Second Reading

Part of Crime and Security Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:49 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism) 8:49 pm, 29th March 2010

My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate and your Lordships' thoughtful contributions have yet again demonstrated the impressive depth of knowledge in this House on a whole raft of important issues. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if in the time available I do not respond to all the points raised. I normally keep a note of how many questions I am asked, but I ran out of space on this occasion so I will not be able to cover them all.

I will start with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and a point which applies to a number of the issues here. Although people might dispute the British Crime Survey or have other disputes, there is no doubt whatever that there has been a dramatic reduction in crime since 1997. What is remarkable about that is that it was perceived wisdom up till then, and certainly from the war onwards, that crime would inexorably rise all the time. That was what everyone said it would do and there was no way of stopping that happening. Actually, we have stopped that happening, and that is an incredible success. Perhaps it is to do with some disjointed bits and pieces of legislation or all sorts of other things, but we have done it and it forms a backdrop to what we are talking about tonight.

The noble Baroness also touched on the business of mobile phones and the fact that they have not been allowed to be taken into prison for sometime. She is absolutely right about that, but it was not an offence to have one. The ways of getting phones in were quite remarkable so we needed that offence on the statute book. It makes absolute sense. We have also put in hand a mass of things to try and stop parts of phones like SIM cards getting into prisons, looking for example at where they are kept and how they get into prisons. People have to sit on a special chair which checks whether they have inserted these items into any part of their body. We have ways of identifying when a phone transmits. We put a lot of work into the science and technology strategy to be able to pinpoint to a matter of feet where a phone is when someone uses it. We have done a great deal here, but it is absolutely right that we should make this a crime, and therefore I do not apologise for that at all. The noble Baroness also asked about the legislation to bring terrorism stop and search provisions into conformance with the ECHR. We are seeking to appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and we will consider our response in the light of the outcome of that appeal.

On stop and search, there was talk about why information could not just be radioed into control. The stop and search record is an important safeguard if we are really going to monitor things-a number of speakers touched on this. By trying to do this it has been found that it takes longer to transfer these data this way than mobile data or manual form. We have looked into it and we are trying to find ways of doing these things better. It is absolutely right that we try to continue to reduce bureaucracy. We have been trying to do that and we have a reasonably good track record, certainly over the last three years or so.

In reference to DNA and people voluntarily going to a police station and ending up on the database, a person has to be arrested for a recordable offence before DNA can be taken; if they go voluntarily it is not kept. Also on DNA, I turn to the timescale for guidance to chief officers. The guidance is being developed at the moment and we will seek to introduce it as soon as possible. Although chief constables will still be responsible for the final decision, they must act in accordance with the guidance. We believe their discretion would be very heavily circumscribed. It would be a very bold chief constable who ignored that specific guidance.

Control orders were touched on by a number of other speakers. I know people do not like control orders-I do not think anyone would contest that. Indeed, I have said a number of times on the Floor of the House that when I came into post I did not particularly like them, and I looked in great detail at whether we had to keep them. It has been said that we would look at and review these after the election, and I think the other side of the House would do the same. But they are in existence, and it is right that if the police arrest someone they should be able to search them, particularly if this person is almost by definition extremely dangerous. It is absolutely right therefore that that should be done.

There was a bit of talk about muddled thinking. The quote that I think the noble Baroness was looking for related to the fact that the timing in the Scottish model was based on no research whatever. That is absolutely correct. As I said, the Scottish police were not at all happy about it, as they stated quite clearly. I think it is much better to look at this matter with some sort of evidence, and we have done that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, together with a number of other speakers, very kindly supported us on the provisions relating to domestic violence. She is absolutely right: this is a vile and appalling thing. It is something of which I was relatively unaware until I came into this post. I had not realised the immense scale of the violence and the huge damage that it does to so many people. It is quite horrifying, and therefore I am rather pleased that we are trying to move forward on it. Although we do not have details of exactly where the people who are moved out of their homes go, these provisions are based much more on the view that the people who have the violence done to them and their children should stay in the family home rather than the other way round. We will have to look at the detail but I think that we are approaching this issue in the right way.

There was also support for the provisions on compensation for attacks overseas. Although my noble friend Lord Brennan gave plaudits to a number of other people, he has done some remarkable work on this and we all thank him for it. It is definitely needed and I agree that perhaps we should see whether anything can be done retrospectively. However, one has to take things one step at a time.

The noble Baroness touched on the question of Clauses 47 to 54 being permissive. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, also referred to this and my noble friend Lord Brennan said that he thought it was pretty certain that we would implement this scheme. I think I can assure the House that we have every intention of establishing it, and it would be extraordinary to find that it did not move forward. However, I take the noble Baroness's point.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and a number of other speakers mentioned injunctions against gang members under the age of 18. When one looks at the recent case at Victoria Station and at other cases, one cannot help thinking how much better it might have been had these injunctions been in place so that one could have stopped the gangs meeting for their fight. That is what the injunctions are aimed at and, had that been the case, we would not now have a dead child and a murder case. Our criminal system is often extremely good at finding people guilty once there is a body but I would prefer to stop there being a body in the first place. That is one difficulty with attacking issues in this way.

Again on control orders, as I said, it is important that we allow the police to search people. I think that the noble Baroness also felt that to be the case, so I thank her for that.

With regard to DNA, the noble Baroness said that we had been knocked back and she asked whether we were confident that that would not be the case with our new proposals. As I said in my opening speech, I am confident about that; I believe that they are compliant. Much of this is based on judgment, and our judgment is that we have placed this issue at the right level. I admit that we have biased the proposal towards victims of crime but I consider that to be important. People do not need to worry about being on the DNA database, as that will not be on their record. No one really knows about it. If you are arrested, that is on your record and will become known during a CRB check, but the fact that you are on the DNA database absolutely will not. I do not believe that it is as huge an imposition as people might think, but I understand where people are coming from in that debate.

Clause 14 requires the police to delete the DNA of those who have been arrested in cases of mistaken identity. They have to do that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln raised that matter and I hope that my response has satisfied him. He also touched on the over-representation of BMEs-black and South Asian people. A number of other speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Sheikh and Lord Dholakia, touched on this. We are not at all complacent; it is a real problem. We must do more about it. We are trying to do something about it by developing tools to analyse the issue. However, it raises the point that when you need to take data for this analysis you inevitably have more bureaucracy. It is one of those balances. I have no easy answer. Under PSA 24 we have introduced targets for local criminal justice boards to analyse ethnic monitoring data but it is not good and it is not right. This imbalance should not exist and is very unsatisfactory. I was pleased that the right reverend Prelate thanked the Government for the work they have done on racial integration and care for the vulnerable, but it is an area in which we must do more.

My noble friend Lord Brennan gave huge plaudits for others but we understand how much he has done and thank him for that. The retrospective application that he spoke about is an issue I believe we need to look at. I was absolutely delighted when the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said he intended to talk only about matters that he knows about-I wish I could always say the same thing. Indeed that is what he did. He spoke for only two minutes which I found rather refreshing. To an extent I shared his point that people who have weapons and hold them correctly do normally understand the risks and dangers of them and I had some sympathy with what he was saying.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, talked about stop and search and again touched on the BME issue, pointing out what it is not in the Bill. It has been said by a number of people that the Bill is a hotchpotch, but if we had included some of these other things we would have had even more of a hotchpotch, although I would not have described it as that. You cannot have it both ways. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to me taking my uniform off and getting searched. I was stopped and searched in Birdcage Walk. When the officers realised who I was they said rapidly they did not want to continue but I told them that they must. The matter went from a constable up to an assistant commissioner in the course of the 20 minutes that we were talking. I therefore know exactly what it is like but I still take the point on the BME issue. I was very impressed that when the noble Baroness was stopped she had a limousine; I have something that I refer to as my up rated roller-skates as a ministerial car.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, spoke very eloquently about wheel clamping. We agree absolutely with her. It is something that we needed to get to grips with. It is easy to say it should have happened ages ago but it is sometimes quite difficult to find parliamentary time to get some things done quickly. I am very glad we are doing it now. It is awful. There was a particularly nasty and unpleasant case in Portsmouth, involving huge amounts of money and people who were very vulnerable. Clamping often involves old people who are visiting relatives. It is very unpleasant and I am pleased there is something in the Bill on this issue.

I was very pleased to have the support on the DNA issue of my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate. He has a great depth of knowledge-35 years or so-and I liked the way he spoke about DNA supporting justice by eliminating innocent people, which of course it does. It is very interesting that there have been a number of people on the sex offenders register who have volunteered to have their DNA on the database so that it quickly clears them when there is a nasty incident in their area. I thought that my noble friend spoke very convincingly and persuasively and I believe that the average man in the street thinks in that light as well.

My noble friend also talked about bureaucracy. As he said, a certain amount of paperwork is needed, but there is also a need to drive this down. I think that we all agree. I have some sympathy for his view of citizens who try to stop anti-social behaviour. I have had experience of incidents that were similar to the ones to which he referred. I stopped a young man who pulled out a knife and stuck it into the seat on the train. I had a bit of a confrontation with him and took the knife off him, but he then climbed off the train. It is quite tricky sometimes to know where one is placed, which is quite worrying, as my noble friend rightly says. It is difficult to judge how to handle the situation, particularly if you have your wife or someone with you when this is going on, and to judge how you will be handled as a result. I agree that this is something that we need to address.

The noble Lord, Lord Dear, touched on the wash-up. I have been here for only two and a half years, so I would be wary of condemning a procedure of this House or of the other place, because it is a procedure. Perhaps he is correct that it should be condemned. The Bill was introduced in the other place in November, so it has been running for some time, but I take his point about where we are now. A number of other speakers touched on that. The noble Lord seemed overall to support some of the other issues to which the Bill relates, but he is one of the people who does not feel that he can support the DNA element of the Bill. Some people say that they are willing to support storage for three years but not six years. Either you do not take DNA from people who have not been found guilty or you do, rather than arguing about keeping it for three years or six years. I find it quite difficult to see the logic of that.

My noble friend Lord Judd spoke eloquently about security. I particularly liked the fact that he thanked all those who often work 24 hours a day to protect the greatest human right that we all have: the right to life. He, as a couple of other speakers did, reminded me of the issue of the 42-day detention, for which I thank him. However, that issue allowed me to get an award from the Guinness Book of Records for the largest defeat in the House of Lords since the hereditary Peers system was changed. I got something out of that and look on it, rather as I do my Blue Peter badge, as some sort of accolade.

In my opening speech, I talked about DNA, the JCHR report and the Constitution Committee, so I do not intend to go over that again. I made clear the position as I see it and it would not be appropriate to go through it again now.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about bureaucracy and the BME issue, on which I have touched already. He was supportive of the domestic violence order but was concerned about some of the details. DVPOs are not a substitute for prosecution. Criminal prosecutions should continue to be brought when there is sufficient evidence. However, as the police and the groups who work on this say, in all too many cases it is quite difficult to get such evidence. I believe that we should be able to proceed against offenders, but normally that is the preferred route.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was, as usual, a stern critic of mine. I always look forward to her interjection in these debates and I will miss that after two and a half years. I will not go through all the points that she made, but she asked in particular about the status of young people who are subject to detention orders. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 sets out their status. It is correct that the position is different from that of young people who are detained under existing criminal legislation. This is appropriate, as the breach of a gang injunction is not a criminal offence, but I understand the noble Baroness's difficulty.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, rightly said that perception is important, but that is to do not so much with our legislation as with the media, more than anything. I can think of certain papers, which I sometimes look at, that almost run an agenda. Perhaps it is not an agenda but it is rather sad. They focus on dreadful things that have happened because dreadful things do happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, talked about a broken Britain. I do not accept that this is a broken Britain. I do a lot of work with cadet forces and I live in Hackney. It is still a marvellous country, which is why so many people want to be here. I am thinking about those people who say appalling and dreadful things about our country and want to destroy our way of life but, my goodness, as I have said before, when you try to get them out of this country to somewhere else, they stick like bloody limpets. No wonder, because it is a really nice country to be in. Anyway, perception is important and I am afraid that the perception is just beginning to match the reality, which is that there has been a reduction in crime. As I say, I do not believe that we are a broken society. That does not mean that there are not small pockets in this nation that are awful, that one feels desperately worried about and that we need to do something about. I just do not accept that it is all-pervasive around the whole country.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, touched on ASBOs. Where they are applied correctly, they work. I know this just from my own travelling around. In places where they are applied correctly, they work and the local people like them. A couple of noble Lords raised the issue of a total DNA database. As I made clear at the start, that is not appropriate or practical and we could not do it.

On the new licensing rules, I do not believe that we have done a U-turn, as we always said that we would keep this under review and that we would monitor the impact of the Act. Having reviewed it, we found that the introduction of the new rules has not led to widespread problems. Crime and alcohol consumption are down overall, but alcohol-related violence has increased in the early hours of the morning and some communities have seen a rise in disorder at that sort of time. Our main conclusion is that people are using the freedoms but that the local authorities are not sufficiently using the powers to make sure that the Act is enforced properly. It is not the total failure that some people seem to believe it is.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, gave a good overview of where he thought we stood. I do not wish to tell the noble Lord what his own party's policy is, but new Clause 1 tabled by Mr Brokenshire on Report in the other place would not allow the retention of DNA taken from a person who is cautioned. That is what I pointed out in the case I gave, where someone had been cautioned and that was when his DNA was taken, so that would not have happened. If that is not true, then I apologise unreservedly, but I understand that that is the proposal. The noble Lord was good enough to say that he thought that wheel clamping and domestic violence, barring some of the details of the provisions there, were valuable, as also is the compensation abroad. There are some good things in the Bill.

We have a very good record on gun violence. What is interesting is that we are discovering from intelligence now that criminals are finding it very hard to get hold of guns; indeed, we are finding that they only have one or two, which are passed around for a crime because there are so few of them. Therefore, we are being successful, but we need to keep that pressure on. In terms of knife crime, we have been more successful than the noble Lord would give us credit for. I do not want to quote figures, as clearly people do not much like figures, but there has been a considerable reduction in knife-related violence for all ages. The key one is a 33 per cent drop in knife-related homicides, from 81 to 54 cases, so we are achieving things in that area.

I have gone on long enough. Overall, I would only say that there are a number of important provisions in this Bill. A lot of them I have heard general support for: the compensation scheme for victims of terrorism and things like wheel clamping and domestic violence. There are other provisions where we are much further apart, and the DNA issue is one of the key ones there. Our position is clear-we believe our proposals on DNA are correct and strike the right balance, but I can understand where other people are coming from.

It is worth saying that one of the most widely welcomed aspects of our proposals is tucked away in Clause 14-namely, our proposal to destroy all biological samples within six months of their being taken, which is more than most countries do. That is important because the keeping of a biological sample is a real worry, when one looks at what can be done now in the high-tech world of biochemistry and so on. I remind noble Lords that if we do not get this into the wash-up, it is unlikely that the proposal to destroy those samples could survive.

I hope we can continue to work constructively on the Bill. I do not really understand the wash-up process either and so I wait with bated breath until next week. The measures we have introduced will build on our successes over the past 12 years. People might say it has been disjointed but, overall, we have, for the first time ever, driven down crime, and that is a huge success. The Crime and Security Bill will make our streets safer, protect some of the vulnerable and bring justice to victims of crime. Far from being out of steam with no clear focus, we have a very clear focus and other people have muddled thinking.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.