate security. At the moment, unless an airport is designated, it is possible for an airport operator to resist paying for any of the policing that goes with providing a safe and secure airport. I do not believe that that can be right. What concerns me about these clauses is not that they are there at all, but that they may be making it too easy for some airport operators to string out the process before they start paying for the costs of the policing to make those airports secure. There are considerable doubts about the proposals regarding the arbitration procedures. It looks to me as though they could result in significant delays to agreeing the plans in respect of particular airports. When my noble friend responds, I should like to hear a suggestion that a time limit might be imposed on the arbitration process, perhaps limiting it to a matter of a few weeks, so that we do not get a situation in which airport operators avoid paying for the costs of securing the people whom they corral in their airport so that they can spend a lot more money in the shops and outlets there.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he made an important point in relation to Section 44 and spoke about consultation with various groups, including focus group consultation. Has it really made any impact in relation to stop and search of black people in this country?
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that point. It is important to draw distinctions between the different sorts of stop and search. It was not the main focus of the consultation, but a strong element that emerged from it was about the powers under Section 44. Much of the disparity in terms of ethnicity occurs in respect of stops that take
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Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I welcome the Bill, as there is a general consensus that crime and policing legislation is in need of greater development. The Bill has the potential to introduce reforms that will not only result in the betterment of British society but may extend beyond our shores.
I acknowledge the measures taken since 1997 to provide greater policing accountability at community level. I had hoped that they would result in more officers out on the beat patrolling our streets. However, the statistics reveal that the majority of police officers spend only 14 per cent of their time on patrol, whereas paperwork accounts for approximately 20 per cent of their time. The Bill does not appear to make provision for a reduction in the time that the police spend on office administration. A real opportunity has been missed to address this issue. Very few police officers will testify to having entered the force because they were drawn by the prospect of being stuck in an office with paperwork. Evidence submitted to Sir Ronnie Flanagans review of policing stated that in 2006 officers produced in excess of 79,000 stop-and-account forms, which took an estimated 25 minutes each to complete. I hope that the Bill will be strengthened during its passage through this Chamber to ensure that police officers are relieved of the bureaucratic burden so that they can carry out their many laudable duties.
I have previously spoken in your Lordships House on the problem of human trafficking and I welcome measures to combat this evil practice. I think that we all agree that human trafficking is equivalent to modern-day slavery. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime not only prohibits human trafficking but actively requires countries to strive towards addressing the demand for sexual exploitation.
I support Clause 13, as it will ensure that those who engage in sexual activities with trafficked individuals receive tougher sentences. This is crucial and we hope that it will work as a deterrent to those who are tempted to engage in undesirable relations or in the exploitation of vulnerable people. It is safe to say that a large proportion of society views forced prostitution and human trafficking as wholly abhorrent practices.
With regard to strict liability, this may create some difficulties in enforcement. I would have thought that a serious crime of this nature required the mens rea element of criminal law. The absence of this condition may not sit well with some individuals. My concern is how a man establishes whether a woman has been forced into prostitution. He may not know the owner of the establishment or have met the woman before. We therefore need to look at these provisions fully in Committee.
I support the provision in Clause 20 that will enable courts to issue closure orders where there is evidence that premises are being used for activities relating to certain prostitution and pornography offences. This will help to eliminate undesirable activities and perhaps act as a deterrent to others. I also welcome Clause 18, which creates a new offence of soliciting to replace the existing offence of kerb-crawling. These provisions will, we hope, make our streets safe and stop decent women being accosted.
It is important that we take an holistic view of the problems of human trafficking and look at ways of protecting and rehabilitating women and children who have been subjected to trickery, intimidation and force. I would like to see more provision in this Bill for women who want to leave the sex industry generally. The average age of those who enter prostitution in Europe is frightfully low, at 14 years. Narcotic abuse is also a recurrent theme in the lives of most prostitutes, with a high proportion addicted to class A drugs. A vocal minority extols the virtues of prostitution and feels that it should be legalised, but I disagree with this contention.
I welcome Clause 25, as it increases the penalty for the encryption of indecent images of children from two years to five years imprisonment in cases of indecency in relation to children or of child exploitation. The abuse of minors in any shape or form is truly heinous; I am pleased that those who engage in this practice will be subject to tougher penalties. I express my gratitude to the Conservative Member for Mole Valley in the other place for his prudent stewardship of this item.
I also welcome Clause 28, which strives to lower the threshold of punishment for vendors who supply alcohol to minors. The provision will mean that an offence is committed if alcohol is sold to an individual under the age of 18 on two or more occasions within three months rather than on three or more occasions. However, this proposal is not far-reaching enough. Shopkeepers who persistently sell alcohol to children should be made aware that this behaviour may result in the permanent closure of their premises. Further measures must be put in place to encourage sensible drinking, as alcohol abuse has a direct impact on crime.
Approximately 1 million people were subjected to alcohol-related violence in 2007 and 2008, according to the British Crime Survey. This figure is compounded by the 26 per cent increase in alcohol-related admissions to A&E between 2005 and 2007. I strongly welcome the stance taken by Her Majestys Official Opposition that local authorities should be given the power to apply 24-hour drinking laws at their own discretion. I have previously spoken in your Lordships House on binge drinking. Binge drinking is a blight on our society, as it not only damages health and results in accidents and violence but breaks families and makes our streets unsafe in the evenings.
Clauses 96 and 97 relate to the provisions on the retention and destruction of DNA samples. I am aware that instances may arise when the retention of DNA samples contributes to protecting the public from danger, as identified by the Metropolitan Police. I acknowledge that the Government have made attempts
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I asked a Question in this Chamber exactly one month ago about the disproportionate number of black people who are stopped and searched compared with white citizens. Unfortunately, this trend is reflected in the DNA database, which contains information on approximately 40 per cent of black males in Britain compared with 9 per cent of their white counterparts. I therefore urge the police to exercise their powers with care and caution and ensure that there are reasonable grounds for arrest before taking anyones DNA.
The retention of DNA generally needs to be scrutinised fully at later stages of the Bill. The powers that the police have under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act have already been criticised, as it is felt that a high proportion of people from the ethnic minorities have been stopped and searched under those provisions. We need to re-examine these powers when we consider the Bills provisions to ensure that they are fair and equitable.
Twelve years have elapsed and there is very little evidence that this promise has been honoured. Violent crime has increased by almost 80 per cent since 1998, with an average of 400 knife crimes committed per week. I gain no pleasure from describing the disturbing situation in which we find ourselves. Crime and policing should not be party-political issues; it is in the best interests of society as a whole that we propose amendments and scrutinise this Bill, as that will produce tangible results.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I would like to address some of the issues in the Bill that relate to children and young people. Clauses 29 to 32 relate to children and alcohol; Clauses 33 to 41 relate to gang-related violence; and Clauses 79 to 90 relate to the Independent Barring Board, which is now to be known as the Independent Safeguarding Authority, and its functions.
I shall deal first with the measures relating to children and alcohol. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, made clear what a very serious issue this is in his excellent and very sensible speech, and I am delighted to find myself in very good company on this matter. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich; it is nice to have the blessing of the Almighty. The whole approach of this part of the Bill is wrong-headed. It will probably be ineffective and could actually be harmful. I think I know how the UNs Committee on the Rights of the Child will judge it the next time it scrutinises UK compliance with the convention.
I refer first to the clauses that allow the police to confiscate sealed containers of alcohol from young people in a public place, the offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place, and extending the directions to leave a public place to children as young as 10 years old. We on these Benches believe that children and young people who drink in a public place should not be dragged into the criminal justice system. Giving them a criminal record will damage their future prospects for employment and will be little deterrent against what is fairly common teenage behaviour. Education and a welfare-oriented approach will be much more effective than criminal sanctions. The danger is that children who want to drink will be more likely to seek out quiet isolated locations in which to do it, which may put them at great risk, particularly at night.
I am also concerned that Clause 29 requires children to give their name and address to police, which will be used as evidence against them for the persistent possession offence in Clause 30. This requires them to incriminate themselves without an appropriate adult present, the significance of which they will probably not be warned about and certainly will not realise. Some of them may incriminate a completely innocent other young person by giving a false name and address, making it very difficult for the other teenager to disprove them.
Clause 30 also contains the words reasonable excuse, which means that an individual police officer will have to use his own judgment as to what such an excuse is. Will the Minister tell us what the Government have in mind? Would a child taking groceries for his mother to his grandmother be committing an offence if there was a bottle of Guinness in the bag? Clause 30 is unprecedented in that it criminalises something done a certain number of times, which may not in itself be criminal. For example, if the child takes his grandmother a bottle of Guinness once or twice he does not commit an offence, but to do it three times would get him a criminal record. That is over the top.
Alcohol misuse is a serious health and social matter. I do not want to understate its seriousness, but I want to do what works. There are good examples of good practice that approach the problem in a very different way. Police in Lancashire have been accompanied by a nurse on their patrols of areas frequented by young people. She can provide health advice to young drinkers and help access to ongoing support. In Sefton, Merseyside, police and community wardens have litmus strips to test cans of soft drink for hidden alcohol. The parents of any young person found concealing alcohol like this will receive a letter from the local councils anti-social behaviour prevention team. Initial evaluation of this scheme suggests that it has reduced the number of young people involved in street drinking and has enabled persistent offenders to be offered real help and assistance. Surely measures like this are better than the early criminalisation of children.
Clause 31 extends the police power to issue directions to leave to children aged between 10 and 15. There is no requirement for the child to be drinking alcohol or be drunk or disorderly. I have great welfare and safeguarding concerns about this. There seems to be no obligation to take the child home or to a place of safety, as in other legislation about dispersal. The
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I support measures to ensure that young people find it very difficult to buy alcohol. I realise that it can be quite difficult for shopkeepers, especially in supermarkets where the child is not known and may look older than his age. In my local shop, the shopkeepers know most of the children, so it is not quite so difficult for them. They have no excuse. I endorse the voluntary proof-of-age schemes. I also endorse the many very good alcohol education programmes available to schools, such as those produced by Tacade, a not-for-profit organisation of which I am pleased to be a patron. These are the ways to go.
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