|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I believe that the country that we live in has the finest police forces in the world and we should be vigilant to keep it that way. I forget who it wasit was perhaps a right reverend Prelatewho said, In heaven, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, the police are British and the Germans organise everything; whereas in hell, the cooks are German, the lovers are British, the police are French and the Italians organise everything. Make of that what you will.
DNA has been mentioned. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the problem is with the retention of DNA samples, which of course it is, because it is the samples retained on a database that we match against people who commit future crimes. Without the database, it would be very difficult to detect the cold-case crimes and the very serious crimes of murder. It would be helpful to learn from my noble friend the Minister how many serious criminal convictions have been obtained by matching against unconvicted people on the registerthat is the nub of the argument. The retention of DNA also assists in clearing innocent people, which is quite often forgotten. It is not just about convicting the guilty, but clearing the innocent. We have seen the reversal of one or two miscarriages of justice assisted by DNA.
I now turn to the provisions on paedophiles, an area of the Bill which is extremely important for the protection of children. In my years as president of the Police Superintendents Association, some 11 or 12 years ago, I campaigned vigorously for the setting-up of a register of paedophiles. It seemed to me to be critical to keep a tab on those who prey on vulnerable youngsters. To his credit, Michael Howard, the then Home Secretary, listened to the powerful arguments and the Sex Offenders Act 1997 was introduced. My right honourable friend Jack Straw then became Home Secretary and carried on the important work in this area.
Paedophiles cannot be treated or cured; they can only be controlled. Many of them welcome intervention to prevent their offending behaviour recurring. Where better to get access to youngsters than through a job in one of the caring services? We have seen the scandals that have taken place over the years, with young lives being destroyed by molestation by the very people whom they trust. It is a complete betrayal. I welcome, therefore, the provisions to simplify the process for employers to check individuals applying for work, paid or unpaid, with children or vulnerable adults. Red tape should not be allowed to obstruct the protection of children.
Paedophiles, like all other citizens, can now travel speedily to all parts of the world. They often network online, plying their vile trade and exchanging images. I therefore welcome the provisions to widen the circumstances in which sex offender prevention orders and foreign travel orders can be applied for. In this connection, I ask the Minister whether there are any proposals to create a European or even international paedophile register. Does he agree with me that the biometric passport will assist in monitoring the movement of such people?
Some 20 years ago, I spent some time with the FBI, particularly in the area of Los Angeles. I was very interested in the control of street gangs, which were causing tremendous problems. The problems seemed to reduce quickly. I asked one of the officers with whom I was working how they had managed to make an indentation into the problem of gang warfare in Los Angeles. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that it was through the use of civil injunctions. I therefore welcome the provisions on civil injunctions, which have worked in America. I hope that we can learn from the experience of the Americans. It is important that we learn from other nations and not just look within our own shores.
I conclude by seeking an assurance from the Minister that the monitoring of predatory paedophiles by police and other authorities will not diminish, as reported widely in the press last week. I hope that that does not occur; it is very important that people who prey on children are kept under the public eye. The police and the other authorities should be able to spend time keeping tabs on them. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of the debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, for introducing this Bill. I have taken an interest in almost all Bills relating to the police and criminal justice in the past 10 years. I was therefore delighted that my noble friend Lady Miller invited me to take part by winding up this debate. In that time, I have seen the comings and going at the Home Office, with the departures of Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke andplease attach no blame, since I am on the Front Bench todayJacqui Smith. The present Bill follows the same pattern that I have seen previously, with more legislation creating more criminal offences. I accept that some policing matters reflected in the Flanagan report need legislation, but the Bill lacks a clear strategy on matters of crime.
Two things stand out clearly. First, there is an insatiable appetite on the part of the Government to produce more criminal justice legislation. This has become a routine; we continue to increase the number of criminal offences, which directly affects all parts of the criminal justice system, including our prisons. The reason why the Bill lacks a clear strategy is that it is a collection of unrelated issues being brought togethera hodgepodge, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, described it. The examples are very clear: there are measures on police reforms, collaborative working among police forces and police authorities, prostitution, aviation security, alcohol-related disorder, and assets and extradition. Those are just a few of the many issues reflected in this Bill.
It would be helpful, if the Minister could give us some indication, to know how many new criminal offences are to be introduced by the Bill. It is a frightening thought, but I suppose that we can expect nothing less, since custodial options are often seen as a solution to combating crime. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer reflected on that in her contribution, so ably backed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich.
Your Lordships House is well aware that at almost all stages of previous Bills we have pressed the Government to look at what is appropriate and relevant. We believed that many of the measures introduced might not be activated or were not relevant. I am pleased that the Government have at last heeded this advice and that the Bill seeks to repeal unused or uncommenced legislation. I hope that we can continue to keep an eye on previous legislation and see whether there are other measures falling into that category. I suspect that this pattern will continue in future years, because badly and hastily produced legislation is difficult to implement and public confidence can be shaped only by the quality and not the quantity of legislation that the Government have produced. The latter seems to be the hallmark of this Government.
What will happen to national targets for policing, which were introduced in the Police Reform Act 2002? Many noble Lords have spoken today about Part 1 of the Bill. I single out my noble friends Lady Harris and Lord Bradshaw, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who was a Minister at the Home Office, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. They have more experience between them, I suspect, than those who have drafted Part 1 of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will take serious note of the commentssome of them positive but many negativeabout the provision that we face in this legislation. I was delighted by the contribution from noble Lords with experience in policing matters, but there are other former senior police officers in your Lordships House and it would be a privilege to hear their point of view when the Bill reaches its later stages.
I have some questions. Who is in charge of exercising the powers that the Home Secretary exercised until now in relation to performance targets? It looks as if we have turned full circle and are now back with the arrangements in the Police Act 1996. I have another concern about Part 1 on police reform. The Bill hardly represents the direction that the Government set out in the Green Paper. At that time, we welcomed the proposals, but what happened to them? What has happened to localism? Where is local accountability? Where do police authorities feature in the process? Where is more local democracy holding police forces to account?
I welcome the provision to take account of local views. Great play has been made of that approach, but it sounds hollow, since it cannot be enforced. It remains down to the generosity of police authorities to be able to undertake that task. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for his contribution on that point. What we are left with is that the Home Secretary has the power to give directions from the centre. This again smacks of centralised control. We would certainly wish to ensure that the Bill places a duty to collaborate where it would be beneficial to the local communities involved.
I now confine my remarks to one or two other issuesthe Bills provisions relating to soliciting and the introduction of a new form of criminal record certificate, a point touched on by my noble friend Lady Walmsley.
I welcome the general intentions behind the provisions of Part 2. It has always been indefensible that the law should prosecute, fine and, when fines are not paid, imprison prostitutes for soliciting but should take no action against those who use prostitutes and create the demand for their services. It has been particularly indefensible that women who were victims of sex trafficking have often faced deportation, whereas those who have colluded with this trade by using their services have faced no sanction.
This is where the arguments become very complex, because we tend to look for easy solutions. I support the intention behind the new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain, in order to provide a deterrent that will reduce the demand. However, we should exercise great caution, as there are some important questions relating to the scope and enforceability of the provision. We can explore these in Committee. In particular, we should take note of the contribution on that point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and the issues that she identifies.
There is a need to take a careful look at the convention on trafficking. Women who are trafficked are often in need of support and assistance. We must exercise great care to ensure that the action that we take does not drive prostitution underground. Is there any evidence that criminalising all men who use prostitutes will help the authorities to find and rescue those women in need of help? It might be helpful at some stage if such evidence were produced by the Home Office. If the legislation is devised as part of a co-ordinated approach that tackles demand but helps those who wish to escape the misery of prostitution, the situation will need careful monitoring. I ask the Minister to look at the international dimensions of this issuethe example cited was New Zealandas almost all western countries are affected, to ensure that we do not add to the difficulties that women already face.
Clause 15, which abolishes the insulting legal term common prostitute, is a welcome measure. I note that Clause 16 will enable courts to order a woman to attend three meetings with a supervisor, who can explore ways of helping her to find a way out of prostitution. That sounds very good, but let us not forget that we are dealing with those caught in a cycle of deprivation, who are often exploited and frequently victims of violence, poverty and abuse. Do they see such meetings as relevant to their life chances? There is of course a need for a constructive approach rather than fining prostitutes, which simply pushes them quickly back on the street to earn money to pay the fine. I am concerned about whether we have thought out our approach on this issue.
I question one aspect of Clause 18the removal of the requirement for persistence before someone can be prosecuted for soliciting. We are talking about a group of women, and sometimes young men, who usually have a drug habit, are often homeless or victims of abuse and may have a range of health problems. Surely it is preferable to use cautioning, coupled where possible with constructive diversion programmes, on the first one or two occasions when they are found soliciting rather than prosecuting them and giving them a criminal conviction for their first or second
3 Jun 2009 : Column 280
I now turn to a different issue: criminal record certificates. The Bill amends the Police Act 1997 to enable the Criminal Records Bureau to supply a new form of criminal record certificatethe basic disclosure certificateto employers with details of applicants who are seeking employment. The Police Act 1997 contained provision for three kinds of criminal record certificate: enhanced disclosure, standard disclosure and basic disclosure. The first two have been introduced and are widely used. They apply to people applying to work in sensitive occupations, such as work involving unsupervised contact with children and vulnerable adults, jobs related to national security, professions in areas such as health and the law, and senior managers in banking and financial services.
Basic disclosures have not yet been introduced but I understand that the Government intend to introduce them next year. When they are introduced, any employer could require any applicant for any type of job to produce a basic disclosure certificate. There is a real danger that that could lead to a large increase in discrimination against ex-offenders across the whole range of work opportunities. Some employers may refuse to employ applicants with a criminal record, whether or not the record is relevant to the job for which they are applying. If that happens, it will increase reoffending. Research studies show that ex-offenders who get and keep a job are between a third and a half less likely to reoffend than those who remain unemployed.
After the Police Act 1997 was passed, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research carried out a study asking employers about the likely effect of basic disclosure certificates. Employers said that they were likely to use basic disclosures for between 45 to 56 per cent of their vacancies. They said that they would reject applicants with criminal records for half these vacancies. Those with convictions that are more serious would be rejected for 90 per cent of vacancies. The research concluded that basic disclosure was likely severely to reduce employment opportunities for people with criminal records.
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation around the same time found that 41 per cent of employers thought that it was very likely and 31 per cent thought that it was quite likely that they would require basic disclosure certificates from job applicants. I raise the issue because the study strongly suggested that basic disclosure would heighten discrimination against ex-offenders. I ask the Government to think again about the wisdom of introducing a measure that could so easily cause more crime than it prevents.
If, however, the Government are determined to go ahead with this misguided measure, the argument for early reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will be greatly strengthened. Basic disclosure certificates will not include details of spent convictions, so shortening the time after which offences become spent would at least go some way towards mitigating the damage that the introduction of those certificates could otherwise cause. I intend to introduce a Private Members Bill in
3 Jun 2009 : Column 281
Over the years, we have created an oppressive criminal justice system. As we travel to different parts of the world, it becomes clear that we are criminalising more people at a relatively young age. That may satisfy the tabloids and gain a few more votes, but the price that we pay will be very high. There is a crying need to give leadership at the highest level to shape public opinion and not to follow it for short-term gains.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, the hour is getting on and I shall not detain your Lordships too long. This has been a very interesting debate. I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction to the Bill, and, indeed, all noble Lords who have made such meaningful contributions.
As my noble friend Lady Hanham indicated, I shall concentrate my remarks on Parts 1 and 2, but I am afraid that I will be echoing my noble friends concerns that the Bill misses many changes that are necessary to address the very real problems we are facing.
Part 1 is particularly frustrating in that regard. On these Benches, we have spoken a great deal about the need to improve the accountability of the police. We feel that the local community, including local businesses as well as the wider public, need to have a much increased role in the behaviour of the police force that is intended to protect them. My noble friend Lord Patten has spoken of his wish to see police authorities replaced with directly elected commissioners. My party adopts that policy.
I was pleased to see in the Green Paper From the Neighbourhood to the National, which addresses the Flanagan and Casey reports, the headings of empowering citizens and professionalising and freeing up the police.
In another place, the Minister made the usual Labour accusation that the Conservatives desire to be fiscally responsible means that we are planning to cut thousands of police officers. Of course this is nonsense; we are actually planning to cut thousands of metres of red tapesomething the Government are perfectly aware could be done, if only they put their mind to it, as their own figures show. The Home Office budget must not be wasted on management consultants; nor must police officer man-hours be wasted on form-filling, a point that has been gone into in some detail by my noble friend Lord Sheikh.
Of course, we are pleased to see the new duty in Clause 1, although it is not as much as we had hoped. However, we have concerns about the new statutory nature of ACPO. At Second Reading in another place, my honourable friend Chris Grayling referred to the role of ACPO. He asked:
Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers, or a professional association protecting senior officers interests? Is it a national policing agency, or is it a pressure group arguing for greater police powers?.[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/09; col. 528.]
Similarly, although we are pleased to see the Government taking steps to encourage collaboration between forces, we are disappointed by their continual failure to address the burden of bureaucracy about which I have just spoken.
On Part 2, I completely agree with noble Lords who have shown their concern at the growing number of women and children trafficked into prostitution in this country. More must be done to punish those benefiting from this disgusting trade, and those being exploited must be rescued. Once again, however, we are presented not with a comprehensive set of measures which will make a genuine difference to those who are suffering but with a policy that has run into such controversy that the Government have already been forced to make similar changes to their initial proposals and are likely to have to make several more before the Bill's proceedings are completed.
We are particularly glad that the Bill contains a much more precise definition of what being controlled for gain comprises and the associated question of strict liability. There are, as your Lordships have mentioned, other concerns about the implementation of this offence. For one, the penalty seems extraordinarily low for the crimea point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The Bill's other provisions will also need to be looked at carefully to ensure that they do not have the unintended consequence of driving women on to the street or of discouraging children from seeking the help that they need.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich pointed out that one criticism of Part 2 could be that there is a tendency to resort to further legislation as a solution to the age-old problems posed by prostitution. Surely we must look for more imaginative and community-based solutions, a subject to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has given such thoughtful consideration. I must pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for his very thoughtful intervention on the whole question of prostitution.
I shall not say much about Part 3 except that the interventions of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lord Patten on alcohol-related behaviour have just highlighted the expertise in this House on the subject of how to address it. The issue will need to be further fleshed out in Committee, and we shall take a large part in that.
As I and my noble friend said, the Government have missed yet another opportunity to implement genuinely effective policies in these areas. As my noble friend said, we are again being presented with a patchwork of disparate measures. However, I am sure that the House will seek to exercise its customary role to scrutinise and improve the legislation, possibly in the pious hope that this Bill will not need the improvements and adjustments in the future that it is in fact making to previous legislation. Not for the first time, we shall seek to insert in the later stages of the Bill the most important of the provisions that the Government have left out.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, this debate has, as usual, been very constructive, and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I have to say as a relative newcomer to this House that I agree with a number of the speakers. I am surprised at how little time seems to be given to some legislation in the other place. It is a very important function of this place to provide some. I am glad that we can give these Bills more time and look at them in great detail. Todays contributions have already demonstrated the remarkable depth of knowledge in a number of areas. It is important that we can take these matters into account. It is also not surprising that there have been all these inputs because the Bill is important and wide-ranging. The Bill has been called a hotchpotch but, as I said, it contains different and important provisions. As has been highlighted, we will go into some of them in great deal in Committee and on Report. I welcome that. It is important that it should happen.
Before going any further I should mention that my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate talked about the complexity of policing now. I think that all noble Lords would agree that we have the most remarkable police force. One can always highlight problems here, there and everywhere, but we are supported by the most remarkable police force. I think that we all have nothing but admiration for the vast majority of them and the amazingly difficult job they do, which is increasingly difficult in this modern age.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, ran through a number of issues which other speakers covered later. She expressed nervousness about the issue of gangs, gang-related activity and the fact that the Bill provides for a civil order. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, said from his experience of talking to the Americans that civil orders work well against gangs. When I travel round the country talking to local authorities and local groups I find that some local people regard ASBOs, which are similar to civil orders, as very successful.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|