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Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:37 pm on 29th October 2013.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 8:37 pm, 29th October 2013

My Lords, I thank and congratulate the Minister on the illuminating tour he took us on of the Christmas tree that this Bill is, shining his torch on the various baubles hanging on it. Some of them were pretty, some less so. Many of us would agree, frankly, that there is much too much legislation. The Home Office plays its part in that. Very often, of course, these are pieces of legislation brought in to correct defects in previous legislation.

I always remember that when I first arrived here in the days of the John Major Government, the Home Office had persuaded the Government to bring in a Bill, which became a law, saying that judges were no longer allowed to take account of previous offences for which people had served a sentence. This astonishing idea actually got through. It did not last very long. Of course, it was removed. Now we have had the devastating dissection of the drafting defects of this Bill from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. We have a Bill that could be argued as having at least 10 separate Bills contained in it. I am not very good at arithmetic, but to be told that we have five hours for Second Reading will mean, it seems to me, not much more than a half hour Second Reading per Bill.

That may have been agreed between the usual channels. I hope that the usual channels will be more realistic when it comes to Committee stage. We must start to scrutinise these Bills carefully and properly. We cannot go on like this. The House of Commons has no hope of doing so, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, with the combination of the guillotine and a standing committee which is appointed and cannot bring in particular experts. All these subjects in this Bill are much too important to be sloshed through in such a sloppy manner, as is inclined to happen.

I propose to talk a little about Part 1 and to make a suggestion which I hope will help the Government, and which I hope that my noble friend might look kindly upon, regarding anti-social behaviour. I noticed with interest that in the useful publication which we were given, Reform of Anti-Social Behaviour Powers: Draft Guidance for Frontline Professionals—I was rather flattered to be given a copy of that—the first example of this behaviour was littering. It happens that I introduced to your Lordships a Bill on litter, the Littering from Vehicles Bill, which is still with us. It had its Second Reading on 19 July, when 10 Members of your Lordships’ House took part. All supported it, except the Minister. As a matter of interest, I wonder whether littering came into my noble friend’s 2.2 million anti-social behaviour incidents. I do not think that it can have done because you would have to multiply that figure by about 100. At any rate, the Bill clearly covers litter.

I suggest that the main point in my Bill should be incorporated into this Bill. That point was to introduce,

“a civil penalty for littering from vehicles”,

to make,

“the registered keeper of the vehicle”,

from which the litter was thrown the automatic recipient of the penalty. That would be a change in two respects. First, it moves it from being a criminal offence to a civil offence and, secondly, it greatly simplifies something which in the past has proved unworkable. I was therefore rather disappointed to have a very long letter from my noble friend Lord de Mauley, giving me all the reasons which the civil servants had put forward as to why my Bill was not acceptable. Unfortunately, different people had obviously put different reasons and although those reasons were self-contradictory, they appeared in the same letter.

First, the letter says that the change clearly raises questions of proportionality and civil liberties in its suggestion to make littering something where the keeper is responsible, as he is for parking a vehicle. That is apparently seen as an infringement of civil liberties and proportionality, and was therefore regarded as being much too drastic. Then we have a great thing, which I rather agree with, regarding anti-social behaviour,

“which demonstrates a basic disrespect for the community and the local environment”.

There is one other wonderful bit of it. Regarding keeping the charges as criminal, the letter points out that,

“unspent criminal convictions, including those for littering, will also of course show up on any criminal record check carried out by a prospective employer and must be declared when applying for a visa to travel to certain countries”.

I am not sure that littering is necessarily dealt with by such severity.

The example and the lesson in all this is that when you have something that needs doing, you do it as simply as possible and at as low a level as possible. You do not make things criminal when they do not need to be. The system of criminal offences does not actually work—it is a great pity—because the criminal law requires you to know who has thrown the litter from the vehicle, which people are not prepared to own up to. Nothing can therefore be done and there are no convictions. This is an example where, in a very small way, I would add one little bauble to the Christmas tree, which I hope might be well received.

I do not want to go on very long but I must say one word about the police, because this is so serious. I wonder whether the leaders of the police, particularly the Police Federation, realise just what damage is done by the lack of integrity illustrated by some of the recent incidents. It is about not just public confidence but, I suspect, the willingness of juries to convict on police evidence. I am not a lawyer, but there are plenty here who will say whether I am right. I am glad to say that we had an excellent maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Paddick, who clearly also feels that the present arrangements are unsatisfactory.

I was appalled that the Commissioner of the Met should have agreed, let alone proposed, that the Met should itself investigate the plebgate affair. The public will ask, “What hope have I, if the police can stitch up a Cabinet Minister?”. I am a great supporter of the police and crime commissioners, and I hope that they will take on board, as one of their most important duties, the need to do what they can to improve the integrity of police forces.