Violent Crime Reduction Bill

– in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 25th October 2006.

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Read a third time.

Clause 45 [Power to search school pupils for weapons]:

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 6:33 pm, 25th October 2006

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 46, line 4, leave out "may" and insert "must"

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. The amendments simply ask the Government to provide further clarification about issues we touched on in Committee and on Report. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, to our proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has done sterling service throughout all previous stages, so I wait with bated breath to see why we have been targeted by a Minister of State as well.

I hope my amendments will give the Minister the opportunity to carry out his commitment given at col. 620 on Report. Clause 45 introduces a power to search school pupils for weapons. We have made it clear that we support that measure. Paragraph 312 of the Explanatory Notes states that,

"in the case of maintained schools (which carry out a public function), there is an obligation to act compatibly with Convention rights and schools will be given guidance on how to ensure that searches are carried out compatibly with Convention rights".

In Committee, I tabled an amendment to probe what kind of guidance would be given by the Government regarding how searches would be carried out and what training would be required. In particular, I asked what training would be given in schools to those carrying out the searches to ensure that the search was carried out in an appropriate manner.

In practice, the Minister did not respond to that question, perhaps simply because my amendment was at that stage grouped with a number of government amendments that had already been spoken to by him. In so doing he referred at col. 637 on 22 May to the fact that guidelines would be issued. The problem was that we did not obtain any further information about precisely what those guidelines might address. That debate was five months ago. Since then concern has been expressed particularly over the past two weeks about the wearing of veils in schools and elsewhere. I therefore felt that it was only right to give the Government the opportunity to put on record their view on the interpretation of the powers of search within that context.

On my reading of the Government's drafting, they have tried to cover the matter in the most sensible and sensitive way, but we need to be sure. Clause 45(5) permits a member of staff to require a pupil to remove outer clothing. Does that include the hijab? The subsection also states that the member of staff who carries out the search of the pupil while looking for weapons must be of same sex as the pupil and,

"may carry out the search only in the presence of another member of the staff who is also of the same sex as the pupil".

In my amendment I stipulate that the first member of staff must carry out the search only when the second member of the staff is the same sex as the pupil. I anticipate that the use of the word "may" in subsection (5)(c) is intended to have the same force as "must" in subsection (5)(b). I am puzzled why the terminology is different. It could lead those not used to parliamentary drafting to assume that a different objective is sought. I suspect that the objective is not different.

Amendment No. 2 gives the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance regarding how the search powers in subsection (5) may be carried out. In particular it allows the Secretary of State to specify what should be considered as outer clothing. It is therefore more targeted than the amendment I tabled in Committee, which covered the whole clause.

How will guidance regarding the searches be formulated? Will there be national guidance from the Secretary of State after consultation with schools, their governing bodies, local authorities, teachers' unions and professional associations, or will the guidance be provided by individual local authorities or schools? What progress have the Government made on this matter since the clause was published over a year ago in July 2005? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, I support the thinking behind Amendment No 1. It is a matter of English. If the Minister says in terms that a search may be carried out only in the presence of another member of staff, as a matter of English that is fair enough, but if there is a possibility of a search being carried out without another member of staff being present, that would be terribly wrong, from not only the point of view of protecting the pupil but that of protecting the teacher from false allegations. It would be very easy for a person who is carrying a weapon and who is discovered in flagrante delicto so doing to blame the teacher concerned and to suggest that there had been some impropriety, some planting of evidence or something of that sort. It is essential to have two people to carry out searches. I hope to hear the Minister agree.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, before I start I should return the compliment to the noble Baroness and say how much I have enjoyed her company on the Bill, and of course that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I greatly appreciate—I want this understood by all Members of the House—the constructive way we have had our debates on the many and varied issues that the Bill has raised. It has been a model of the way Bills should be considered and taken forward in the House. It has worked particularly well with some of the more practical, hard-nosed issues that we have had to consider.

These amendments, as set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, seek to alter the wording of the requirement that a member of staff must carry out a search only when another appropriate member of staff is present. They also seek to enable the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to issue guidance, and suggest that may in particular refer to who will conduct the search or be present during it, and the clothing that can be required to be removed.

Under subsection (5)(c) it is already a requirement of the search power that another member of staff of the same sex is present when a search is conducted. Therefore we would not seek any changes to the way that the requirement is expressed, as we believe the clause as currently drafted adequately meets the policy objective. It would not permit a search that is not carried out in the presence of another member of staff who is of the same sex as the pupil.

Noble Lords will be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills plans to issue guidance for schools, and that my department will issue guidance for attendance centres. Preliminary discussions took place this month with the working group on school security—which includes representatives from teacher unions, parent organisations, police representatives and others—and liaison is continuing with faith groups. Obviously, all comments will be taken into account and we will then consult fully on the draft guidance. That will include advice on staff training, on employers' duties to take reasonable steps to keep staff safe and on the importance of having insurance to cover any liability for injury in the course of employment.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me, but would the advice or guidance include the requirement to keep an occurrence book, so that everything is properly recorded? These are important interferences with liberty, and it is essential that they should be properly marked.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. Yes, it would certainly be my expectation that there would be a proper record of the events surrounding a search of that nature. It may also be helpful to say a little more on the planned scope of this guidance, which has already benefited extensively from suggestions from stakeholders—a term that, although I do not like it, we all understand. It will cover the context and practicalities—the sort of points that the noble Lord raised—and the consequences of searching. The context is likely to involve a school statement of policy, and options that staff should consider before embarking upon a search.

Practical aspects, to which I have already alluded, will include training for staff, the use of security firms, factors to take into account in suspicion, and being sensitive to issues of race, culture and religion arising from items of outer clothing—headgear, veils and so on. The consequences section will cover keeping records—the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas—informing parents and dealing with complaints. I hope it is clear from this that the guidance will be thorough. It is certainly our intention that it should be. If noble Lords feel that other things, which we have missed or not dealt with, should be put into the guidance, then we will be open to listening to those concerns as part of the consultation.

While it is unnecessary to detail the contents of the guidance in the Bill, since the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will be issuing guidance following what I hope noble Lords will now realise is a full consultation process, I can also assure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that we will note all issues raised during these debates and try to ensure thatthey are taken into account properly during the consultation process.

The guidance will be national and issued by the DfES. What is outer clothing is, apparently, a matter of law, but non-statutory guidance can give indications, and it will.

Questions such as, "Can a search ever be carried out in front of a male when a female is involved?" have been asked. Our guidance will certainly recommend that only in exceptional circumstances should a school allow more staff to be present at a search than the two who must be present, and that any other person present should be of the same sex as the pupil. I have now covered the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, unless there are other questions.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 6:45 pm, 25th October 2006

My Lords, a question that concerns me is whether this may take up a huge amount of time for the school staff. The Minister referred to using security firms. If using those firms is to become a regular matter of course—as it obviously has become in American schools—presumably that would mean staff do not have to be present. Or, if the security firm's staff is used for this security clearance, would there be one member of staff? How does the approach work in that case?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, it is difficult to be precise in answering each and every circumstance, but there would clearly have to bemuch negotiation involved in the employment or deployment of security staff. In any event, if firms of security staff are used, there will have to be compliance with the general principles of the process to which I referred. Points of detail like that are best left in guidance, but I am happy to respond to individual issues raised outside the terms of this debate. I hope that my comments have been generally helpful and constructive, as they are meant to be. I am certainly attempting to answer the noble Baroness's points in raising her useful amendment this evening.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I expected him to say that the "must" in subsection 5(b) was intended to mean the same as the "may ... only" in subsection 5(c), as that did look like an odd bit of drafting for those not perhaps used to the vicissitudes of this particular Bill.

I also agree with the Minister that it is useful to have the outline of what might be in guidance now; in this case, we certainly do not expect to see detailed guidance. Sometimes it is important to see what is in guidance before one progresses further, but as the Minister points out there are existing issues on guidance—both in statute, and non-statutory—upon which one hopes this consultation will build. However, it was right to raise today the sensitive issue of matters such as head-covering and what it comprises.

On the important issue of who is going to be present at a search—and what sex they should be—we had earlier discussions about how one defines a member of staff. I was pleased that the Government made amendments earlier, ensuring that they would be members of staff and not volunteers or just anybody who might be brought in to assist. So, there is a greater quality control over what kind of search is carried out. I appreciate the Minister saying that it might, on occasion, be necessary to have more than two persons present at a search. One might envisage a particularly healthy teenager overpowering two members of staff, and for the security of those present one might want more than two adults there. However, it is important that they fall within the parameters of the rules set down, both in the Bill and subsequently in guidance.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

moved Amendment No. 3:

Before Clause 59, insert the following new clause-

"RECORDING A CRIMINAL OFFENCE FOR PERSONAL GRATIFICATION

(1) It shall be an offence for any person intentionally to make an audio or visual recording of a criminal offence for the purpose of obtaining gratification for himself or another.

(2) It shall be an offence for any person to place on the internet an audio or visual recording made under subsection (1).

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable-

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both; (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years."

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3 I hope that our happy agreements are going to continue. I have tabled it to give the Government the opportunity to carry out a commitment that I learned of recently. It would create a new offence of recording a criminal offence for personal gratification—something otherwise known in the newspapers as "happy slapping".

Noble Lords will be all too well aware from those press reports that there has been much concern about the prevalence of a new sort of activity. People with ready access to a camera phone or smart-phone that can take still or video pictures can use them to record a criminal event. That usually involves a group, perhaps kicking, beating or sometimes even raping an individual. The pictures are then transmitted to others so that they can all have a good laugh at the victim and applaud the criminal. Often, the pictures are posted on the internet. To take the footage is a despicable way to behave. The whole purpose behind it is for people to enjoy watching—not to encourage others to commit the offence, which would obviously be a conspiracy—but simply for the person in some sick way to enjoy what they see.

Incidents reported in the press here have ranged from minor assaults to the killing of the Soho barman, David Morley, in a gang attack on the South Bank in London in October 2004—all recorded and circulated on mobile phones. I am aware that the mobile telecoms industry has put in place measures to assist in the prevention and detection of such behaviour. I am grateful to Aleyne Johnston, the government and public policy executive at Orange, for her very helpful and detailed briefing on these matters and for her support for my amendment.

The amendment introduces a new offence that would make it illegal for any person intentionally to make an audio or visual recording of a criminal offence for the purpose of obtaining gratification for himself or another. I am trying to ensure that those who record criminal events for the purposes of prosecuting them are not caught out by the new offence. I want to protect the police and journalists who take pictures and pass them on to police, using them in a perfectly laudable way. I also want to protect those quick-thinking members of the public—for example, those who were present at the horrendous events in London last summer—who take video footage or still pictures on their cameras and hand them over to the police. The pictures taken then were invaluable in backing up CCTV footage.

I intend to protect all those innocent applications of the use of mobile telephony to take pictures, while trying to target those who take pictures for a sickening purpose. I believe that the drafting ensures that only those who are seeking to obtain gratification for themselves or another would be committing an offence. Police, journalists and members of the public who take pictures for detection, prevention, solution or reporting of crime would not fall foul of the offence. They are clearly not seeking to obtain gratification for themselves or another. Neither are the police when they take videos of offences such as dangerous driving on the motorway and then allow them to be shown on TV. That is clearly for educational reasons—to deter others from committing offences.

I did not move my original amendment on Report, having debated it in Committee, because the Government indicated that they were not prepared to make any concessions on the matter. Although I felt strongly that my amendment was the right thing to do, I did not wish unnecessarily to take up the time of the House at that stage at a late hour. However, developments since Report have persuaded me that I should bring back my amendment on Third Reading, so that the Government can provide an explanation and clarification of comments made by the right honourable gentleman, Jack Straw, in Business Questions in another place just last Thursday. I have redrafted my original amendment so that it includes a new subsection (2) to respond to the specific point made by Mr Straw.

He was asked by Iain Wright, the Labour MP for Hartlepool, whether he would arrange for time to be given to a debate on YouTube. Mr Wright said that he was concerned about a posting on it from his constituency entitled, "Milton Road Fight Club". It shows a man being attacked in the street and kicked in the face until he is unconscious. Mr Wright said that he was worried that,

"acts of violence and instances of happy slapping recorded on mobile phones are being transferred to the web for wider consumption".

I entirely agree with him. Mr Wright went on to ask for a debate so that Members of another place could discuss how they might help to stop the problem.

Lo and behold, Mr Straw's response was to state that the Commons did not need time for a debate because it was already in the pipeline. He said that another place,

"will discuss the Violent Crime Reduction Bill during the next week, and I hope that he raises the matter in relation to an appropriate amendment. There is a very serious issue about how such videos should better be controlled".—[Hansard, Commons, 19/10/06; col. 1025.]

But, in Committee, the Government had already rejected my amendment to deal with happy slapping, so how on earth would another place have the opportunity to discuss that, unless the Government are minded to accept my amendment today? My new subsection (2) does exactly what Mr Straw hoped that his honourable friend Mr Wright would do: it makes it an offence for anyone to upload or place on the internet an audio or visual recording made for the purpose of obtaining gratification for himself or another. The word "gratification" already appears in legislation, but I understand from the Public Bill Office that the word "upload" does not yet. So, under its advice, I have used the words, "place on the internet".

Presumably, the Government will now accept my amendment, as I am only doing what the Leader of another place wants—what he asked his honourable friend to do as recently as last Thursday; what he obviously thought that the Home Office had already agreed should be an amendment to the Bill. Without my amendment, no debate can take place in the Commons when the Bill returns to another place next Monday. Let us help another place to have that debate. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, I share the condemnation of the noble Baroness of happy slapping, but I wonder whether her amendment is sufficiently tightly drawn. Obviously, what she has in mind is those who video rapes, muggings or fights outside a pub in which several men kick another man in the head while he is lying on the ground, and so on. In such cases, her amendment would be entirely justified, but there is no requirement in the amendment for the criminal offence to be a serious one. This may sound far-fetched, but suppose that a particularly unpleasant individual lived in a street who was disliked by all his neighbours and someone videoed him creeping out late at night to deposit illicit rubbish in someone else's recycling bin, or something like that, and all the neighbours got together to laugh at that individual's misdemeanours being revealed.

More pertinently, perhaps, what about, heaven forbid, another 9/11? Let us suppose that someone were to video an al-Qaeda plane crashing into a skyscraper on Canary Wharf and hand the video over to the police, assuming that no one else had videoed it. Surely, it would not be wrong for him to keep it to show to his family and friends time and time again, just as—whether or not it is right for them to do so—people enjoy seeing a replay of the 9/11 tragedy when planes crashed into skyscrapers. It may be wrong of them to do so, but I suggest that millions of people do. I fear that that would be automatically caught unless more discretion is given to the prosecuting authorities to ignore such things. Even if the video were handed over to the police for the purposes of trying to track down and prosecutethe individuals concerned, it would still be an offence for the person who took the video to keep it for the purposes of replaying it to his family and friends.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on bringing this idea forward in Committee and persisting with it at Third Reading, now that the Government have indicated their support for the basic idea. I, too, have some reservations about the drafting—I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for that. As drafted, it requires the prosecution to prove that the purpose of recording the criminal offence was to obtain gratification for the person making the recording or for the gratification of someone else. It would be better if a statutory defence were included, so that it was an offence for any person intentionally to make an audio or visual recording of a criminal offence and then, in subsection (2), for it to be a defence to show that it had been done for a legitimate reason—however that is expressed.

I am also concerned that we know about these things because the media publish them in a "shock, horror" way—"Look at what these people are doing!". At the same time, one wonders whether there is not a secondary purpose in the publication of material of that kind. Although I applaud how subsection (2) is drafted, in the traditional Liberal way, I wonder whether it goes far enough.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 7:00 pm, 25th October 2006

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her introduction to happy slapping, and I congratulate her on her persistence in raising the issue again and on her diligence in following matters in another place. I will deal with this and other issues in turn.

As the noble Baroness has explained, the amendment attempts to tackle the unsavoury practice of recording offences, often on a mobile phone,for personal gratification, and publishing those recordings on the internet. It is clear that the aim of the amendment is to create an offence to ensure that any person who participates in happy-slapping incidents can be prosecuted under the law. I think we all agree that incidents of happy slapping can be vicious and traumatic for the victim, and the Government condemn the practice entirely, as does everyone else. We are therefore naturally sympathetic to the aim of the amendment. However, we have already done quite a lot of work to investigate the issue, and we have sought views from other government departments and agencies since the noble Baroness first raised the issue quite properly in Committee. We have tried to focus on identifying whether there is a gap in the legislation and, although we sympathise with the objectives of the amendment, we remain sceptical that there is a need for a new offence of recording a criminal offence, as proposed in the amendment.

The noble Baroness's approach is not supported by ACPO or the CPS, which have told us that they know of no cases where prosecutions have failed or have not proceeded because of a gap in the law. There is already adequate criminal law to deal with anyone involved in an incident of happy slapping, and we are confident that any individual who is involved in such an incident in any way will be committing a criminal offence and will therefore be liable to be prosecuted for that offence.

Under subsection (1) of the amendment, a person who recorded a violent offence should be criminally liable, either because they also committed the offence being filmed, or because they were involved in the planning of the offence and so would be open to charges of conspiracy, incitement, or aiding and abetting, or were involved in a joint enterprise to commit the offence. I reiterate—noble Lords will already be aware of this—that a person does not have to make physical contact with the victim to commit what is an extremely serious criminal offence. Aiding, abetting or inciting an offence can be subject to the same penalties as committing the offence, and therefore an individual who does this can be dealt with as robustly as those directly involved. Moreover, happy slapping that is an element of a violent offence should be taken into account as an aggravating factor of that offence under current sentencing guidelines. This type of offence would usually involve three factors: planning, offenders operating in groups or gangs, and additional degradation of the victim. These factors would apply to all those committing the offence, not only to the person doing the filming.

Subsection (2) of the amendment relates to the newer offence of downloading on to the internet an audio or visual recording of a criminal offence. Under the current law, anyone who publishes material on the internet that is held to be obscene under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 is committing a criminal offence. It is also an offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 to transmit, by means of a public electronic communications network such as a mobile phone, images that are,

"grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

Material that is not caught by this legislation is widely available for the general public to see elsewhere, for example in the media and the entertainment industry, and is not subject to criminal law. In this sense, the issue under consideration goes far beyond images on the internet, and it would not be appropriate to legislate only against images on this medium.

I am afraid that the amendment also has some drafting difficulties that could render it unworkable. First, the amendment would make it an offence to record any criminal offence. By not restricting this to violent offences, we could be criminalising the recording of anything from a minor traffic infringement to much more serious crimes. The amendment would also require there to be intention before an offence is committed. However, it is not clear whether the intention relates solely to the filming of the act in question or to the filming of a criminal offence. In other words, it is not clear whether the person must know that the act they are filming for gratification is in fact a criminal offence.

Finally, the proposed offence would require the recording to be for the gratification of the individual or another person. Although there are currently 14 references to gratification in legislation, they all relate to sexual gratification. It is not clear what would be caught by the term "gratification". For example, it is not clear whether publishing such material for legitimate purposes—for example, as CCTV footage as part of the news or a "Crimewatch"-type programme, many of which can be viewed on the internet—would be for personal gratification, and whether or not gratification in this sense would be legitimate.

As noble Lords will be aware, many news and other television programmes or clips can now be viewed over the internet. Even if a defence along these lines were included, there would be significant evidential difficulties in, for example establishing whether the offence being uploaded was real or staged and, if staged, therefore not a criminal offence. It is true that many of us find certain material available on the internet distasteful. However, I should say for the record that the vast majority of the internet industry takes a responsible approach to the content that it hosts, both of its own volition and in co-operation with law enforcement and government agencies. Where the industry is advised that the content that it hosts contravenes legislation or its broader acceptable-use policy—many companies' policies provide for them to remove material that will cause distress to an individual—they will readily remove it. Any individual who is concerned about the contents of a particular website can approach the relevant internet service provider to ask it to remove either the site or some of the material hosted on it.

The Government accept the noble Baroness's concerns and, as I said at the outset, are sympathetic to the aim of the amendment. However, we are not convinced that there is a gap in current legislation. We do, of course, want to ensure that the law is enforced fully, consistently and robustly, and we think that by working with ACPO, the CPS and the Sentencing Guidelines Council we can ensure that the police, prosecutors and sentencers have the proper guidance to enable them to deal appropriately with incidents of happy slapping.

We also want to send out a clear message to children that incidents of happy slapping are abhorrent and will not be tolerated. We are therefore working with the Department for Education and Skills on how we can best educate young people, who are often the group exposed to incidents of happy slapping, about the seriousness of committing a criminal offence of assault and, indeed, about the seriousness of the penalties for crimes of this nature. I realise that this may be something of a disappointing response to the noble Baroness, although I have indicated our general support for what she is attempting to achieve; that is, to ensure that people are fully aware of the abhorrent nature of happy slapping and that the full force of the law can be used against them for perpetrating this appalling crime.

The noble Baroness made some salient points about my right honourable friend Jack Straw and his comments in another place. I have now looked at what he said. I think that the Leader of another place was making an observation in a way designed to be helpful, to assist his honourable friend Iain Wright, the Member for Hartlepool, in finding a venue to hold a lengthier discussion on the issue of YouTube. I think he said that he hoped that the issue would be raised with an appropriate amendment. In a sense we have done that and the noble Baroness has been helpful in that regard. My right honourable friend simply encouraged his honourable friend to use the opportunity of perhaps having an amendment to the Bill and perhaps returning it to another place for there to be a discussion. I do not think that he made a commitment or asked Iain Wright to do anything. It was just one of those moments when Jack Straw was trying to be helpful, as he is on many occasions.

I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the noble Baroness to discuss this issue further. I have tried to go through in detail the way we see the issue and how we feel it is best dealt with. In those terms, I hope that she has found my response useful.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, the noble Lord has now made much clearer the Government's objections than he was able to in Committee, and of course I understand that my drafting is not perfect. The noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Thomas of Gresford, were worried about how wide the offence would go and who it would capture. I was not in a position to explore these issues further on Report—I gave an explanation at the time, and therefore it was not possible to knock off the rough edges of the amendment. Given that, I offer it again to the House today, but in a slightly different form.

The Minister spoke of the drafting rather than the objective. He shares my aims and concerns, but has said that there is no gap in the current legislation. This is a matter that is abhorrent in nature. Happy slapping is not something that should be tolerated and it is clear that Jack Straw agrees. The Minister has said that his right honourable friend was trying to be helpful in another place. Well, he was helpful to me. It is one of those occasions when I shall remember his words very clearly indeed. The Minister is inviting me to believe that the Leader of the House of Commons does not understand the rules of amendments in lieu that proceed when we have exchanges between both Houses. The right honourable Jack Straw has been in Parliament for more years than me and has vastly more experience than I have now or ever could have, so I find that difficult to swallow. It is clear that Jack Straw believed that this Bill would be in another place and could be amended in such a way that Mr Wright would be able to table his amendment. If he did not believe that, he was misleading another place, and I do not believe that Jack Straw was doing that. I shall give him the opportunity to satisfy his honourable friends in another place. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 96; Not-Contents, 116.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Violent Crime Reduction Bill

Aye: 94 Members of the House of Lords

No: 114 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 63 [Removal of sports grounds etc. from private security industry regulation]:

Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour 7:23 pm, 25th October 2006

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 58, line 13, at end insert-

"(6A) An employee for a visiting team who engages in licensable conduct shall not be guilty of an offence under section 3 in respect of that conduct if-

(a) it is carried out in connection with the use of a certified sports ground or certified sports stand for purposes for which its safety certificate has effect; and (b) that visiting team is involved in the activities for which the ground is being used, or which the stand is being used to view.

( ) In subsection (6A) a reference to a person being an employee for a visiting team is a reference to his being a relevant employee in relation to the visitors' ground, or in relation to a certified sports stand contained in the visitors' premises."

Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour

My Lords, AmendmentNo. 4 and consequential Amendments Nos. 5 to 9 are designed to slightly change Clause 63, which was added on Report. This relatively small change is intended to clarify the effect of that amendment, and I regret that it was brought to my attention only after Report. The clause that I put forward was intended to ensure that in-house staff performing security activities would not have to be licensed by the SIA if they were working at a ground covered by the safety at sports grounds legislation.

I have been informed that the wording of the clause limits it to affect only those staff who work at their home sports grounds. It would not cover those sports security staff who sometimes accompany their club or team to work in other sports grounds. This minor amendment aims to meet the intended position of the original amendment. It will also remove from the remit of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 those in-house staff whose home ground is covered by the safety at sports grounds legislation and who accompany their team to play at another venue which is also covered by the safety at sports grounds legislation.

This will apply regardless of whether they are playing a single other team or participating in a group event, such as an athletics meeting where several other clubs are involved. It will also apply regardless of whether the sports ground they play at is the home ground of the club or team they are competing against. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Pendry for tabling this slight change to Clause 63, which he introduced so eloquently on Report. I am more than content that these amendments cover, and remove from the scope of the licensing requirements, those in-house sport security staff who from time to time accompany their clubs to other sports grounds, where both their home ground and the sports ground being visited are covered by sports safety legislation. This is a simple, practical addition to what is an important change to the legislation. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for agreeing to move these amendments, which we on the government Benches naturally accept.

Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very positive reply.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour

moved Amendments Nos. 5 to 9:

Page 58, line 14, leave out "subsection (6)" and insert "this section"

Page 58, line 21, leave out "subsection (6) the reference" and insert "this section a reference"

Page 58, line 28, leave out "subsection (6) the reference" and insert "this section a reference"

Page 59, line 8, leave out "and" .

Page 59, line 10, at end insert-

"'visiting team', in relation to a certified sports ground ('the home ground') or a certified sports stand contained in any premises ('the home premises') means a team which uses as its base, or as one of its bases, any premises which are either- (a) a certified sports ground which is not the home ground ('the visitors' ground'); or (b) premises which are not the home premises and which contain a certified sports stand ('the visitors' premises'); 'visitors' ground' and 'visitors' premises', in relation to a visiting team, have the meanings given by the previous definition."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 66 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

moved AmendmentNo. 10:

Page 59, line 31, at end insert-

"( ) No order may be made bringing into force sections 31 and 32 until the Secretary of State has presented to both Houses of Parliament the results of research demonstrating that air weapons used in the commission of offences are disproportionately those sold by way of trade or business by persons who are or may become registered firearms dealers, as distinct from sales between private persons; and that air weapons used in the commission of offences are disproportionately those sold by mail order or other remote transactions, as distinct from those sold by way of private sales (whether face-to-face or not)."

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

My Lords, I apologise for coming into the Chamber late. In moving this amendment I declare an interest as President of the Gun Trade Association and Chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council.

This amendment is the same as one I tabled at Report last week but did not move as I had been in touch with the Minister and had received a letter from him dated 11 October explaining the Government's position. I find the contents of that letter satisfactory. Yet, having since taken advice on the matter and bearing in mind the severe restriction to trade which the gun trade will suffer as a direct consequence of the Government's actions, I have tabled my amendment again in order to extract—I hope—the same response from the Minister, this time with the benefit of having it on the parliamentary record. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, I briefly rise to support my noble friend's amendment, to which I have added my name. I certainly understand and sympathise with the consternation of the reputable dealers in airguns across the country, both registered and unregistered, who find themselves faced with this restraint upon their trade after a consultation that took place some time ago, yet where we have still not seen the publications and analysis of the responses to that consultation.

My noble friend says that he simply seeks, onthe record, a statement of assurances that the Government have already been able to give in writing. My noble friend is right to do so because these are important matters. I am certainly pleased that they will be thereby resolved.

Can the Minister also respond to the point I put in Committee, which has so far gone unanswered? I asked whether the Government have taken into account the fact that not all air weapons have a specific number, so that it is more difficult to carry out any registration. I am aware that it could be advantageous for the trade were the Government to adopt a pragmatic approach of allowing registration by batches of sale. The Minister said that he would give "further thought" to that matter. What is the result of that further reflection?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for joining us in your Lordships' House today and for moving his amendment. It enables me to place on record my thanks to him not only for the diligent and courteous way in which he has conducted himself during the debates and in raising these questions and issues, but also for seeking clarification on behalf of the Gun Trade Association and lobby.

The amendment challenges the Government to justify the inclusion of Clauses 31 and 32 and to show that they will be effective in tackling air weapon misuse. I know that the Gun Trade Association unreservedly condemns the misuse of air weapons—as we all do—and has done much in the past to promulgate safe and responsible handling. However, although there has been some recent improvement in the situation, the level of misuse remains a matter of real concern. In 2004-05, there were 11,825 crimes in which air weapons were used, resulting in 1,502 cases of injury, including—sadly—143 serious injuries. Occasionally the use of air weapons results in fatal injury, as occurred in Glasgow last year when two year-old Andrew Morton was killed.

All of this adds up to what we all agree is an unacceptable situation. We pledged in our party's last manifesto that we would tighten the law on airguns. Clearly one way of doing this would be to make all air weapons subject to certification but we recognise that this would impose a considerable administrative burden on all concerned. We concluded that restricting the points of sale to responsible registered dealers would help tackle the problem at source and, in any event, be more proportionate in its effect on legitimate users.

The amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, seeks to establish whether the misuse of air weapons stems from those bought from retailers and by mail order or from weapons acquired through private sales. It also requires the Home Secretary to present research findings on this point to both Houses before the relevant clauses are brought into force. There are currently no comprehensive statistics, research or other studies on where offenders obtained their air weapons. Although it is very likely that some will have been obtained through private sales, I am equally sure that some will have come direct from retailers. I do not think this is generally disputed. Absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence and the Government do not propose to delay bringing into force these important measures while research is carried out. The results would, in any event, be largely academic as we want to tackle all air weapon misuse irrespective of where the gun was purchased.

Having said that, I understand the concerns about the impact of the clauses. As I made clear in Committee, we will work closely with the gun trade to ensure that the guidance on security and the requirements on keeping a register are kept proportionate. It will be open to existing sellers to apply to be registered and the fee of £150 works out at less than £1 a week, covering as it does a three-year period. Existing registered dealers will of course be able to continue to sell air weapons, with no charge to their business apart from a need to maintain a sales record and to conduct face-to-face transactions. We have already drafted Clause 32 in a way which minimises inconvenience to shooters in remote areas by allowing the final transfer of possession to be undertaken by a representative of the seller.

As well as bearing down on the present indiscriminate and anonymous sale of air weapons to unsuitable or under-age people in the way proposed, it will also be important to continue to tackle misuse through education and safety awareness and through the rigorous enforcement of existing offences. We believe that these measures, taken together, can only be good for the long-term future of the legitimate airgun industry if they succeed in tackling the present unacceptable levels of misuse.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for raising the question of the "batches" approach. I accept that not all air weapons have numbers and we have agreed with the gun trade that batch numbers will be sufficient in the absence of serial numbers. I hope that that assurance clears up that final point.

Again I am grateful to the noble Earl and I pay tribute to him for his diligence in this issue. No doubt if there are any loose ends that he wishes to see tidied up I am sure that we will be able to deal with that in the usual way through correspondence and so on. I shall be happy to speak to the noble Earl outside the Chamber if there are any other matters that are still unresolved. Having heard what I have said, I hope the noble Earl will now withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his comments; they have satisfied entirely my questions on this matter. I should like to put on record to the Minister and his department my thanks and the thanks of the Gun Trade Association and the British Shooting Sports Council and to express our appreciation of the assistance we gave been given, the dialogue that has gone on and the courteous manner in which the Minister has dealt with all the details and matters that I have raised during the course of the Bill. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, I rise to put on record that while the Bill has improved slightly as it has gone through the House it still retains some of the worst aspects of bureaucracy and may not deliver quite the benefits that the Government hope.

The Bill has been marked throughout its passage by the willingness of the Minister and all members of his Bill team to work with all the bodies which have a direct interest in how the Bill may be operated. We hope that, as a result, some of the regulations may be better prescribed than otherwise they might. I received today the notice of draft guidance on alcohol disorder zones. Although it arrived very late it was not too late for me to see it before this session and for it to be forwarded to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the British Retail Consortium. It is a measure of the constructive activity of the Bill team that has enabled the Bill to have a less rocky ride than some.

There is one small pebble in it that will return to us by way of exchange between the Houses in a week or two but, given the work that has been done behind the scenes, I do not anticipate at this stage any difficulty with that.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, I associate myself with the expressions delivered by the noble Baroness in relation to the Bill team and to the Minister's handling of the Bill. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the debate. I have made all my criticisms of the Bill and its mechanisms—I shall no doubt come back to them at a later time—but it would be churlish of me to repeat them now.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, that just leaves me to say thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for their courtesies and their conduct during the passage of the Bill. On behalf of the Bill team, I thank them for the co-operative spirit in which we have endeavoured to carry out the proceedings. With the exception of the one minor matter, on which I think we can reach a reasonable compromise as a result of exchanges between the two Houses, the Bill will have had a happy passage rather than a happy slapping.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.