Second Reading

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:37 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale - Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister 8:37 pm, 29th March 2010

My Lords, with this Bill we are in a somewhat weird position. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, regarded it as strange. To use an inelegant phrase that I learnt many years ago: same difference. Any Bill must have a Second Reading in the Second House to have any chance of getting on to the statute book. With no conventional Committee stage, possibly no Report stage at all and no conventional Third Reading, your Lordships are being denied your traditional role of scrutiny, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, pointed out, in favour of the so-called wash-up. This is certainly not a process favoured by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. Essentially, the wash-up is an agreement between the Government and the official Opposition.

Possibly like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, listening to and thinking about this Second Reading debate made me regret that I returned my 3D glasses after I went to the cinema a couple of weeks ago to see "Alice in Wonderland". The Minister will, no doubt, have retained his, given-as he admitted at Starred Questions last week-that he had been a Royal Navy gunnery officer. This is the last Home Office Bill before the imminent general election. I repeat: it will not have a conventional Committee stage at all. Neither the Minister nor I have the slightest idea of how much, if any, of it will get on to the statute book. For once in his life-at least in recent years-the Minister will have to do what he is told. Given that the final result of the Bill is above my pay grade and, I rather suspect, his, neither of us has the slightest idea whether it or any part of it will survive the wash-up. Doubtless, though, he has his suspicions about the fate of the retention of DNA provisions, which have been condemned by almost every speaker in your Lordships' House this evening, with the notable exception of two. My noble friend Lady Neville-Jones dealt with our attitude to these and I will not repeat what she said. Suffice it to note that both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and your Lordships' Constitutional Committee doubt whether Clauses 14 to 21 really are Human-Rights-Act-proof. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I share that doubt.

It used to be said that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Today, I am afraid we have lies, damned lies and Government pronouncements on Conservative policies. I was surprised by the Minister of all people falling into this trap by suggesting that our policy, which includes holding digitised samples in a sex case, would have prevented a rapist from being caught 12 years later. It would not. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln spoke of the presumption of guilt if your DNA is retained indefinitely. He is absolutely spot on. Such presumption will be likely if, for example, a foreign police force or Interpol interrogates the database.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Mackenzie of Framwellgate, what is possible is not always right or legal. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, elaborated on that point. We are entering into something of a legislative Wonderland with a rag-tag, pre-election Bill sweeping up the last gasps of a Home Office that for 13 years has been notoriously ineffective and at times staggeringly incompetent. I am grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in saying that, in order to create something for the Lord Chancellor's Ministry of Justice to do, it was necessary to raid the Home Office for suitable subjects. That is no doubt why we have this slide from the criminal to the civil-an example of disjointed government.

Stepping into this Bill, I feel like Alice as she fell into the rabbit hole, having to take in an assortment of proposals from car-clamping to mobile phones in prisons, from domestic violence to the sale and supply of alcohol. I cannot quite remember whether it was the Mad Hatter or the March Hare who was endlessly late for an important date but this applies most pertinently to Clauses 42 to 44 on wheel-clamping. Moans about this have been around from the beginning of the Government's time in office. Wheel-clamping by unscrupulous firms rightly provokes great ire among motorists. While we recognise that clamping has a role to play in traffic management, we are pleased that the Government have finally decided to act on rogue clampers. I add my praises to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, we are pleased, too, that the Government have introduced new proposals to help victims of domestic violence. These so-called "Go" orders will allow the police to issue a domestic violence protection notice which could ban the alleged perpetrator from the neighbourhood for 48 hours and, if extended by a magistrate's court order, by up to four weeks. Noble Lords will note that my right honourable friend Theresa May has committed our party to working with others to do as much as we can for victims of domestic violence but we have worries about the operation of these new orders. The Minister will be aware that the charity Refuge has raised serious concerns. What provision will be made for those excluded from their homes? We have yet to hear what the Government are planning. Plainly they are not clear on this either, hence the sensible precaution of piloting these orders.

I regret that of less significance are the parenting orders in Clause 41. It is likely that these will apply to only a handful of families every year yet Ministers have trumpeted them as the new solution to anti-social behaviour. We need to take a thorough look at anti-social behaviour, its causes and its cures. After a decade of initiatives, the Government are doing no more than putting a plaster on a festering wound.

Clauses 34 to 39 extent the yet-to-be-enacted provisions of last year's Policing and Crime Act so that 14 year-olds may now receive injunctions for gang-related violence. My honourable friend James Brokenshire pointed out in another place that,

"the youth gang injunctions import a whole new concept-the concept of the civil courts having sanctions, including youth custody, which was previously reserved for the youth courts. That is intended to be tested not through legislation, but through a pilot".-[Hansard, Commons, 8/3/10; col. 117.]

That is another new idea, another pilot, but it misses the point.

I agree with those noble Lords who said that the police need to be freed up and given powers to deal immediately and effectively with the gang incidents which increasingly blight our towns and cities. That is why stop-and-search powers are, I regret, needed. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the reporting should be restricted to vital information. I very much regret that we have reached the point where one piece of such vital information is ethnicity-but that is, I regret, necessary. We have almost reached the point where a clip round the ear from a policeman should absolve the latter from prosecution for assault. Perhaps that would help instil into 14 to 18 year-olds the rules that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, spoke about.

We see the sticking plaster out again with the air gun and alcohol provisions, referred to by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury. It will now be an offence to fail to take precautions to prevent a minor gaining access to air weapons. That is well and good, but what constitutes a reasonable precaution? The Bill is silent. It is also silent about the real problem-guns that fire live ammunition. The Government seem to have thrown their hands up at that; it will be a new Parliament and a new Government who deal with that scourge. Why, as my noble friend asked, do the Government not wait for the Violent Crime Reduction Act to bed down before deciding that it is not working satisfactorily? The old tag, piling Pelion on Ossa, springs to mind.

There is, too, the notable omission of anything to deal with knife crime, which we are told is much more prevalent. I suppose that the Minister will say that they have dealt with that. The Tackling Knives action plan channelled £7 million into 15 key areas. And what was the result? It did at least hold the numbers of 13 to 24 year olds admitted to hospital with violent assault injuries more or less steady; but outside these 15 areas, such admissions rose by 2.5 per cent. That was hardly a resounding success. We have been there, done that, and failed again. We cannot go on like that.

In Clause 55, there is a backtrack from the 24-hour drinking culture. Indeed, there never will be such a culture if the proposal to prevent the sale of alcohol between 3 am and 6 am is enacted. The much-hoped-for café culture has yet to arrive; but in the mean time those hoary old twins, easy access to alcohol, and crime and disorder, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, have skipped menacingly along. The Budget last week talked about taxing cider by alcoholic strength, rather than by product description, and we on this side of the House can see the logic of that. But why tax only cider, not beer, of which I should have thought more is sold?

"We done right", as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said, regarding Clauses 47 to 54, on his campaign of many years for victims of terrorism to be compensated in the same way that they would be if the offence were to be committed in this country. Over many years, I have seen campaigns of your Lordships' House reach the statute book more often than not. This is an example of that.

We are coming to the end of a debate on what is likely to be the last government Bill to be put before this dying Parliament. It contains some clauses to which we do not object and some which we should have preferred the Government to have kept to themselves. It seems to me, however, that most of the proposals in the Bill are necessary only because the policies enacted by this Government over the past 13 years have not amounted to much and have not solved the problems that they were designed for. We will be left with that legacy of a broken Britain, even as the Labour Administration fade from office, like the Cheshire Cat leaving only his self-satisfied grin behind.