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Crime and Security Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Pedicabs Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:55 pm on 18th January 2010.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough 7:55 pm, 18th January 2010

This is a wide-ranging Bill, and I originally intended to speak about the provisions on wheel-clamping, as Tony Baldry just did, on antisocial behaviour orders and parenting orders, on DNA and fingerprinting and on gang-related violence. However, I must take this opportunity to refer to the provisions on domestic violence.

Mr. Malins earlier pointed out that domestic violence is often not physical. I would agree with that. The violence can be mental, emotional, psychological or sexual and will often originate not just in disputes between husbands and wives, partners and so on. Abuse can be against elders, and it can also be honour-related. Increasingly, we are seeing evidence of that in the courts.

The provisions in the Bill-this is all I want to say on this point, because a lot of what I was going to say has been brought to the attention of the House by my hon. Friend Mr. Flello -are firmly supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It is ACPO's firm view, as expressed in evidence to the Home Secretary:

"In many incidents, the victim is in no fit state, physically or emotionally, to make complicated and life-changing decisions regarding her safety, residence...and the well-being of her children at the time when the police are investigating an incident or offence."

It is quite clear that there are occasions when an individual is released without charge or without being placed on police bail, partly, sometimes, because the woman concerned-it is more often a woman than a man-is in no fit state to make decisions about whether to bring charges or to make the necessary decisions to react to the incident that she has just suffered. She needs the protection and time to make the necessary decisions on future steps to secure her safety and, more often than not, that of her children. I agree with ACPO and think that the provisions in the Bill are sensible. They represent an intermediate step that can help women, in particular, to deal with the situation in which they find themselves.

I want to refer to the wheel-clamping provisions. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Banbury said, but I would add that many drivers and motorists across the country would argue that it is not just wheel-clamping that is the problem, but private parking services per se. Many of my constituents complain to me that companies such as Excel-no doubt I will get another nasty threatening letter from that company as a result of this speech-fleece customers. Such companies' signage is appalling and they fine customers on the basis, sometimes, of parking slightly over a line in a parking space. The signage is so unclear that motorists do not know whether they have broken the rules or not, and the DVLA is passing on the information about these motorists to such companies. In addition, companies such as Excel offer no appeals process whatsoever when it comes to the penalty notices that they issue for so-called parking offences. I hope that the Bill can be extended to cover some of these issues. Problems with private parking provision are raised repeatedly in the media nowadays, and I hope that the Bill can be extended to do something about it. I would welcome the Minister's comments on this issue.

Let me move on to refer to the provisions in the Bill that deal with ASBOs and parenting orders. I support these provisions wholeheartedly. Many parents who find that their children end up in court to discuss whether an ASBO should be issued want to help their children but find that they are often not equipped to do so. Parenting orders are therefore an essential part of the ASBO package. There are parents who do not want any support or help in handling their children. They have a completely different attitude. For that reason, the provisions in the Bill are welcome. We need to focus in the immediate future on that hard core of parents who do not care about the impact of their children on the local community. I welcome the Home Secretary's prioritisation of that.

Parents who want to help their children keep out of trouble and stay on the straight and narrow are best helped before their children end up in trouble. The Government have done a great deal to pilot initiatives in schools in order to involve parents in their children's education-for example, through home to school liaison officers and support for adults in schools, helping them to deal with their own literacy problems and involving them in the education of their children. However, much of that piloting has not been mainstreamed, usually because the funding has been ring-fenced or temporary, and there has not been a proper evaluation of the effectiveness of such interventions and the mainstreaming of parenting support in the education system.

The provisions need to be matched by a serious analysis of how best we can support parenting within the education system. That is the best place for intervening with parents and helping them to support their children. Sure Start is based on that principle, and I am convinced that we should see that throughout the primary system and the secondary system, wherever necessary.

On the DNA provisions, I agree with hon. Members who have expressed grave concerns about the Government's movement on the European Court of Human Rights judgment. The Government have not gone far enough in responding to the judgment. For me, the very articulate speech from David Davis, who is no longer in his place, summarised the range of reasons why the Government have not gone far enough in implementing that judgment.

Someone who is innocent is innocent. I accept, however, that within the large pool of people who have been arrested for various offences there is a degree of complexity that makes it difficult to argue that one kind of person arrested is the same as another, so I disagree with the Liberal Democrat position. We need to examine more carefully the massive range of complexities involved in the pool of people who have been arrested by the police and released without charge, charged with an offence and found not guilty in court, and so on.

A young girl caught shoplifting at 13 is often taken into police custody, given the fright of her life and released without charge, with a caution, precisely because the police do not want to criminalise that young woman. At that stage, the police's view is that the experience of being arrested and put in a police cell will, more often than not, probably be enough to put that girl on to the straight and narrow. That, together with a strict word with the parents, is often seen to be the means by which the police can avoid turning her into a convict and putting her on a path to criminality in the long term.

It is a contradiction, therefore, to say that that young woman's DNA should be taken and kept on the database for X years on the basis that her arrest means that she is more likely to commit an extremely violent and serious offence in the future. The Government's argument does not relate to whether an individual who has been arrested once is likely to be arrested for a minor offence in the future-another disorder offence or another drink driving offence. The arguments have been about rape, murder and the most serious forms of physical violence.

In some cases DNA is taken from people who have been given fixed penalty notices for extremely minor offences that are not even recordable or arrestable. I find it appalling that it can be assumed that such people, or the vast majority of those who have had their DNA taken because they shoplifted as a 13-year-old, are far more likely than the general population to commit an extremely serious crime in the future. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden was right to say that often people find themselves on the receiving end of a demand for DNA because they have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The building of the DNA database has often been incredibly random.

Members in the Chamber will know that I am not given to opposing the Government at every twist and turn. It is not my way of doing business, but on this issue I do not think the Government have gone far enough. That does not mean, however, that I will vote against Second Reading tonight, or even abstain. The Government have moved to some degree to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment and should be given the chance to respond in Committee and on Report and Third Reading on this important part of the Bill. I will push the Government for a fuller implementation of the judgment that takes account of the complexities of the issue more clearly, but that does not mean that I want to jeopardise the other provisions in the Bill on account of that one disagreement. In that, perhaps, I differ from some of those who have spoken in the Chamber today.

Finally, the provisions on gang-related violence have hardly been mentioned in the debate, but I consider them extremely important. I support wholeheartedly the extension of the provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 to a younger age group-specifically, the 14-to-18 age group. The problem is not new. From what we read in the media, most people would believe that gang-related violence is a symptom of the new millennium, but that is clearly not case. Mention gang-related violence to anybody over the age of 70 or 80 in Sheffield, and they will quiver with fear and talk about the Mooneys, one of the most dangerous gangs ever to have operated in the city of Sheffield, especially in Sheffield, Attercliffe. That does not mean that my hon. Friend Mr. Betts has to deal now with a problem on a similar scale. He does not.

We have had gang-related violence in the past. Sheffield had it in the 1930s and London in the 1950s and 60s. It is not a new problem. Such violence is not related to the use of guns or knives. It is an age-old problem, but we need to deal with it. The emergence of postcode gangs is a new development and an extension of the old form of gang warfare which I find particularly worrying. The use of the internet and mobile phones makes it so much easier for such gangs to organise. I do not know whether any hon. Member in the Chamber has had a good look at some of the internet sites of postcode gangs. They are terrifying. One sees very young individuals, typically aged 12 upwards, in balaclavas and uniforms, handling what look like terrifying weapons-guns, knives and so on. More often than not, we see cannabis leaves and cannabis on those websites. I have raised the matter with the local police, and they point out the problem that one cannot prove that what is being smoked in video clips on such sites is genuinely cannabis, or that the guns and knives are anything other than replicas. The situation is very difficult, but my point is that those sites are meant to intimidate and terrorise, and they exist throughout the city of Sheffield. The S3 and S4 gangs are particularly difficult, and we have had gun-related gang killings in Sheffield. One case went to Crown court recently, and it resulted in long life sentences for two or three individuals. There are gangs in S6 and S12, too. Whatever the postcode in Sheffield, there is likely to be a gang attached to it.

We need to do something about that problem, because it absolutely terrifies the communities that make up cities such as Sheffield. When I was a councillor in Attercliffe, we had a problem with a gang that was peddling drugs and taking control of the neighbourhood. Tackling that problem took a partnership between the police, us councillors, and local residents, who had to be given the confidence to gather the necessary information to nail the gang leaders. But we reached the point whereby news about a private meeting that had been called to discuss the issue got out to the local community, and we ended up with almost 100 people in the hall. They did not care that the meeting was private; they turned up because they wanted to discuss the issue. It had become so serious that their lives were being seriously hindered and hampered by the behaviour of that gang of young people, who were led by the children of one family-peddling drugs and causing havoc. I therefore stress the need for such partnerships, which involve elected representatives, to deal with those issues.

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