Second Reading

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 8:15 pm, 29th March 2010

My Lords, since Parliament is soon to be dissolved, the Bill will not provide us with many days of sitting here, sometimes until late at night, pressing the Minister on the various clauses and engaging in spirited debate with him. That has been a most enjoyable activity, which we have engaged in, on and off, since 2007-it seems longer-when the noble Lord first joined this House and became a Home Office Minister. It is much to be regretted that that opportunity of many days and nights of debate is to be denied us this time and perhaps-who knows?-for the foreseeable future.

It is also to be regretted that there will not be time for detailed consideration of each of the proposals before us tonight, as there is much to consider. The Bill comes up to the standard of earlier Bills, although I do not think that "up" is the word that I was seeking. As usual, some more imprisonable offences are created. It is not clear to me exactly how many will be created to add to the 1,472 created since 1997.

There are more civil orders, which are complicated and demanding of police time, when what is really needed are local arrangements in place and properly resourced to deal with the problem. There are changes to measures that have only just become law-gang injunctions, for example-and more attempts to deal with social problems through law enforcement measures, such as parenting orders for those facing ASBOs. There are measures relating to DNA, where the evidence to support the Government's proposals is deeply contested and obscure. To use the word "evidence" in this case is stretching its meaning considerably.

It is all rather business as usual. There are, of course, some measures greatly to be welcomed, such as compensation for victims of overseas terrorism, clamping down on car clampers, and measures on domestic violence. At this late stage, I will make only a few comments on those matters affecting children and young people and on gang injunctions on children as young as 14.

No one denies that there are young people caught up in gangs and involved, therefore, in violence. The question is how best to deal with that. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice is critical of these measures. I note that in the Public Bill Committee in the other place the Minister said that at that time-he was speaking on 9 February-not a single injunction on an adult had yet been made. Is that still the case and are we therefore extending a provision that has not so far been used anywhere? On this flimsy basis, the Government are proposing something that has the potential to be a stringent law enforcement measure in the life of a 14 year-old. We understand that the Government expect there to be 80 of these orders in the first year for under-18s.

The illogicality of taking this path becomes apparent when we consider the penalties for breaching the injunction. Normally when an injunction is breached, it is a contempt of court and dealt with accordingly, but apparently this will not work for under-18s, so something else has to be found. The "something else" is a supervision order or a detention order of not more than three months. Since this is not a criminal offence, though, the custodial establishments taking such young people will have to treat them as civil prisoners with separate rules and a separate regime. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that that is the case.

I have gone into a little detail on this matter simply to point out to the Minister that this is not the way to solve serious social problems. The criminal law is there for crime, while social and economic measures are there for social problems. Inserting a hybrid in the middle is not normally a good idea. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, made that clear to us earlier today.

Anti-social behaviour orders and parenting orders are another example. Parenting orders are to be imposed when a child breaches an ASBO. The court is going to try to make people good parents under threat of a sanction. Surely support should be delivered in such a way as to enable parents to co-operate, not to feel that they are criminals.

We can but hope that the long period that we have lived through in this House of trying to solve social problems though a mixture of law enforcement, new civil powers and some criminal law has now run its course. It has been a bad time for the rule of law and for social justice. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, expressed that thought better than I ever could in his splendid contribution, for which I thank him.