My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, was confusing my name with my current state of mind. In 1977, when I was a police constable walking the streets of Holloway in north London, I never believed that I would ever come to say: “My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to address this important and, from where I am standing right now, rather daunting place”. I thank your Lordships most warmly for the welcome that has been extended to me and for the support and help that I have received, which I am sure I will continue to receive, thanks to the generosity of the Members and staff of this place.
Now there may be some who, not for the first time in my life, consider me to be either brave or foolish on this particular occasion for making my maiden speech the day after my introduction. Indeed, I recall the rather dubiously encouraging words of the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who, when he was my boss in the Metropolitan Police, said, “Brian, I like a man who takes a risk, provided it comes off”. However, I have some first-hand experience of the matters this Bill seeks to address, and I want to share some of that experience with your Lordships today. I am acutely aware of the conventions of the maiden speech, and while there are matters in the Bill that cause me some concern, on this occasion I will restrict myself to highlighting the positives.
My policing career spanned more than 30 years. During that time, I visited and dealt with the issues facing families on some of the most rundown council estates in London as well as the rich, the famous and the political elite. Those experiences have left me with the conviction that if everyone had a reasonable standard of living, a “living” rather than a “minimum” wage and a decent place to live that they could genuinely afford, there would be far less anti-social behaviour, far less crime and this country would be a far safer place for everyone.
In all that time, it was of great concern to me that anti-social behaviour was not always being addressed effectively. Many senior police officers, driven by centrally imposed targets, did not take the issue seriously enough and then latterly, albeit with the best of intentions, legislation blurred the distinction between the criminal and civil burden of proof. Senior police officers have to strike a difficult balance between giving priority to what some consider relatively minor offences that blight the lives of many people or concentrating on serious offences that affect relatively few. Where to focus time and resources is often a matter of professional judgment and, it must be said, this judgment sometimes goes awry.
However, there is no doubt that anti-social behaviour has very serious consequences for communities and, as we have heard this evening, individuals. What is more, when anti-social behaviour is allowed to continue unchecked, it is sadly all too common that those involved go on to be caught up in more serious crime. It is in the interest of the police, victims, communities and, indeed, the perpetrators themselves that we give police officers and other agencies the tools they need to tackle this behaviour.
As a Liberal Democrat, I also believe that we need to be responsive to the needs of our communities. That is why I am pleased that this Bill tries to ensure that the genuine concerns of decent people cannot be ignored by introducing a community trigger requiring action by local authorities, the police and others when anti-social behaviour occurs.
Although anti-social behaviour orders—ASBOs—helped to focus police attention, the fact that they were originally granted on the balance of probabilities but breaching them was a criminal offence undermined the safeguard in our judicial system that no one can be held to be a criminal, and perhaps even deprived of their liberty, unless their guilt is proved beyond all reasonable doubt. The Bill goes some way to addressing this concern through civil injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance without an automatic power of arrest if they are breached. Further, rather than simply imposing that injunction, the Bill proposes that the subject should be helped to comply and in the case of young people, that the local youth offending team is consulted. Providing this kind of positive support can help steer people away from negative behaviour and give them the direction they need to get on in life.
Another concern that I had as a senior police officer was that ASBOs were used in inappropriate cases, particularly those involving young people with underlying behavioural issues, such as hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder, which almost guaranteed their inappropriate criminalisation. Whether child or adult, the criminal behaviour orders proposed in this Bill when someone has been convicted of an offence can be granted only where it can be shown that the order will help to prevent reoffending.
Like my noble friend Lady Doocey, the other major issues in the Bill that I am particularly concerned about are the way in which the police are held to account and the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I have very serious concerns about the whole process of the investigation and prosecution of complaints of police misconduct which I believe from my own experience serve neither the public nor police officers well. Strengthening the powers of the IPCC, as proposed in the Bill, is a necessary step in the right direction, but I believe we need to go much further.
I will have more to say on another occasion, but I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to address your Lordships today. I hope always to be helpful, informative, and respectful, and if I fail on any count
I ask that your Lordships tell me directly. I promise that this former police officer will try his hardest not to get ideas above his station.