§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Madam Speaker
Before calling the Home Secretary, I should inform that House that, between 7 and 9 pm, Back-Bench speeches must be limited to 10 minutes.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill has a simple, practical ambition: to build a safer and more responsible society. My wish is that everyone should enjoy that most basic of human rights: the right to live life free from fear and free from crime.
I will spell out the provisions of the Bill in a moment, but first I want to speak of its roots. The Bill marks out the new approach to policy making by which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister transformed my party from one of opposition to one of government. The Bill represents a triumph of community politics over detached metropolitan elites.
In the early 1980s, my party lost its way, not least by failing to listen to those whom we claimed to represent, and by failing to learn from them. My right hon. Friend broke decisively with all that and ensured that our policy making would be inspired above all by our constituents. Among many other things, that led us to a serious examination of how to reverse the apparently inexorable rise in anti-social behaviour and teenage crime.
Some pioneering councils, working with the police, contributed to that new thinking. In Coventry, the city council developed new ways of tackling alcohol-related crime and neighbourhood disorder. In Wigan, the local authority and the police introduced a model partnership scheme to prevent crime and to reduce the fear of crime. In Northumbria, a community safety strategy has made huge strides, by tackling drug-related crime and helping victims. It has also led to significant reductions in recorded crime. There are many other examples across the country.
As shadow home affairs spokesman, I built on those ideas. I was struck by the degree to which the problems and experiences of my constituents had changed since I was first elected in 1979. Then, the great bulk of my constituency case work concerned housing complaints and social security, but that changed from the early 1990s. More and more people came to me complaining of intolerable anti-social behaviour, of harassment and of intimidation. Much of the trouble was caused by children and young people who were out of control. The criminal justice system appeared to be incapable of enforcing decent standards of public behaviour on children and adults alike.
In my Blackburn constituency a few years ago, five members of a family were arrested on more than 50 occasions for offences ranging from attempted robbery to burglary, theft, criminal damage and public disorder. Convictions resulted, but, despite them and despite being evicted twice by their public landlord, 371 the family, in the words of the local police, continued to terrorise local residents. I saw the results of the terror produced by that family.
On the Stoke Heath estate in Coventry, two brothers terrorised their neighbourhood. The city council commendably took action. After it made legal history by winning injunctions to exclude the two men from the estate, the quality of life for residents was restored. When I visited the estate, I saw that measured by the reduction in the number of voids—dwellings that had been left empty—on it. But the injunction was then quashed by a higher court, and the brothers were allowed to return. They caused mayhem yet again. The number of voids went up, as many people took the only action that they could take within the system—they moved from the area in which they had spent their lives.
In opposition, the views of colleagues in the House brought home to me the failures of the youth justice system. Three years ago, I wrote to every Labour Member of Parliament seeking their opinions on the youth justice system in their areas. I was stunned by the response. Every Member representing an English or a Welsh constituency who replied expressed dissatisfaction with that system of youth justice.
The Bill is therefore born out of the experience of our constituents, and out of their sense of frustration with the current criminal justice system. That frustration is shared by the police and by other dedicated and skilled professionals who are expected to solve the problems, but who have been hampered by a slow, inconsistent and ineffective system.
Our manifesto spelt out the need to modify and to modernise the criminal justice system to get it working effectively. The Bill is the first major step in that process. It begins our root-and-branch reform of the youth justice system, and it will establish new ways for agencies and communities to work together to support a safer, more responsible society. It will equip the criminal justice system overall, better to respond to disorder and to protect communities from sex offenders, from drug-misusing offenders and from racist thugs.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I warmly welcome the Bill, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the Cambridge United supporter who was allegedly observed chanting racist abuse and has been banned from attending football matches? Is he also aware that Cambridge United was unable to prosecute because he was chanting racial abuse alone, and not with a group of people? Apparently, that is not an offence. Is it possible to change the Bill to cope with such an offence, and does he plan to do so?
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The Home Secretary referred to the promises that Labour made in opposition. As he is talking about dates, may I ask him about the pledge that the time between the arrest and the 372 sentencing of young offenders would be halved? Can he give any date by which he hopes to meet that pledge? Will it be before 2001, or 2002?
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
As a lawyer with some experience of juvenile crime, I am very concerned about the abolition of the doli incapax rule. Given that it has stood us in good stead since the reign of Edward III, why has it suddenly become ripe for abolition?
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman makes my case for me. The concept of doli incapax was developed when the major sanction against children who offended was the death penalty. In the days when children were hanged for stealing sheep, it was probably wise for the courts to establish clearly that offenders knew that they had committed a flagrant offence, rather than being guilty of mere naughtiness. Now, the sanctions have changed entirely. Lawyers acting for offenders between the ages of 10 and 13 use the presumption of doli incapax—incapacity to commit evil—to run rings around the court system, and to avoid proper sanctions for young offenders.
Something else has changed since the reign of Edward III. I think that children now understand the difference between right and wrong at an earlier age. I believe—and I think my view is shared widely in the House—that children aged 10, 11, 12 and 13 know that when they take someone else's property, or assault someone, they are committing an offence for which they ought to be punished.
§ Mr. Straw
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will get on with my speech. I will take an intervention from him later.
This is a substantial Bill, with consistent themes running through it. It will end the culture of excuse that has infected so many offenders and their parents. It will shift the balance of power in communities from the anti-social and the criminal to the law-abiding majority. It will put the victim first, and it will ensure that offenders understand that even so-called petty crime has a victim. It will help to rebuild community life, and to tackle social exclusion.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
Does the Home Secretary think that the Bill will cut crime? If so, has he any idea by how much?
§ Mr. Straw
I hope that this Government will do significantly better over the next 18 years than the last Government did between 1979 and 1997. The purpose of the Bill is indeed to reduce crime and disorder, and I note—I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to say this—that the police think it will greatly assist their fight against crime.
373 The acting chief constable of West Yorkshire, Mr. Allan Charlesworth, wrote to me saying:The Crime and Disorder Bill should give us more teeth to confront the crimes on the Ravenscliffe Estate.That is an estate in Bradford which is afflicted by serious disorder. Mr. Charlesworth said:An increased focus on dealing with young people as citizens, victims and offenders will be extremely useful to us.
Mr. David Phillips, chief constable of Kent and chairman of the crime committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was reported in this morning's edition of The Daily Telegraph commenting on police efforts to combat violence. He said that those efforts were not always supported by the criminal justice system, and added thatnew measures in the Crime and Disorder Bill should help make an impact.
Part I of the Bill focuses on the prevention of crime and disorder. The police, local councils and other agencies must join in partnership to implement local strategies to reduce crime and disorder. There is also a long-overdue new remedy for communities that are ground down by the chronic bullying and harassment by a selfish minority to which I referred earlier. The anti-social behaviour order adapts traditional civil and criminal procedures to tackle that serious, persistent anti-social behaviour.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I particularly welcome what the Home Secretary said about changes to the doli incapax rule. Does he agree that one of the main concerns of magistrates in juvenile courts is their inability to deal with the most serious young offenders?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I practised for some years at the Bar in the west midlands, and I am familiar with the Stoke Heath estate in Coventry about which he spoke earlier. Does he appreciate that, on such estates, it is the extent of serious crimes such as robbery with violence and blackmail, as well as the serious house burglaries and muggings of the elderly, that causes the greatest concern to magistrates in juvenile courts?
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for this part of the measure and for his overall support. He is entirely right. He will have witnessed, as I witnessed when I sat in youth courts, persistent young offenders and, in some, although not all, cases, their lawyers running rings round the system and ensuring that the outcome reinforced the offending behaviour. The impression is built up that the youngster can get away with the crime. Rules such as doli incapax and the extraordinary rule in the Khan case, which insists that the first case involving a persistent offender should not be dealt with by the court until the last case in time is ready, create a moving target before the offender is dealt with. All those factors add up to a system that is replete with excuse, and that is what we are trying to get away from.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
As currently drafted, the Bill's anti-social behaviour provision, which I welcome, allows for an order to prohibit certain behaviour. Would my right hon. Friend consider accepting an amendment in Committee to allow orders to enforce an action to remove the cause of a nuisance? I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 374 1003, which has been signed by 152 hon. Members, and which calls for action on vindictive behaviour by people who grow monster hedges, or allow them to grow.
§ Mr. Straw
There was a sting in the tail and it turned out to be about 18 ft high. The anti-social behaviour order will tackle a great deal, but it is about anti-social behaviour, not about large hedges. I know that they cause problems, but, to some extent, they should be dealt with by planning legislation and by proceedings in the civil courts in terms of the law on nuisance.
I shall ask the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), to look carefully in Committee at the first part of my hon. Friend's point. I recognise that it is a serious matter, but I do not want to hold out a promise that cannot be met.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Further to the question by the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), may I ask whether it is true that much of the disorder that the Bill addresses will not have featured in the statistics because, until now, there has been no point in reporting some of the juvenile crime, as the legal system in incapable of dealing with it? Everyone knows that, including the police. The measures will make a big difference to the quality of people's lives, but they will not necessarily have a big impact on the statistics.
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is interesting that, in the previous period, although recorded crime went down, which is very welcome, disorder incidents logged by police at the point where calls were made to them—which is different from recording a specific offence—rose significantly. That is one of the reasons why the police greatly welcome the Bill: it deals with a huge area of bad behaviour that was not properly captured by the official crime statistics.
One of the most pernicious forms of crime is that motivated by racial hatred. New racially aggravated harassment, assault and public order offences will provide tougher penalties and greater protection for all our communities.
In the other place, we added a further new offence—that of racially aggravated criminal damage. That new offence sends a clear signal that we are determined to deal with criminals who not only damage property, but inspire fear and resentment with their hateful vandalism. The Bill will require courts to treat evidence of racial motivation or hostility as an aggravating factor in any other offence and to impose correspondingly higher penalties.
Nothing better illustrates the failures of our criminal justice system than the sight of young offenders committing crime after crime with, as we have all agreed, no effective intervention for months or even years. The Bill therefore includes measures to end unacceptable delays in the youth justice system, taking forward our pledge to halve the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked me what the time scale is. As with all our manifesto pledges, we will be judged on the time scale of a Parliament. When we first came into office, I first sought to discover how long it was taking to process a 375 persistent young offender. I could not find the answer because the previous Administration kept no figures about the time that it took.
Therefore, we first had to do a benchmarking exercise. At the beginning of the Parliament, it took 142 days to process a persistent young offender. We aim to get that down to 71 days. Enormous effort has already gone into that, and I am pleased that some areas have already made significant progress.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
Labour's pledge to halve the time was an effective election slogan. I think that the right hon. Gentleman now recognises that it is difficult to achieve and to tell exactly what time we are halving. Does he recognise, as I think he does, that we are dealing really with young offenders—they may be over or under 18—who commit 10, 20, 50, 100 or 150 offences in six months? How is he going, by that slightly artificial statistic creation, to show whether he is having an impact on that problem?
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should give us greater credit for what we committed ourselves to in the manifesto than simply describing it as an effective slogan. To the extent that it was an effective slogan, it was effective because it dealt with a serious defect in the criminal justice system.
We decided to highlight that commitment both because it is very important to halve the time that it takes to deal with persistent offenders, and to engage the whole criminal justice system and the practitioners within it in the need to reduce delays. I do not underestimate the difficulties in meeting that commitment and I am well aware that it will be a poor career move for me if I fail to do so, but I am on the case.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) raises the issue of spree offenders. Most areas have them. They may not have a record, so they do not come in the category of persistent offender for statistical purposes. We are determined that spree offenders should be fast tracked, but, because it is difficult to define them for statistical purposes, they will have to be identified locally. We are giving guidance to local organisations about how to do that.
The Bill will ensure earlier, more effective intervention to nip offending in the bud. It lays down that, for the first time, the principal aim of everyone working within the youth justice system will be to prevent offending by children and young people.
Child safety orders and powers for local authorities to establish local child curfews will protect children under 10 from being drawn into crime. The Bill reinforces the crucial role of parents. Parenting orders will help and support those who are genuinely trying to control their children's unacceptable behaviour. Sanctions will be available for the minority who stubbornly evade their parental responsibilities.
When children first offend, the response should be quick, firm and consistent. The Bill replaces cautioning for young people with a statutory final warning scheme. Warnings will normally be followed by intervention to tackle the causes of the youngster's offending. The Bill also makes young offenders properly responsible for their actions by the abolition of the legal fiction of doli incapax.
376 New reparation and action plan orders will bring young offenders face to face with the human consequences of their crimes and require them to make amends to their victims. Another defect of the current system, in addition to the delays, is that too often the young offender thinks that their crime has no victim, or that they are the victim and the person whom they robbed or assaulted has no feelings and that no regard should be paid to them. The Bill builds on the principles of restorative justice, benefiting victims as well as rehabilitating offenders.
§ Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
When dealing with part I of the Bill, the Home Secretary skipped over chapter II. Clause 23 is causing considerable concern to Shelter and others who think that depriving someone of their home after they have been imprisoned will not help with rehabilitation. They are concerned that the clause may be drawn too widely and will capture more crimes than was originally intended. Does the Home Secretary accept that it might have been more appropriate to introduce a separate Scottish Bill so that the specific Scottish concerns could have been dealt with separately?
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friend the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office is on the Front Bench with me. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that all aspects of the Bill that relate to Scotland have the full support of Ministers at the Scottish Office. The power that he has referred to is important. I want offenders to be rehabilitated, but first I want them to be stopped from committing crimes and disorder against ordinary members of the public. After the episodes in Coventry and in my constituency, the police and the local authorities could restore order and quality of life for the victims only by evicting the perpetrators and keeping them out of the area.
§ Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
My right hon. Friend has not referred specifically to clause 17. As a magistrate and a founder member of the North-West Leicestershire safer communities forum, I welcome the measures on anti-social behaviour and partnership with local authorities. Welcome as the innovations are, does my right hon. Friend accept that they need to be buttressed to help deal with town centre violence and disorder by further investment in closed circuit television camera systems and making it easier to introduce byelaws to prevent drinking on the streets? Those are two valuable measures for north-west Leicestershire.
§ Mr. Straw
I accept that although the Bill is comprehensive, it is not exclusive in providing answers to the problems of crime and disorder in our communities. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need for other crime prevention measures, which can include closed circuit television and bans on drinking alcohol on the street. Model clauses are available to local authorities.
The Bill sets a framework for agencies to deliver local youth justice services efficiently and effectively through youth offending teams. The new national Youth Justice Board will oversee the performance of the system. I should like the board to be established formally from 1 October if the Bill receives Royal Assent early enough. Subject to the Bill's being given a Second Reading today, the appointments process will begin shortly, in accordance with normal practice.
377 Drugs are at the root of much crime and disorder. The new drug treatment and testing order will help to break the vicious circle of drugs and crime. The order will permit regular mandatory drug testing of offenders as part of their community punishment.
All hon. Members realise that few crimes cause greater anxiety, anger and revulsion than sexual offences against children. We have acted swiftly to protect the public and to plug the legal gaps that were left in legislation by the previous Administration.
The new sex offender order will help to protect communities from known sex offenders who still pose a risk. A convicted paedophile could, for example, be barred from loitering outside a local primary school. If he broke the order, he would be liable to up to five years' imprisonment. An order, once in force, will be available to deal with any offenders, including those sentenced before implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.
The Bill also provides for extended supervision of sex and violent offenders after their release from prison—for up to 10 years for sex offenders, and for five years for violent offenders.
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's courtesy in giving way. My constituency lies in one of the electronic tagging pilot areas. Today, I had a telephone conversation with a young mother who was very concerned at media reports that the released paedophile Sidney Cooke might live in one of the electronic tagging pilot areas, which would include her area. Will the right hon. Gentleman reassure the House that, wherever Sidney Cooke goes to live, local police will take every action in their power to ensure public safety and particularly the safety of local children?
§ Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth)
The Bill currently time limits sentence extensions for some offences, at least in Scotland, to five years and 10 years. Has the Secretary of State considered allowing no time limit for extensions, at least in cases that are tried in the High Court in Scotland? I understand why cases tried in sheriff courts might be time limited, even if they are tried on indictment. However, perhaps we could allow extensions without limit of time in cases that are thought serious enough to be tried in the High Court.
§ Mr. Straw
As an English Member, I always hesitate to become involved in the intricacies of the Scottish legal system. However, I do not think that it is possible to extend supervision orders to life, as that would effectively make the orders life sentences—which are already available. Early in our Administration, I implemented section 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, which provides automatic life sentences for second-time repeat sexual offenders who commit serious sexual offences. I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office to deal with the point raised by the hon. Lady and to contact her about it.
I understand the widespread concern that the most serious and disturbed sex offenders should not be released from prison until it is safe to do so. However, as the 378 House will appreciate, it is a highly complex matter. Clearly, there is a need for action to close the current gap in the law, which does not adequately provide for offenders who are dangerous, but are not classified as being mentally disordered. I promise the House that we are working hard on precisely how we should deal with plugging that gap. I shall make an announcement to the House on the matter as soon as I am able to do so.
Our manifesto promised greater clarity and consistency in sentencing. Under the Bill, the Court of Appeal will produce sentencing guidelines better to inform its sentencing decisions. Its actions on the matter will be supported by a sentencing advisory panel.
In the other place, an amendment moved by Lord Ackner was passed on Third Reading, to establish a standing advisory council on criminal justice and the penal system. I have considered the proposal very carefully, and, in the light of that consideration, we shall seek to delete that provision in Committee. As I have already made clear, the Bill provides for a new sentencing advisory panel and a national Youth Justice Board. We have, therefore. concluded that another unfocused body would cause unnecessary duplication and significant delay in dealing with many of the problems of the criminal justice system. Delays in the criminal justice system waste money and cause huge frustration.
The previous Government commissioned a review of delays, known as the Narey review. The Bill implements many of Narey's recommendations, including greater powers for magistrates and justices' clerks to manage cases, and powers for Crown Prosecution Service administrators who are not lawyers to present straightforward guilty pleas in court.
§ Mr. Beith
The Home Secretary has corrunitted the most extraordinary twist of argument. He suggested that the existence of an advisory body would add to delays in the judicial process. How can the receipt by him of advice from such a body, the idea of which commanded widespread support in the other place, in any way contribute to delays between stages of the judicial process?
§ Mr. Straw
There are two separate points. Such a body would plainly not contribute to delays in the process of any one case, but there is no question but that it would cause considerable delay in the making of policy. That is one of the reasons why the old advisory council was abolished and more focused bodies were put in its place. The matter is for debate in Committee and, no doubt, on Report. The right hon. Gentleman will see in clause 1 the expectation that, before hon. Members and Ministers consider any issue requiring a policy change in criminal law, it will be referred to the standing advisory council. The old advisory council on the penal system took a very long time to consider issues and, typically, came to split recommendations, expressing two or three opinions in its reports.
It is one thing for Parliament to pass the Bill; it is another to ensure that it is implemented effectively. That is why we are working closely with practitioners to develop guidance on implementation, and why many of the provisions will be piloted.
In our manifesto, we promised a new approach to law and order: tough on crime and tough on its causes. The approach is overwhelmingly backed by the British 379 people. I am delighted that the Bill will deliver no fewer than 12 of the promises that we made, including the pledge to speed up justice for persistent young offenders.
§ Mr. Straw
I will not.
Throughout the rest of the Parliament, we will build on the foundations laid by the Bill. In particular, we will bring forward further measures to modernise the criminal justice system, help the victims of crime, protect communities from sex offenders and improve the performance and operation of youth courts. The Bill will make a real difference to the quality of life of people in this country. It will equip the criminal justice system better to serve and protect the public. It will help to restore the self-confidence of communities to demand and secure decent standards of public behaviour from everyone. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
The Home Secretary has set out aspirations with which all of us could agree. As Members of Parliament, we can all identify with his comments on bad behaviour and criminal behaviour. I suspect that all of us who have been Members of Parliament for any length of time can identify with the feeling that, as he said, in Blackburn, Peterborough and the rest of the country, crime has been getting worse and more vicious, and its incidence has been increasing. All of us could agree with his aspiration to address that.
I say in passing that the Home Secretary referred to several cases of good collaborative work. We have discussed that point, and I shall refer to it later. We on the Conservative Benches would still have hankered after a system of encouraging development of such voluntary activity rather than including some of the statutory measures in the Bill—not least for fear that many will become bureaucratically bogged down.
The purpose of the Bill, as the Home Secretary said, is in effect to improve the quality of life of our constituents. The desire is to deter crime and to punish crime. I welcome that recognition of the effectiveness of deterrence, a thread that ran through the Home Secretary's speech. He told us that the police welcomed the Bill, but he was not willing to give a commitment that it would cut crime. That reawakened echoes in my mind.
The Home Secretary will recall the very successful 1993 Conservative party conference, when his predecessor—
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
The Home Secretary is going to have to do better in that case.
At that conference, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), set out a 27-point programme to enable the police and the courts to deal with criminals more effectively. The right hon.
380 Gentleman's predecessor as shadow Labour Home Secretary was the current Prime Minister, who dismissed the programme asa series of gimmicks to get a headline",
even though the Police Federation called the proposals "first class". All 27 points were implemented, and yesterday we witnessed the result of that programme for the fifth year running.
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. Gentleman has broadly welcomed the Bill. He mentioned gimmicks, so am I to take it that he wholly departs from the briefing put out by the Conservative research department, a copy of which I have here, which describes the Bill aspolicy gimmicks dreamt up by Labour in opposition"?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I shall come to the substance of the Bill shortly. We support some of the Bill; some of it we think is good, but too weak, and some of it is typically new Labour and nannying—[Interruption.] I know that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), thinks that that is a compliment, but I am not sure whether that notion is resonating quite so strongly in the streets of our nation as it did 10 months ago. In any event, we shall see.
During the debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in 1994, the then shadow Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, dismissed it as a Billbased on old Tory deceit".—[Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 35.]He said that it was "fundamentally flawed" and that it was not an effective measure to tackle crime. To coin a phrase, he was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Our measures produced five years of reductions in crime. That is something which can be appreciated in all quarters of the House. What I am seeking to underscore for the Home Secretary is the fact that we are not at all averse to the Bill, because we believe it will help to build on the foundations of that decrease in crime over the past five years.
Incidentally, yesterday we witnessed the most amazing volte-face by the Home Secretary and his colleagues. For years, they have been telling the House and the country that poverty and unemployment were the causes of crime. They have slandered millions of our fellow citizens by repeating that mantra time and again. Yesterday, they turned on their heel and told us that it was not poverty and unemployment that they believed caused crime but prosperity. That may have been the view that the right hon. Gentleman put out yesterday along with the figures, but, to judge from the looks on the faces of most Labour Members sitting behind him, they do not agree.
§ Mr. David Taylor
It is not clear what the shadow Home Secretary is saying, so perhaps he should spell it out. Is he saying that there is absolutely no link between poverty and bad housing, and all that sometimes goes with that, and a higher incidence of criminal offences?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
What I am saying is that for years the Labour party slandered millions of people by saying that poverty and unemployment caused crime, but that yesterday it changed its mind. I welcome a recognition that the old positions that the Government 381 erroneously held are up for review, but it would be slightly surprising if I did not draw such an amazing U-turn to the attention of the House as a prelude to consideration of the Bill.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
Not at the moment.
I shall set out what we believe in. We believe in chief constables developing local schemes to crack down on petty crime. We believe in chief constables developing local schemes to improve public order. We believe in voluntary photographic identification, which would enable retailers to identify youngsters trying to buy alcohol or cigarettes or to rent classified videos when they were under age. We believe in parental control orders, so that courts could impose them on the parents who they believe could control their children, but are refusing to do so. We believe in giving the courts power to impose speedy sanctions on youngsters, including, wherever possible, an element of reparation to the victim.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
Shortly; let me finish this part of my speech.
We believe that the probation service, not social services, should be responsible for enforcing community punishments for the under-16s. We believe in electronically monitored curfew orders nationwide for those aged 16 and over. We believe in honesty in sentencing and so favour abolishing automatic early release. We believe that judges should have the power to stop a defendant personally questioning the victim in rape cases and other cases when the victim is especially vulnerable. Finally, we believe that justice delayed is justice denied.
As a result, we support proposals that would enable all defendants to appear in court the next working day after being charged, that would enable at least 50 per cent. to be convicted the next day—compared with the present figure of under 5 per cent.—and that would cut the time taken to bring juveniles to court from 10 or more weeks to a matter of days. They are 10 things in which we believe. The Home Secretary will be able to read all 10 in our manifesto.
I say that because the Home Secretary said, perfectly fairly, that the proposals that underpin the Bill were drawn up by him and his colleagues while in opposition. I do not question that. Indeed, I pay tribute to him for the effective use of time in opposition; listening, consulting, reaching those conclusions and then reflecting them in the manifesto. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman in turn to accept that so much of what he has said was reflected in our manifesto. Our manifesto reflects a similar activity and focus as a result of our listening to our constituents.
It is because both Front-Bench teams came independently to the same conclusions—I am sure that the Home Secretary would want me to stress that it was independently—about the issues that needed to be dealt with and broadly how to deal with them that I make it clear that we shall not be opposing the Bill at 10 pm.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones
I want to take up the right hon. Gentleman's point about parental control orders, which 382 the Conservatives advocate. He said that they may be appropriate for parents who do have control over their children, but what would he do about parents who do not currently have good control over or good relationships with their children? Does he acknowledge that the provisions in the Bill that allow for the support of such parents will do far more to deal with the problem of young offenders?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
The hon. Lady might have misheard me, but she can read what I said in Hansard. I said that we were in favour of parental control orders and the court applying them to parents who the court believed could control their children effectively, but who were not currently willing to do so. As for the details of parenting orders, about which I shall have more to say shortly, those are the sort of issues that we shall explore in Committee, if both the hon. Lady and I have the pleasure of serving on the Committee.
I have made it clear that we shall not oppose Second Reading, and I have set out the reasons why. We shall, of course, want to examine each clause closely, and we intend to do so both in Committee and on Report, because we believe that, although parts of the Bill are right and proper and will be a useful addition to the body of criminal law, other parts should be strengthened, and we should probe Ministers as to whether yet others are as effective as Ministers believe them to be.
§ Mr. Collins
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful speech, with which I entirely agree. However, while he is on the subject of individual clauses, will he spend a few moments—the Home Secretary did not—on clause 53, which would reintroduce the right of someone who has been convicted of murder, rape or manslaughter to be given bail, even when appearing on the charge of a repeat offence of murder, rape or manslaughter? Does he agree that the existing law, introduced by the previous Government, was right in providing that someone like that should not, in any circumstances, be entitled to bail?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—I was relieved to hear his introductory comment. He makes a powerful point, and that is one of the issues on which, when we get to detailed consideration of the Bill, hon. Members on both sides of the House will have a debate that is more focused than those on some of the other clauses.
Our greatest criticism of the Bill is that it has been hugely oversold by the Government. Press release has succeeded press release and hype has succeeded hype; if the first hype of a particular measure was not thought to be good enough or effective enough, it was rehyped and rehyped again. It is almost as if the Government want the public to believe that the Bill is the ultimate solution in the reduction of crime. Time and again, with hype after hype, the Home Secretary launched the same initiatives multiply, although occasionally he let the Minister of State get his nose in. We were told, over and over again, the same news story. The fact that it was so often the same news story also tells us something about the professionalism—or perhaps the bias—of newspapers and electronic newsdesks, but the truth is that the Bill has been hugely oversold.
383 That might be thought to be a political point and, in a sense, it is; but the issue is more important than that, because such hyping raises expectations among people whose lives are under pressure because of the behaviour of their neighbours and the levels of crime in their neighbourhood. It is not, or it should not be, the purpose of the House to raise expectations to a level that is not sustainable by the legislation. The Home Secretary should realise that the British people are more sophisticated than that, and they are not simply going to buy soundbites—they want detailed proposals. In Committee, we shall try to examine exactly what can and what cannot be achieved by the legislation, so that the public have more sensible expectations as to its consequences.
§ Mr. Beith
I agree that this Government are never knowingly oversold, but did they not learn that from their predecessors? I recall the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), making similarly extravagant claims about his plans to provide secure accommodation for young offenders, none of which was available by the time the Conservatives left office.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
Before turning in that last point, the right hon. Gentleman should have remembered that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has made a particular study of that subject. When we left office, we had provided 160 secure places, whereas, if my memory serves me correctly, the current Government have managed only six places in their first year in office.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)
The right hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that his Government promised as long ago as 1991 to provide an additional 171 secure places and that, although they reduced that number to 170 so as to make the target more manageable, they did not achieve it.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
The Minister has made his point, but he knows that it does not stand examination, and that the Labour Government's record on the matter is in danger of becoming shameful. We shall have a chance to look in detail at some of those points in Committee.
I shall deal briefly with several of the issues raised in the Bill, because, as the Home Secretary pointed out, it draws together a variety of issues in a single piece of legislation. I start by saying that there is one aspect to the Bill which will disappoint many people, in that it is remarkably light in terms of addressing the fear of crime. The Home Secretary knows that, slightly perversely, the percentage of people in this country who are afraid of crime is among the highest in the developed world, even though our crime rates are far lower than in many other comparable countries.
The fear of crime is an important issue, which the Home Secretary addresses through orders aimed at anti-social behaviour—although I noticed that, in his opening remarks, he used the term "intimidation". Although that word does not occur in the Bill, he was right to use it and I compliment him on doing so, because it starts to get a grip on the issue of the fear of crime. 384 It may be that, together, we can find a way to beef up the Bill so that it offers greater reassurance, especially to old people and people with young families, who suffer disproportionately from that fear.
We have some concerns about the consulting arrangements in respect of various orders. The consultation mechanisms are restricted to the local government area and the police area. Before Committee, will the Home Secretary consider carefully cases where people live on the border between counties and police forces? As we understand it, the Bill as drafted requires consultation in only one area, so there is a real need to amend the Bill to cover that eventuality.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I am encouraged by the positive response from the Home Secretary.
We believe that the sex offender orders in the Bill are important, but that they ought to be strengthened, and we shall want to amend the Bill accordingly in Committee. I was recently at Styal prison, where I was again impressed by the number of women prisoners who had experienced sex abuse of one sort or another, either as children or later in life as wives or partners. I make no party political point, as it is common currency across the Chamber that we all have a strong dislike of sex offences. I hope that we can co-operatively find out whether the Bill could be strengthened as we examine it.
I am surprised by two things about the Bill. First, it is apparently not to be used by the Home Secretary as a vehicle to tackle a manifesto commitment made by both the Labour and the Conservative parties to prohibit defendants from personally interviewing rape victims in court. When I raised that with the Home Secretary during recent Home Office questions, he bit my head off, somewhat uncharacteristically. I raised the matter because it is of considerable importance both to him and to us, but more importantly to the country. I know that he has a committee considering such issues, which is dealing with vulnerable witnesses beyond just rape cases, and I would not want to disrupt the Government's planned legislative programme, but I am trying to impress on the right hon. Gentleman the fact that the issue is a cause of grave concern and a serious abuse. On reflection, I hope that he will be willing to disaggregate it from the work of the committee on the other issues and reconsider producing amendments in Committee or on Report to deal with it.
§ Mr. Straw
As the right hon. Gentleman may have spotted, I am losing my voice. I do not recall biting his head off—I thought that I was ever so gentle when I dealt with him, and he must look forward to an occasion on which I do bite his head off, I hope in full voice.
I was trying to point out in oral questions a week ago that that is a complex area of the law. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise, because his hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) pointed it out, that we have to take into account the rights of defendants, however unworthy they may be, as people have a right to a fair trial and to cross-examination being undertaken on their behalf. Balancing the interests of a victim, normally the principal witness for the prosecution, and the interests of the defendant, and securing a fair trial, is difficult and complex.
385 If I could have produced proposals in the Bill, I would have done so. I cannot, and it is better to ensure that what is brought before the House is in proper order than to produce legislation in haste and have to repent at leisure. It would not be at leisure, because bad legislation in that area would lead to the acquittal of guilty people.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I understand the Home Secretary's point and would not want him to deny the rights of the defendant. Indeed, we are not asking him to do so, and if he were tempted, we would not support him, so we recognise all those arguments. We also recognise that some time will elapse between now and Report, and while I hear what he says, I hope that he will not entirely close his mind.
Secondly, regarding what the Home Secretary said at the beginning of the debate about considering urgently producing legislation to deal with dangerous paedophiles, that is a matter of urgency, which raises significant issues. Again, were he to think that he could tackle it by an amendment on Report, we would be as co-operative as possible.
I turn the Home Secretary's attention to clause 6 and the crime and disorder strategies, as they may be a recipe for confusion. I know that it was not the Government's intention in drafting the Bill, or I believe that it was not, but our reading of it suggests that a district council should have a strategy, a county council should have a strategy and the police should have a strategy. While the clause goes on to talk about co-operation between persons and bodies in developing those strategies, it is not nearly clear enough in regard to each area needing a single strategy. We shall want to examine that in some detail in Committee.
§ Mr. Michael
To ensure that there is no confusion and that the interpretation of clause 6 is clear, it is intended that there should be one strategy, to be arrived at jointly by the local authority—or authorities, if it is a two-tier area—and the police acting together and involving the other agencies mentioned. That is the way in which the clause has been interpreted unanimously and enthusiastically by both the police and local authorities.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
Given the nature of the Bill, that is what we think ought to happen. I am merely alerting the Minister to the fact that we are not sure that the drafting of the Bill gives effect to what is clearly a more sensible way to proceed.
While on clause 6, we also want to examine the dangers of extensive bureaucracies taking over. We shall want to hear the Government's plans on ensuring that the strategy does not become bureaucracy bound and enabling the primary point of the exercise to be achieved, rather than being sucked into the normal round of local government activity which, whoever is in power, tends to become bureaucratic. Also, when considering that issue, we shall want to be reassured about police primacy on law and order strategies and that the police will retain control both of budgets and of managing police manpower. Neither is made clear in the context of that co-operative strategy, and they need to be clear for the police.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
On that point—and returning to the right hon. Gentleman's earlier argument about there being 386 no link between poverty and crime—is he aware that in Slough our local police commander has commended a scheme to give a night shelter to the drunks who live in the town centre as one of the best ways to tackle crime and disorder in our town? It is a clear example of the way in which a lack of resources—in this case, a lack of housing—has contributed to crime and disorder. The partnership that exists in the town, which is very practical, has already been able to tackle the problem. In fact, it was the growing gap between rich and poor under the Conservative Government that most provoked crime.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
The hon. Lady's real point is that a voluntary partnership was in place before the Bill.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
My right hon. Friend will recall that the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, introduced by the Conservative Administration, gave the local police committee power to draw up a policing plan. In Gloucestershire, that is beginning to work quite well and it would be a pity if this new power started to cut across that strategy. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the matter is examined carefully in Committee?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
Yes, I will. My hon. Friend is right. Such plans were becoming increasingly effective. They had the advantage of having the police in the lead. There will obviously be a relationship between them and the new strategies, but we must not lose the best of what already exists.
§ Mr. Hawkins
Has my right hon. Friend noticed from Labour Members' interventions that there is something of a contrast between the Home Secretary's gracious acknowledgement in his opening remarks that the Labour party got these issues entirely wrong for years in the 1970s and the 1980s and the fact that some Labour Members are suggesting in interventions that, while the Home Secretary has acknowledged that the Conservative Administration were right all along and they were wrong, they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
My hon. Friend tempts me hugely, but he has probably made his point. Having acknowledged that there is merit in the Bill, I shall resist the temptation to respond to my hon. Friend and instead will focus on some of the other issues on which I wish briefly to comment.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
No, I have been generous, and if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall make some progress.
With regard to the parenting orders, we shall want to examine how the Home Secretary thinks that penalising some parents will make more effective their control of their children. We are in favour of parenting orders, but in Committee we shall try to find out how the Government envisage the measure working and, in particular, how it will work effectively for parents who do not respond positively to such orders.
We are also concerned that the parenting orders may come too late in the process. There is just a suspicion from the Bill that parenting orders will not come into 387 effect until, to mix my metaphors, the horse has already bolted. I hope that we shall be able to consider whether there is any possibility of bringing in some form of slightly less draconian parenting orders earlier in the process, to assist young people.
All hon. Members deplore racist acts and crime that is racially motivated. As on the Labour Benches, so on the Conservative Benches. We take the subject seriously and we shall want to debate the issues constructively. Skin colour should not be an issue. We shall want to explore whether the Bill adds significant new powers to existing legislation or not, as was the conclusion of a fairly extensive debate in the other place among legal experts. I hope that the Home Secretary agrees that we do not need legislation that is a sop to those who are politically correct. We need effective legislation. If that adds to the ability of the courts over and above existing law to deal with racially motivated crime, we are in favour of it. But we shall want to explore some of those issues.
We shall not support or vote for anything that hints at endorsing racial behaviour. On the other hand, I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that Parliament should not be frightened off from examining that part of the Bill closely, just because it deals with a politically and culturally sensitive subject.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
The Conservative Government had 18 years to deal with the matter. I can remember attending many debates, and pressing the then Home Secretary about the need for tough action on racial harassment and attacks. What is the right hon. Gentleman's explanation and excuse for not introducing such laws?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I am almost sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. He knows as well as I do—perhaps he does not, and that is part of his trouble—of the steps taken by the previous Government during 18 years in office in a variety of areas, to address the problem. The hon. Gentleman probably does the House a disservice by trying to turn the Bill into a party political football.
We shall want to examine with care the concept of youth offending teams, in particular who is in the lead in those teams. That is not covered in the legislation, but it is crucial, because the leadership of those teams will have a major effect on how they discharge their responsibilities.
I hear what the Home Secretary says about the Youth Justice Board. We shall want to explore whether a national board is the right way forward or, given the nature of the Bill, which the Home Secretary says is community based, whether a national board is too blunt a weapon to deal with some of the issues that will emerge.
The Bill is full of orders—sex offender orders, drug treatment and testing orders, parental orders, training orders and supervision orders. The list goes on and on. We shall examine each in turn constructively, to ensure that those orders, when made, are effective.
We support clause 31, which abolishes the presumption that a child aged 10 or over is incapable of committing a criminal offence. I assume—perhaps the Minister will 388 confirm this when he replies—that the abolition of the death penalty for treason and piracy will, under the usual conventions of the House, be decided on a free vote.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)
I do not want to challenge my right hon. Friend's view, or the Conservative party's view, on the presumption of criminal intent for people over the age of 10, but there are child organisations, including Barnardos and the Children's Society, which have views on the matter. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that their views are at least aired and shared in Committee, rather than just taken for granted because there is bipartisan agreement that there is no argument against?
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance and tell him that I have already received a number of those views from the organisations to which he refers. It will be part of the purpose of the Bill's examination to ensure that all the views expressed to us are given the sort of consideration that he would wish.
With regard to sending 10 and 11-year-olds to prison, we shall listen to the Government with great interest, given all that they said on the subject in opposition. We shall also want to examine in detail the plans to allow prisoners out of prison before the courts say that they should be released.
This Bill will take up a great deal of parliamentary time. Up to 20 organisations have already been in touch with us, offering views and amendments for our consideration. As the Home Secretary said, it is a long and detailed Bill, which deals with multiple issues. I hope that he will accept that we have now started to establish a track record of not filibustering and of considering legislation constructively and sensibly. However, we will not be rushed in our consideration of some of these issues, which will affect the lives of our constituents for years to come.
The Bill is designed to achieve an improvement in the quality of life of the people of this country. It focuses on disorder as opposed to law and order. We think that there are aspects of it that are worthy of support, and we shall offer that support. We shall also look at its effectiveness after implementation, in the hope that it will continue the run of five years of reduced crime for which we take responsibility with pride.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I have a great deal of sympathy with the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). When I sat in his place, starting out as shadow Home Secretary, I had to wait another 15 years before my party came to office. Although that may have been partly due to my imperfections, the right hon. Gentleman may have to take into account the fact that there may be some serious trends in these matters and that he may find himself treading water for some time before returning—if he ever does—to the Government Benches.
I can tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that this is a Bill for which my constituents have been waiting. My constituency is one of the most crime-ridden areas in one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country. The overall crime figures for Manchester show huge categories of car crime, burglary and robbery.
389 My constituency is covered by C Division of the Greater Manchester police. In the last full year, the figures for C Division were the worst in Greater Manchester for burglary from dwellings; theft; theft of bicycles; theft from motor vehicles; and criminal damage. The total number of recorded offences in the police division that covers my constituency was far higher than in any other police division in Greater Manchester. The division covering the Long sight police area—C1 Division—was almost the worst in the city, with particularly bad figures for criminal damage.
The statistics, which have been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, cover enormous experience of personal misery. Many of them relate not only to recorded offences but to offences which are not recorded. A personal friend of mine who lives in the Abbey Hey area of my constituency had a very bad experience about a month ago. Louts broke into his car outside his house and set it alight. The car exploded and that set the house on fire, which blew up the gas mains so his family were blown out of their house. That was the terrible experience of one family as a result of one piece of mindless vandalism.
There is the case of a man living in a council house in the Fallowfield area of my constituency. The neighbouring house was in the charge of a 15-year-old whose mother had left and whose father had left long before that. That 15-year-old committed acts of vandalism. One day, he began uprooting the hedge between the two houses. My constituent remonstrated with him. The youth went into his home, came out with a baseball bat and hit my constituent across the face, breaking his cheekbone and nearly taking out his eye. Until I intervened, that was going to result in no more than a police caution.
An elderly lady—a pensioner—on the Anson estate in my constituency woke up in her bed to find a criminal ransacking her bedroom and peering under her pillow to find what he could steal from her. That is an all-too-common experience for many people who just want to live their lives in peace and without being harassed or interfered with.
At every advice bureau I hold in my constituency, people complain about all sorts of criminal offences being committed against them. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is accurate when he says that many of those cases do not seem too bad unless one experiences them. If one lives in a block of council flats off Abbey Hey lane with a group of youths congregating menacingly around the property, one is not living a tranquil life. If one lives near empty local authority houses or local authority houses apparently tenanted but unoccupied which are used for vandalism, blow torch attacks and all the other things that we all know about, one's life will be discontented. If one's visit to the neighbouring fish and chip shop involves fighting through a cordon of rowdy youths who look as if they are about to inflict harm—even if they do not do so—one is not living a tranquil life. Again and again, my constituents come to me with complaints of burglary, harassment, vandalism and loitering with menace.
Let me make it clear that I have no criticism of the police. They are doing their best in appallingly difficult circumstances. If, because of a shortage of men and women, there is only one local police officer whose beat 390 takes him once round an area every day, it is well known to potential criminals that when he has gone by, that area is clear for the rest of the day.
Of course, not all police responses are perfect. There are cases where police reaction could be more sympathetic or caring, but that is rare.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Not just at the moment, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
In the main, Greater Manchester police and the police operating in my constituency do their best in very difficult circumstances. The fact that those circumstances are extraordinarily difficult can be demonstrated by comparing the Greater Manchester police plan for the coming year with the facts. One of the things promised—I am grateful for it—is that 90 per cent. of 999 calls will be answered within 15 seconds and a further 6 per cent. within 30 seconds. The plan also says that the police hope to be able to respond to 92 per cent. of non-999 calls within 30 seconds. With the best will in the world, that is a hugely ambitious target.
The police station at Garrat way is staffed only part time, and has an answering machine. However, if people ring through to an answering machine, they will not feel that their concerns are being adequately attended to.
Let us consider the Greater Manchester police targets, as set out in the policing plan for 1998–99, which has been distributed to people in my area. Their target is to detect 13 per cent. of burglary in dwellings by primary means and 13.1 per cent. of burglary in dwellings overall—that is the target they hope to fulfil, which would mean that 87 per cent. of the burglaries would not be detected. Nevertheless, the target is ambitious; it would mean doubling last year's rate of 6.4 per cent.
The target for thefts from motor vehicles by primary means is 6 per cent.—that is what the police hope to achieve if they do really well—which acknowledges that 94 per cent. will not be detected. That is hugely ambitious, as it would mean almost trebling last year's detection rate of 2.5 per cent.
I repeat that I do not criticise the police. I am not accusing them, but clarifying the fact that the overwhelming majority of the crime that affects our constituents will not be solved. Moreover, I am talking only about recorded crime. Large numbers of such crimes are not reported, except for insurance purposes, and even then, one must take into account the fact that, in a constituency such as mine, many people cannot afford insurance—even if they can, they have to pay more than people who live in more tranquil areas do.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
I am one of the many hon. Members who live in their own constituencies. I have to pay a higher premium to insure my house and its contents in inner-city Manchester than I do in St. John's Wood, where my flat is in London. I have the same insurance agent for both—the Co-op. 391 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I can give hon. Members the name of my agent, if they need one—Mr. Kilgour is a very nice man and has been dealing with me for years.
The clear-up rate for theft is 5.4 per cent. As I said, that does not include unreported crimes. Within that figure, the proportion of juvenile crime is fearsome. C Division, which covers my constituency, has figures that show among the worst incidence of crime committed by children aged 14 and under. I am sure that all hon. Members who have been in the House for some time will know that juvenile crime has risen relentlessly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was right to say that, in the past decade, the amount of crime work has almost overtaken the amount of any other kind of case work with which Members of Parliament have to deal. Within that, juvenile crime—crime committed by young people, including small children—has grown frighteningly.
The victims of crime include individuals in the street, in their homes, in their workplaces and in their cars. In my constituency, which I cannot believe is unique in this, schools are being broken into—computers, in particular, are being stolen. All that attacks the very basis of local cohesion in any community.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall give way to my hon. Friend if he wants to intervene, but perhaps I have satisfied his every requirement.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that the greatest deterrent against any form of crime is detection? If the police lack resources in Greater Manchester, Merseyside or anywhere else, the detection rate falls. We are paying the price for 10 years of under-investment.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I agree that detection is part of the way in which to deal with crime, but the other part, which is very much the subject of the Bill, is prevention. I certainly agree with what my hon. Friend says about resources. Nevertheless, things can be done even within existing resources. A scheme in my constituency deals with the serious problem whereby people, especially pensioners, become victims of multiple crimes—when they have been burgled once, they are burgled again and again. The police in my area have set up schemes to deal with that, and are making some headway.
As I said, this situation cannot be allowed to continue. Everything that is spent on detecting crime—essential as that is—is a waste of resources that otherwise could be spent more constructively. Crime is bad for the community. Life in areas of my constituency—even though it is in the inner city, it consists, like many constituencies, of interconnected villages—is seriously affected by the incidence and nature of crime.
Crime is bad for the offenders. Reprehensible and wicked as the acts of offenders are, their lives are being wasted. Young people—boys in particular; crime tends to involve boys rather than girls—who set out on a life of crime and drug taking fail to realise their potential of a fulfilling and constructive life, which is also bad for their families.
392 I strongly welcome the Bill. I welcome its emphasis and its practical proposals for dealing not only with existing offences but with anti-social behaviour and harassment that causes distress and alarm. I also welcome the parenting orders—it is essential that parents be made responsible. We talk about requirements on society and about what schoolteachers and social workers should do, but, in the end, parents have the responsibility. At meetings in my constituency on law and order, I hear again and again people's belief that parents must be made to be and seen to be responsible.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones
Does my right hon. Friend accept that existing powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, by which parents can be made to pay fines and be bound over to keep their children under control, do not work? It may be appropriate to issue such orders, but sometimes parents have no control over their children and need a continuing programme of support.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, but I am sure that she would accept that there are different kinds of relationships between parents and children. Some parents care a great deal; they do everything that they can to prevent their children from erring and help them when they do. Some parents seem incapable of doing that, even though they want to. Some parents, sadly, seem to have no concern whatever. I strongly support the provisions in the Bill that will assist in dealing with the last two categories.
I strongly support also—
§ Mr. Green
Before the right hon. Gentleman moves too far away from the performance of the police, and given his privileged position as a distinguished elder statesman in whom all ambition is spent, will he acknowledge one of the most common delusions of our constituents, which is that one of the ways to increase police effectiveness is to put back the bobby on the beat undertaking traditional patrolling? There is evidence, which unfortunately the general public do not accept, that such patrolling is one of the least effective ways of tackling crime, catching criminals and improving the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. It behoves those in the House who have studied these matters deeply and have a deep knowledge of them, as the right hon. Gentleman has, to try to combat this widespread public delusion.
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is obvious—I do not think that anyone, including the hon. Gentleman, would deny this—that the sight of a uniformed police officer is extremely reassuring. However, it has to be accepted that we shall never be able to afford to employ sufficient police officers for them to be seen regularly in all neighbourhoods. It is not possible to do that. As I have said, there is a local, highly regarded bobby in one part of my constituency who can only complete his beat once a day.
We would very much like to see more bobbies on the beat, but it is impractical to suggest that there would be sufficient quantities of human beings in evidence to deter 393 crime. Few crimes are committed in the view of a police officer. Many crimes are committed by those who know that once they have seen the police officer on his or her beat that day they will not see the officer again that day.
I particularly welcome child safety orders for No. l0s—I mean under-10s, although my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said publicly what child safety orders mean for his children: he has warned them that, if they do not behave, he will call in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. That has already been accomplished, perhaps, with a Freudian slip on my part. I am pleased that there is provision for care, protection and support to prevent repetition of offences. That is extremely important.
I strongly support the curfew provisions because kids under 10 should not be hanging around in the streets after 9 o'clock at night. However, I ask my right hon. Friend to examine the possibility of providing powers for curfews before 9 pm, provided that the circumstances make that appropriate.
Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I welcome the change in the law of criminal responsibility. I welcome also the replacement of cautions, which do not do much good, by reprimands and warnings. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister of State, when he replies, would explain what happens as a consequence of reprimands. The Bill is clear about what happens as a consequence of warnings, but I am not as clear as I should be about what clause 53 does about reprimands.
The Bill includes provisions for reparation orders. It is excellent that there should be emphasis on reparation for victims and on benefits for offenders. There is an emphasis on training during detention and, of course, on dealing with racial aggravation.
When the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz)—I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for this—he was far from accurate. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I do not wish to make this a party political point, but it is a fact that, 12 years ago, when I was shadow Home Secretary, I introduced in Standing Committee G on 10 April 1986 a new clause that would have created the offence of racial harassment. The then Conservative Government defeated it. On 12 April 1994, I spoke from the Opposition Benches on the then Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. I spoke in favour of the creation of an offence of racial harassment. That proposal was defeated by the then Conservative Government.
Leaving aside recriminations about what happened all those years ago, the fact is that action could have been taken a long time ago on racial harassment. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected by the then Government.
Clause 45 relates to the use of television links at preliminary hearings. I welcome the provision, but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider in Committee the inclusion of internet links. By the time the Bill has been enacted and implemented for a few years, visual internet connections may be the rule rather than the exception. It would be as well to provide for that in the Bill.
The Bill is ambitious. It needs commitment by all the forces of law and order and by all the support services. It also needs resources, both human and financial, and those will not be easy to obtain in a well-controlled 394 budgetary climate, which I support. Nevertheless, we shall need those resources. Great hope reposes in the Bill. It must not fail, and I believe that it will succeed.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in his thoughtful mode. We have heard him speak movingly about the rundown constituency in the poor part of Greater Manchester that he has represented for so many years. It will be one of the great challenges for the Conservative party in the intervening four or five years that are left to us to refresh our ideas so that we can help to change the ambience of that sort of inner-city area, as we have begun to change it in other parts of the country. That is pretty fundamental to tackling the sort of problems that the right hon. Gentleman has rightly identified.
There is much common ground on the subject of crime and disorder. I am glad that the Bill—I think that Conservatives are entitled to say this—builds on many of the ideas that we were developing, or beginning to develop, during the previous Parliament, and even further back. I can recall, if it is not too tedious, that I introduced the first curfew order in the Criminal Justice Bill of 1981, which became the Criminal Justice Act 1982. It found a position in that measure as the night restriction order. It was initially greeted with hesitation, but others have rightly built upon it, and I am glad that it is built upon further in the Bill.
We are right to say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) has said, that the Conservative Government can congratulate themselves on turning the tide in recorded crime. That owes a good deal to the courage of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Although my right hon. and learned Friend has taken a great deal of flak at many stages, he changed a consistently rising level of recorded crime to levels that have been falling pretty steadily and significantly for five years. That is particularly because he has sent out a powerful signal that crime is not to be allowed to pay. Keeping persistent burglars out of circulation for a significant period cuts the amount of burglary that they can commit. To that extent, I support the view, which is sometimes regarded as controversial, that prison works.
In other areas, I believe in short sentences, and in seeking to protect the public in ways that we put into effect in the previous Parliament.
I wish to put the Bill into the wider criminal justice context, because, after 18 years—others will know from much longer experience—we know that no criminal justice Bill suddenly solves a particular problem, and that is certainly true of a Christmas tree-type Bill such as this, with a great many useful measures. It will not solve overnight the problems that we have to deal with.
It is a common objective of the Labour and Conservative parties to seek to reduce delay in the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary rightly acknowledged that many of the ideas in the Bill stem from the Narey report, instituted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and published in February 1997.
I strongly support the abolition of doli incapax, but we must look carefully at how we do it, and at the detail. We should probably get rid of it altogether, and not seek to 395 include alternative presumptions or any undue complexity. It never featured until recently, and it has begun to be used as a defence trick, sometimes at the instance of the young offender, and sometimes at the instance of lawyers. It simply holds up cases—sometimes seriously—while a teacher or someone who knows the youth in question is brought to court to give evidence that they plainly understand. It is outdated, and should go.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the Narey report. Will he comment, as a distinguished former Attorney-General, on the Bar Council, which is worried about a recommendation, flowing from the Narey report on clause 50 of the Bill, that non-legal staff will be able to institute proceedings and prosecute such matters as contested bail applications in court? Is that not a dangerous precedent? As Lord Mishcon said, should not a professional, independent mind be exercised on these important issues in the Crown Prosecution Service?
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I shall deal with it in a moment.
I shall focus my attention on delay. I asked the Attorney-General where we were to find the Government's proposals for speeding up criminal justice and thereby fulfilling their election promise to halve the time it takes for persistent young offenders to be brought before the court. He told me that I should burn the midnight oil and read the Bill. I have.
As I mentioned briefly when the Home Secretary kindly took my intervention, the Government should be careful not to be deluded by their own hype. They propose a pretty restrictive technical definition of a persistent offender—someone who has appeared three times before the court. Then, having noted that it took 142 days for someone to appear before the court, they propose to take some administrative step to ensure that it takes only 71 days. That is unlikely to solve the problem. I say this in anticipation of future, rather more party political, occasions. If the Government trot that forward as success, without tackling the real problem, it will be an empty gesture.
The real problem is that a substantial proportion of crime is committed by quite a small percentage of offenders, who commit offences time and again—five, 10, 15, 50, 100 or more offences within, say, six months. These are not just spree offenders, as the Home Secretary put it, although they exist. He is right to have learnt that from the inner London Crown Prosecution Service and other CPS areas. These are persistent offenders, people who make their living from crime, and who burgle time and again.
The three agencies—the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Court Service—should work closely together. It must be their joint and several duty to ensure that a multiple offender identified as having committed a significant number of crimes is brought before the court promptly, without delay. I entirely agree with the Home Secretary's intention to abolish the rule in the case of R. v. Khan. The judgment was given in earlier times, without a full understanding of the problem of multiple offenders. There needs to be a reasonable, representative 396 sample of the offences—three or four will be quite sufficient—and the offenders should then be brought before the court.
That is easier said than done, because it is not easy for one police area, Crown Prosecution Service area or Court Service area to know what is happening in another. The Government must bend their mind—as we sought to do, but we did not crack the problem, which is on-going—to find a way in which cases can be brought together. We must ensure that legislation allows them to be brought to any convenient court, so that they can be promptly tried. That will require an updating of the three agencies' computer facilities. I hope that it will be possible to build on the e-mail facilities which have been effectively piloted in parts of the CPS.
I now deal with the best use of resources. I shall make a few comments on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I am talking about the use of unqualified staff in court cases. The danger is that those on the administrative side always want to get things done quickly and cheaply, and they always ask for too much. They always want unqualified people to be able to do almost everything, on the basis that any idiot can present a case. On the other side, the professions and trade unions do not want anybody who is unqualified or not an established member of a body to be able to do anything that they cannot do at present, for fear that the floodgates will be opened and the service diminished.
The Bar has come forward with sensible objections to the gates being opened too wide. I shall not seek to prescribe on Second Reading exactly how we should do it—that is a matter for the Government and for careful consideration in Committee. In my view, if one can make small advances, one can get a significant benefit.
It must be recognised—this is the point that the Bar makes most effectively—that, when one is prosecuting, one is dealing with people's rights and liberties, and if nobody in court is properly qualified to evaluate the case, or if the case has been evaluated in the CPS by somebody who is not properly legally trained and experienced, injustice may follow.
The CPS was set up as a result of the Philips royal commission in the late 1970s, which was instituted by the previous Labour Government and picked up by the incoming Conservative Government in 1979, so that there was a proper, professional service to review prosecutions. That must not be unduly diluted.
§ Mr. Hawkins
Even though non-lawyers might think that only uncontested hearings are at stake, so it does not matter, would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the duty of a prosecutor is quite different from that of a defending advocate? A prosecutor has a duty to draw to the court's attention, even in an uncontested hearing, anything that may be important. That is why a qualified person needs to look into the matter to determine whether the court should be informed of anything bearing on the liberty of the subject.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
That is a good point—I agree with my hon. Friend. The accused may be rather bemused. He may say that, although he took goods from a shop he did not mean to put them in his bag instead of the basket—but he did put them in his bag so he is guilty. 397 The prosecutor may recognise that the person is not automatically guilty, and that the issue should go to trial; it should not just be processed, resulting in an unjustified criminal record for the person in question.
I believe it right to give justices' clerks greater powers—they are becoming ever better trained these days—to marshal and prepare cases, thereby allowing swifter action; but it is important that the dominant power remain with the magistrate, whether stipendiary or on the lay bench. We need the sound, local, common-sense skills of magistrates in the criminal justice system; those skills are immensely valuable. Therefore, although the idea represents an advance, it must be treated with care, so as not to dilute the strengths in the system that I have mentioned.
I come next to sentencing powers and—that awful word—disposals. The Bill contains an enormous variety of new orders: they concern anti-social neighbours, sex offenders, drug offenders, curfews, parenting, and so on. We shall need to look at them all very carefully. None will provide a complete answer, but magistrates will find it valuable to have a full quiver of sentences and disposals. These new ones are therefore to be welcomed in principle.
I want to say a word about the advisory council which is so much sought after by the senior judiciary in the House of Lords. We should carefully contemplate what they are saying, to see whether it can be melded into the Government's proposals in a sensible way. I do not pretend to endorse everything that is being argued for, but we do need a sensible and swift input from those who actually have to exercise sentencing powers. I hope that the Government will consider the idea carefully.
I welcome the Bill in general, but we will need to look closely at the detail. I am rather cynical about the Home Secretary's blithe claim that it fulfils 12 manifesto pledges. I have a feeling that manifesto pledges are not quite as valuable items of currency as some members of the public have hitherto thought them to be. No doubt that will all come out in the wash as we consider the Bill more closely.
We must also be careful not to be too bureaucratic. This is an extremely complex Bill. As a former Attorney-General, I say this against myself: it is extremely difficult to improve drafting, but, as I read the Bill, it passed through my mind that a good many of its clauses could have been drafted more simply and in a shorter form. Perhaps some of us will take a cockshy at introducing simpler and shorter clauses, if only so that we can be told by the Government that we have got our amendments wrong.
I have huge respect for parliamentary draftsmen, but this Bill, like so many others, has been drafted by reference to other Bills, and by reference to others that refer to yet others. It is not easy to read or to understand. It may be capable of improvement, but broadly I wish the Bill well.
§ Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)
The Home Secretary described the purpose of the Bill as being to reduce crime and disorder. I welcome it for that reason, but also for three other reasons.
The first has not been mentioned by anyone in the debate—it is clause 33, which sweeps away the last remaining provision for the death penalty in our civilian 398 law. Many of us had thought that the death penalty was abolished 30 years ago, but it remains on the statute book for the offences of treason and piracy on the high seas. It is about time we tidied up our legislation and made the abolition total.
I am especially pleased because, as Lord Williams of Mostyn pointed out in the other place, clause 33 gives effect to a commitment by the Prime Minister at the Council of Europe summit in October, when the Heads of Government of 40 European countries pledged themselves to work for the abolition of the death penalty in Europe.
It is right and proper to sweep away the dust that has been gathering in some corners of our statute books, and clause 33 does precisely that. It is more than 150 years since anyone was hanged for piracy, and more than 50 years since anyone was hanged for treason. Everyone knows that those offences would not carry the death penalty today, so it is right to tidy up the legislation and to remove any remaining excuse for other countries that still operate the death penalty in Europe to shelter behind the United Kingdom. It is an obsolete provision.
I am glad that our noble Friends Lord Judd and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, members of our delegation to the Council of Europe Assembly, took part in the debate on an amendment tabled by my noble Friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, who deserves to be congratulated on having taken the initiative in this matter in the other place. That is the first reason for welcoming the Bill.
My second reason is clause 40, which provides for time limits to be specified for serious cases to be heard in court. It was, I believe, the shadow Home Secretary who said that justice delayed was justice denied. Of course, there must be proper provision for the preparation of defences and prosecutions, but when most people argue that cases should be brought to trial as quickly as possible, they draw attention to the effect on the defendant and his family of waiting for the case to be heard.
My own interest in the point arises from my having seen the effect not on a defendant but on a victim's family. It can have a terrible effect on victims and their families if cases take a long time to come to court. We can all imagine how relatives feel when someone has been killed and it then takes more than a year for the case to be heard and the guilty person to be sentenced.
Recently in Birmingham, a 17-year-old student walking through the city centre was the subject of an unprovoked assault by a man who hit him twice on the head with a bottle, punched him three times, knocked him unconscious to the ground, and fractured his skull. The student died. The man who had killed him was arrested within a matter of days.
The killing took place in June 1996; the case came to court in October 1997. Throughout that period, the victim's family had to attend one hearing after another, each time going through the emotional stress of expecting the case to be decided—only to find that it was adjourned to a later date, time and again. They had to go through that process for more than a year, waiting for justice to be done.
This is plainly wrong. My investigations into the reasons for the delay show that it was partly the result of the actions of the defence. It took 11 months from committal to the case being heard in Crown court. Five of those 11 months were the responsibility of the defence, but the rest of the delay was caused by the prosecution, and, in effect, by the legal system.
399 I am still not clear about who is responsible. From discussions with Ministers, it appears that nobody is responsible, because responsibility is split between Departments. If ever there was a case for a Minister of Justice, this is it. One person should accept responsibility for the administration of justice, but instead it seems to depend on the convenience of judges and the performance of the Court Service. No one is to blame for delay, and no one accepts responsibility for it, which is unreasonable and unfair, especially on the victim's family.
The third reason for welcoming the Bill is the provision in clause 75 for sentencing guidelines to be made publicly available. They should not only be made available, but be subject to public debate. People are entitled to discuss what is an appropriate range of sentences for a particular crime. In the case that I have described, Royston Worrell, the man who killed the student Andrew Steventon, was found not guilty of murder, but was convicted of manslaughter.
When sentencing Royston Worrell, the judge reminded the court that he had committed an unprovoked assault: he had not been attacked or intimidated in any way, and had killed a young man who was backing away from him and who had offered virtually no defence. In the words of the judge, Royston Worrell wanted to show that he was cock of the walk. He showed no remorse for the death of Andrew Steventon, and there was no suggestion that he had a mental illness.
Royston Worrell was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, and the family of Andrew Steventon have been told by the probation service that the sentence means that Royston Worrell will automatically—it might be better to say, probably—be released after being in prison for two years and seven months.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is entitled to appeal against sentences, but he decided that the sentence was not unduly lenient. In my opinion and that of Andrew Steventon's family, it is unduly lenient—this man killed without provocation. However, when I went to see my right hon. and learned Friend, he convinced me that the sentence is not unduly lenient in comparison with similar cases of brutal manslaughter—undue lenience is not an absolute standard.
I am not in favour of mandatory sentences for manslaughter or for most other crimes. We can all imagine extenuating circumstances even in manslaughter cases. A person who has killed may have been subjected to provocation, frightening intimidation or even sexual abuse over a long period; in the end, something snaps, and that person commits manslaughter. However, an unprovoked assault with a bottle on an innocent passer-by followed by three punches to the head—the assailant travelled a distance of 20 metres when throwing them—deserves more than two years and seven months in prison, most of which would have been spent in custody on remand.
Someone who commits such an assault and who has a previous conviction for an attack with a dangerous weapon must go to prison for longer than that, not only for punishment, but because we and our families deserve to be protected from such a person as we walk the streets of the city of Birmingham. I welcome clause 75, and look forward to the publication of sentencing guidelines, 400 so that we can discuss them and ensure that judges give sentences that the public and hon. Members regard as appropriate.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Liberal Democrats welcome many of the measures in the Bill, although we have reservations about it and shall seek to have our questions answered. I agree with a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Peterborough, who warned of the danger of false expectations. In his case, that should be a warning born of experience.
§ Mr. Beith
No, I have only just started my speech. I am sorry; I should have referred to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). His warning should be born of experience of annual criminal justice Bills, all of which disappointed the expectations that they created.
When the Home Secretary said that 10 Labour party pledges would be delivered by the Bill, he walked straight into that trap. Legislation does not deliver the outcomes that make a difference. Many of the pledges are valuable, and we want them to be implemented, but they will be implemented only when resources have been made available and the work has been done.
There is no better example of that than the pledge to halve the time that young offenders spend between arrest and sentencing, which I raised with the Home Secretary. Even though it was an early pledge, it will almost certainly not be delivered for several years. We should avoid the temptation of believing that it is legislation, rather than work and the commitment of resources, that gets things done.
I want to make a point of principle about the Bill's construction. We object to significant changes to Scottish law being tacked on to English Bills. Scotland is a nation with its own criminal justice system and judiciary, and the clauses that the Government believe to be urgent should have been dealt with in a separate Bill, which would have allowed Scottish Members to debate them properly. Clauses that are not urgent should have been dealt with by the Scottish Parliament, which will have responsibility for the criminal law in Scotland.
The problem with the way in which the House is dealing with the Bill was shown when my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) intervened on the Home Secretary, who could not answer his point. The right hon. Gentleman said that a Scottish Minister was on the Front Bench, but he is unable to speak in the debate and he is not here now. There will be no interchange on Second Reading between Scottish Members and the Ministers who are responsible for the criminal law in Scotland. That is not a reasonable way to proceed with major Scottish legislation.
§ Mr. Michael
Three or four Ministers, or three or four shadow Ministers, frequently have a contribution to make in a debate, but we cannot get a quart into a pint pot. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am working closely with the Minister for Home Affairs and 401 Devolution, Scottish Office on issues that are of interest to Scotland and to England and Wales. We shall propose that elements of the Bill be grouped for debate in Committee. My hon. Friend will respond to debates on the Scottish sections of the Bill, so that they can be dealt with coherently during detailed consideration in Committee.
§ Mr. Beith
That will be for the convenience of the Committee, but it will not be for the convenience of Scottish Members who are not members of it. Relatively few Scottish Members will be on the Committee. if the Bill was considered by a Scottish Standing Committee, which would consist largely, if not entirely, of Scottish Members, a wider range of Scottish opinion would be brought to bear on it. The Government are proceeding in the wrong way.
A constructive approach to problems of crime and disorder is long overdue. We had hoped that the Bill might be the start. Crime figures remain far too high, despite the welcome decline in recorded crime, which was reported in the past week. Too many young people are failing to develop constructive lives, and we welcome the Government's recognition in the Bill that more must be done to reduce youth crime. Almost 70 per cent. of people who offend over the age of 21 were first convicted when they were under 21. It is pressing that we tackle youth crime, and challenge and get to the roots of offending behaviour.
Contrary to what Conservative Members have said, the law and order agenda of the previous Government was a pretty miserable affair: it was a mixture of failed promises and measures that did not happen or did not work. They neglected the youth justice system to such an extent that the Audit Commission said in 1996 that more was being done 10 years previously than at that time to deal constructively with young offenders. They presented themselves as the champion of the police, and made pledges in the last Parliament to increase police numbers, but the number of police officers in England and Wales fell by more than 500 between 1992 and 1997. The number has fallen by another 300 since the start of April 1997.
We do not share the former Home Secretary's conviction that the principal solution to crime is to lock more people up for longer. He did little to deal with the falling conviction rates. It is not the case that more and more criminals were being caught, but more, including women and young people, were being locked up for longer. Some had committed offences for which imprisonment was inappropriate.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also did little to increase the number of crime prevention initiatives. His mantra was "Prison works", although, for many people, prison does not work. Yet, while he was repeating that mantra, the very facilities that can help prison to work—education, seconded probation officers working in prisons and specialised programmes to deal with sex offenders—were being cut. I fear that they will continue to be cut, because the resources demanded for security by a rising prison population pre-empt such vital work.
Anyone who thinks that my criticisms are partisan, because they are criticisms of Conservatives by a Liberal Democrat, should read the report of a debate in another place, when three former Conservative Home Secretaries 402 attacked the notion that prison works. Lord Hurd of Westwell said that it could not be right to define the success of our criminal justice system by the number of our fellow citizens being put behind bars. Lord Baker was similarly critical of the superficial and spurious logic of the idea that "prison works". Those views were widely shared, and were espoused even by experienced members of the Conservative party.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
I entirely follow what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he not agree that it needs to be qualified to some extent? Those who burgle repeatedly ought to receive a substantial prison sentence. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the sentence of three years for a several-times burglar recommended by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, was identical to the sentence recommended by the Court of Appeal in a case involving a similar period of offending? That was substantially longer than the 19-month sentence that currently applied.
§ Mr. Beith
First, I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the principle of mandatory sentencing. Once they are applied, sentences for related offences are ratcheted up, and the prison population is increased with no regard to the circumstances of the case involved.
I also disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about what should be done with a "repeat burglar". What should be done is whatever is likely to bring home to him the gravity of his offences and have a punitive effect, while also making it probable that, when he is eventually released, he will not continue to be a repeat burglar. Those are the two issues which are most in people's minds. If prison is the most expensive and least effective way of securing such a result, we had better look for another way.
§ Mr. Beith
No. I have just given way, and I want to make some progress.
In certain circumstances, we should consider what other forms of sentence combine punitive elements with some prospect of ensuring that the prisoner leads a useful life when he leaves prison. It is no good if all we have done, as taxpayers, is fork out a great deal of money for someone to be fed, clothed and kept in prison, if, at the end of the day, that person comes out of prison and continues to offend.
§ Mr. Beith
I have just given way; I want to make some progress.
In a New Statesman interview published last week, the present Home Secretary sounded entirely unapologetic for the continuing rise in the prison population. He said:If crime is rising, the prison population is bound to rise.In simple terms, that seems obvious; but, as I have said, the rise in the prison population is not a result of more people being caught, but a result of the increasing tendency to use prison where alternatives were used before.
403 Between 1992 and 1996, the propensity of Crown courts to use prison as a sentence rose by nearly 50 per cent., and the propensity of magistrates courts to use prison has doubled. That is the main cause of the rise in the prison population. Is the Home Secretary saying that that is entirely right? Is he content with it, or does he believe, as we do, that the change means that some people are being sent to prison who would be better dealt with by other measures?
Of course, serious and violent offenders should be imprisoned, but should single mothers who have defaulted on fines be there as well? In many instances, prison is an expensive way of making offenders worse, and more likely to commit offences. Is the Home Secretary content with the fact that, as a result of all this, the Prison Service is under such pressure that it must concentrate on containment rather than reducing the incidence of reoffending, which must be one of the main purposes of the vast and increasing amount that we are spending on prisons?
§ Mr. Hawkins
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me. I am following his speech carefully, but does he not recognise that hon. Members—regardless of which party they represent—must think first of the victims? Does he not accept that victims want above all to ensure that the "repeat burglar" to whom the right hon. Gentleman has referred is taken out of circulation, so that he cannot burgle again for a long time?
§ Mr. Beith
If the result of the policies pursued in dealing with that burglar is that many more victims are created than would be created by another means of dealing with the problem, we shall have done society no good. Victims of burglaries often become very angry when there is no proper response to what has happened to them. There is a pathetically low detection rate: the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) cited horrific figures from his constituency. That, along with the frequent inability of hard-pressed police to take sufficient action in individual cases, is the cause of most of the complaints that I hear from victims. But what about all the future victims who will suffer if we pursue the wrong policies? We hope that the current Government will signal a real departure from Howardism in that respect, but we are yet to be convinced: so far, the signal is very mixed.
We believe that the Government should introduce the most effective measures possible to protect the public, reassure victims, prevent crime and reoffending, and ensure justice. On the whole, the Bill is heading in the right direction, but we feel that, in some respects, it is unnecessarily authoritarian, that some measures are not based on sound research and that it does not do enough to channel resources into constructive action. We welcome the introduction of local multi-agency crime prevention bodies: that is a sensible and constructive measure, which may be why it was not introduced during all those years of Conservative government, despite the recommendation in the Morgan report.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
My right hon. Friend is right: the Morgan report lay on the shelf for far too long.
404 Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective and best-costed policing plans of police authorities are based on the building blocks of the local unit of command—the district or divisional commander, working closely with the local authority and the local community? Does he share my disappointment at the lack of clarity in the Bill about the relationship between the local authority strategies that are needed, and the cost of policing plans—and about how the two knit together?
§ Mr. Beith
I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that the drafting of the Bill is clear in that regard. Clarity does not necessarily depend entirely on drafting, but someone reading the Bill might not realise how the system ought to work. For instance, I feel that in two-tier local government areas district councils have an important part to play, and district councils often correspond—either by themselves or with other districts—to police command areas within police authority areas. Those are more local and immediate units than some of the larger police areas, and a crime prevention strategy needs that local focus. I am sure the Minister agrees that that is how matters should proceed, although the drafting does not make it clear.
§ Mr. Michael
The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is also important—there has been some misunderstanding about this—that county councils in two-tier areas play a full part in district council strategy. Neither tier should be left out.
§ Mr. Beith
That is true, but there is sometimes a bit of jealously between counties and districts. Counties sometimes want to take over more of the responsibility than is appropriate, given the need to engage local communities much more fully in crime prevention.
My problem is that the county council in my part of the world is more than a little old Labour. However, we support the introduction of local youth teams, and the creation of a national Youth Justice Board. We strongly support Lord Ackner's amendment asking for the creation of a standing advisory council on the criminal justice and appeals system. It was opposed by both Front Benches, but it recognises that crime is a complex phenomenon which requires a considered and comprehensive response. If the present Government genuinely reject the ways of the previous Government, they should show their commitment to openness and sound research by accepting that proposal, or a modified version of it. I found the arguments used against it largely trivial: they could be summarised as "Do not give me any good advice, because I might have to take it". Given the experience of the previous Home Secretary, we can imagine the way in which soundly based research advice was received in his office. I think that the new Government should break with that tradition, and recognise that a standing body can work efficiently and expeditiously, and create a climate of consensus in regard to sensible measures.
We recognise the need for many of the new orders in the rest of chapter I of the Bill, but we feel that in some cases the standard of evidence required is too weak, and that the potential sanctions are too strong in relation to the procedure involved. Definitions are vague, and judicial discretion is too limited. I am sceptical about whether the parenting orders will be of much value in practice. We fully support developing parental support, education in 405 parenting and help for parents; we believe in parental responsibility. The Government run the risk of fining and ultimately imprisoning law-abiding parents for the actions of out-of-control children and finding that the orders are useless in dealing with parents who are themselves the cause of young persons' problems. A young person may be escaping from some of their criminal activities.
We welcome the proposals for the creation of racially aggravated offences, and share the belief that that sends a message that racism is unacceptable in this country. We are pleased that the Government have accepted the Liberal Democrat argument in another place to extend the principle to racially aggravated criminal damage. We want to look more closely at some outstanding issues in this part of the Bill, and we ask the Government to consider whether it would be appropriate to extend the principle to crimes that are motivated by the sexual orientation of the victim. We must look at the issue in that context.
In the area of youth justice, we welcome the introduction of a statement on the principal aim of the youth justice system. I wrote to the Home Secretary in November suggesting that he should do just that. There is a need to widen the statement to include the balancing of welfare and justice considerations, which is at the heart of much of the lack of public confidence in the youth justice system. Many people feel that the system is too welfare oriented and that it ought to have regard to justice and reparation to society. The balancing of those matters must be clear in the statement.
We would also appreciate the Government's thinking on extending the practice and principles of the Scottish child hearings system to England and Wales. It is a proven system in Scotland. Why is more attention not being paid to how much we could learn from how well that system works, when considering the reforms in England and Wales on which people are embarking?
We support measures to cut delays, particularly in the youth justice system. Sensible procedural changes can be made, but I do not think that improvements can be obtained on the cheap without risking delays and bottlenecks elsewhere in the system. If a rigorous target is set but fresh resources are not provided, the chances are that some other part of the system will pay the price. All the attention is shifted, and problems arise elsewhere. I questioned the Home Secretary earlier about my doubts as to when he will be able to meet the pledge on persistent young offenders.
We are disappointed that, for the time being, the Government will continue the practice of holding remanded 15 and 16-year-olds in prison, which is contrary to what they said in opposition. We share the fears of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders that sending juvenile defendants to penal establishments is arecipe for criminal contamination, intimidation and, all too often, self-harm and suicide attempts".Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons recently provided us with his hard-hitting and thorough thoughts on that and related issues. I hope that the Government will heed those words. It is unacceptable to continue to increase the likelihood that young offenders will continue to offend by putting them in adult penal institutions.
We are opposed in principle to local child curfews. We think that they are a heavy-handed gimmick. It was a good idea for grabbing headlines in the run-up to the election, 406 but it is not a good idea in practice or an appropriate response to young people under the age of 10 being on the streets at night. It is impractical to such an extent that the Home Secretary seems to be admitting that it is an experiment rather than a solid proposal.
I asked what research the proposal was based on, and I received a vague answer. I do not think there is any research evidence to show that a child curfew system is needed or will work. There is nothing it could do that powers in the Children Act 1989 or common-sense action by a police officer who sees a child wandering around late at night could not do. It could have damaging effects in terms of signalling to younger people that they will be subject to collective punishment and that their overall civil rights can be taken away. I do not think that such a system would be much used.
§ Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
One of the most disturbing sights when I was campaigning last year before the general election was of children as young as eight, nine and 10 on the streets at 9.30 or 10 o'clock at night. Current powers have failed to protect those children and to make sure that they are not on the streets at that time of night.
§ Mr. Beith
I do not think that the response to a disturbing sight is a curfew. If a police officer finds children wandering the streets and clearly at risk late at night, he has an opportunity to talk to them or to take them home. Social services departments can use Children Act powers for such purposes. The notion of saying, "This is a no-go area for children" is unsatisfactory. Many of us played cricket in the street until it was dark, and in my part of the world it gets dark at 11.15 pm in the summer. We did not expect to be told that, thanks to the local council, a curfew had been imposed and that there would be no more cricket.
The right hon. Member for Gorton probably thinks that a curfew should be in force by about 5 or 6 o'clock. Other Labour Members think that a curfew should extend to an older age group. Before long, we would be back to the days when people shut the gates of the town that I represent and tolled a curfew bell, which still rings at 10 past 8, so that everybody could be safely locked up in their homes. We may find that a curfew would be contrary to the provisions of the European convention on human rights, which the Government are properly ensuring can be enforced in our courts.
I should like to speak about the serious issue of sex offenders and what should be done about such offenders who have been released and about whom there is so much public concern. On television at the weekend, the Minister of State said that, in consultation with others, he was developing some ideas on what could be done. Let us see them in the form of a Government amendment in Committee. Let us begin to discuss the matter openly and not confine the discussion to the Home Office. If, after detailed examination, it seems that the ideas are not developed to a form that will allow them to be included in the Bill, the new clause or amendment that contains them could be withdrawn. Why should we go through the process of debating a Bill in this Session when the 407 Government say that they cannot look at such matters until a possible new Bill is being drafted in the next Session?
§ Mr. Michael
It would not be responsible to present half-formed amendments simply to stimulate debate. The Home Secretary made it clear earlier that when ideas have been worked up he will present information to the House to allow a debate. The right hon. Gentleman should give us credit for the fact that we have been open. We have told people that we are trying to find solutions to these difficult problems. Rather than simply mounting a defensive exercise, we have said, "Let us deal with these problems openly. Let us discuss them."
§ Mr. Beith
My definition of openness is not saying that one intends to be open, but presenting proposals. That is not a criticism of the Government, but they should get away from the idea that they will lose face if they present proposals in an early form and are obliged to change them or even take them away because, on examination, they prove to be unsatisfactory. The public would like the process to begin now. To process the Bill without considering that seems odd.
The Government must acknowledge that many of the tools that are available to reduce crime will not be in the Bill and cannot even be found within Home Office powers. They involve most other Departments, especially those that deal with local services and communities. They include creating opportunities, promoting positive activities, providing education and training, creating pride in local areas and environments, diverting young people away from crime and improving the child care system, through which so many offenders have passed in their formative years. They have often been in residential parts of the child care system or have experienced unsatisfactory foster care. The majority of those that one encounters in any prison have been through an unsatisfactory aspect of our child care system.
In a sense, it is not even the fault of Home Office Ministers that they cannot solve all the problems of crime. The fault lies much wider and that is a lesson for government as a whole. Introducing a criminal justice Bill every year, a practice which was developed by the previous Government, will have a much more marginal effect on crime than some of the issues that I have listed, and it will have a much more limited effect on the extent to which crime continues to cause so much distress to our constituents.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches now applies.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
The legislation is welcome. It is the work of a Home Secretary and a Government who are determined to address the tidal wave of yobbery that accompanied the Thatcher decade. [Interruption.] Oh yes it did, and made a misery of the 408 lives of so many of our constituents. It is evidence that a clear sense of purpose and strategic vision are in the process of being restored to our criminal justice system.
§ Mr. Mullin
I am confined to 10 minutes, so I will not give way. Forgive me.
I welcome the measures that are designed to deal more effectively with youth crime and to render youth justice, which, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has sometimes said, resembles a secret garden, more effective. I welcome especially the measures to speed it up. The abolition of the presumption that children who are aged between 10 and 14 do not know the difference between right and wrong is long overdue; I am not persuaded by the argument that that rule has been in place since the reign of Edward III. I welcome, too, other measures that are designed to encourage young offenders to confront their crimes and to make reparation to their victims.
I do not share the view that the Bill is too repressive. For far too long, it has been apparent that our criminal justice system is utterly ineffective against persistent young offenders. For too long, police and local authorities have been tearing their hair out with frustration at their inability to contain that small minority of juveniles who run amok and make the lives of law-abiding people a misery.
Parts of my constituency and those of some of my colleagues have been rendered uninhabitable by out-of-control juveniles, who simply laugh at the law and its representatives. Other hon. Members have quoted examples from their experience. At my surgeries, I am regularly faced with refugees from the poorer parts of my constituency who beg to be evacuated because their lives have been ruined by criminal youths, against whom the law appears to be ineffective.
Last year, an elderly gentleman came to see me who had made the mistake of buying his council home in a once respectable area that was subsequently destroyed by yobbery. As a result, he is trapped. His neighbours, all council tenants, were rehoused years ago, but he is marooned in an unsaleable house that is surrounded by dereliction. Four houses on either side of his are vandalised and boarded up. Behind him, nine or 10 consecutive houses have been abandoned.
§ Mr. Mullin
I cannot because I have only 10 minutes. Forgive me.
Some houses have been fire-bombed. That gentleman has a net over his greenhouse to catch incoming missiles. When his wife died just over a year ago, even the cars of the mourners came under attack from stone-throwing youths. That poor man sits at home at night in terror of the next brick coming through his window, so when someone talks to me about civil liberties, I say, "What about the civil liberties of my constituent? What about the civil liberties of men and women who break down in tears at my surgeries as they describe the anti-social behaviour that is going on around them, which has blighted their lives and those of their children?"
409 I do not mean to suggest, and I am sure the Secretary of State does not mean to suggest, that the Bill is any kind of panacea. The Thatcher decade, when it was every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, has left us with a legacy that will take years to repair. The bills are still coming in. The genie is out of the bottle and will not easily be put back. For years, we have been manufacturing, almost as an act of policy, an underclass of unskilled alienated youths who are a danger to themselves and to everyone around them.
It will take more than a single Act of Parliament to resolve the crisis, but the Bill is a good start. To work, it will require police, local authorities and other agencies to work together. I am glad that this is beginning to happen in my constituency. The Bill will add some new weapons to the armoury of the people who are doing their best to clear up the mess that was left by years of neglect, but no one pretends that it will solve all the problems.
Nor, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, should the Bill be viewed in isolation. It represents only part of a coherent strategy for restoring our battered social fabric. In the long run, the only way in which to make a real difference is to put young people back in touch with the world of work and education: to give them a reason to get up in the morning and a purpose in life. That is the object of the welfare-to-work programme that was launched earlier this week, and the Bill should be viewed in that context.
It will be alleged—indeed, it has been alleged—that some of the Bill's measures—child curfews, for example—are hopelessly impractical. I do not think that we should get too hung up on that. They will be pilot schemes. They are discretionary and, if they do not work, we can try something else.
I see the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed laughing, but he rightly said that Governments should not be afraid to back down if something does not work. Personally, I think that this will work in some areas, in some circumstances, but let us see and let us not get too hung up about it. Let us not be too dogmatic or prescriptive. What is important is to find out what works and what does not. What does not can be discarded. The important point about the Bill is that it widens the armoury of measures that are available to people in the front line.
I have two other more general points. First, nothing in the Bill should be an excuse for increasing the overall prison population. Indeed, I hope that one or two of its measures—home detention curfew, for example—will reduce the prison population. Prison does not work except as an expensive means of containment and then only for so long as containment lasts. The present mushrooming prison population is jeopardising all progress—I acknowledge that there was progress under the previous Government—in providing humane and constructive regimes. We have urgently to find viable, effective alternatives to imprisonment where those are appropriate. The Select Committee on Home Affairs is examining that matter.
Secondly, if we are to make a serious impact on disorder, we have to reverse the huge increase in the number of school exclusions. Where children are excluded, we have to ensure that a programme exists either to help them back into school or to provide a meaningful alternative. All too often, that is not 410 happening. Only the other day, a man came to my surgery and pointed out that two excluded primary school children in his neighbourhood seemed to spend most of their days hanging around the streets.
If that trend is allowed to continue, we are storing up big problems for ourselves. Technically, of course, it is a matter for the Department for Education and Employment, but the Home Office has an obvious interest, because, as sure as night follows day, today's excluded schoolchildren will be tomorrow's criminals.
In passing, I welcome clause 33, which abolishes the death penalty for treason and piracy. Life imprisonment forslandering, the King, Queen or heirsstill seems a little on the steep side, but at least we are removing an anomaly that is becoming an embarrassment to us in international forums where we urge abolition of the death penalty on countries such as Russia.
I touch on a matter that is not addressed in the Bill, but was mentioned briefly by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed: diversion. So much of the Home Office budget is spent either on policing or locking up criminals, but almost nothing is spent on diverting vulnerable young people, who can often be identified at an early stage, into constructive activity and away from temptation. Breakout, an excellent scheme in my constituency, operates during school holidays, providing youngsters in one of the most desolate parts of Sunderland with constructive activity, including trips to the seaside and countryside, which, although only a few miles away, they might never otherwise see.
Every year, the scheme caters for 600 or 700 kids. The total cost is less than £30,000—the equivalent of locking up one juvenile for nine months. However, the money has to be raised piecemeal. The organisers never know from one year to the next where the funds will come from. The city council, the police, local businesses, Save the Children Fund and even the Member of Parliament chip in.
It is time that more attention was paid to diversion and that such schemes were properly funded. They should be held up as examples of best practice, and funding should be placed on a stable basis. It is far more cost effective than having to pick up the pieces after the damage has been done. Perhaps the Secretary of State will consult his colleagues in the Department of the Environment and other relevant Departments and come forward with a stable funding plan for a nationwide programme of diversion.
The Bill is a major step forward. It should be viewed not in isolation, but, alongside welfare to work, as part of a coherent strategy for repairing our damaged social fabric after two decades of neglect. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends and commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Humfrey Matins (Woking)
I pay tribute to the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), under whom crime figures dropped for several years, and to the current Home Secretary and his Minister of State, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), whom I have always found thoughtful and constructive in their approach to the serious problems that we are dealing with.
411 Crime figures have risen inexorably in the past 20 years, particularly those for violent crime. Members of Parliament often seem powerless in the face of that. Every year, we pass criminal justice legislation, full of hope, but the figures carry on getting worse. Perhaps it has something to do with the way in which we operate. Perhaps such matters should be dealt with by Select Committees rather than Standing Committees to allow hon. Members from both sides with a common interest in tackling the problems of crime and law and order to discuss matters and move forward away from the normal antagonism of party politics.
§ Mr. Malins
No, I have no time.
An all-party approach on these critical issues would be greatly preferable.
The Bill deals largely with youth crime. I congratulate the Home Secretary on focusing on that area. He will realise that crime is not just a Home Office problem. It also concerns the Department for Education and Employment. A good school is not merely one that turns out pupils with a large number of grade As at GCSE—a good school spots discipline problems and truancy early and takes steps to deal with them, because they can lead to crime; a good school encourages sport, particularly among young boys, because that can turn them away from crime; a good school produces pupils who do not turn out to be criminals, but who deserve a grade A in good citizenship.
Come with me on a trip to one of the courts where I sit as a recorder or stipendiary magistrate. Have a look at the average defendant in front of me. He is almost certainly a young man of 18 or 19. He has had a rotten education and has never had a job. He has come from a broken home and has bad housing. His parents do not give a damn and do not even turn up at court to support him in his moment of trial. Juvenile crime is a huge problem which gets worse and worse. In the long term, it will be immensely damaging to this country.
Far too many of those young people are involved not just in crime, but in drugs. I was sorry that the Home Secretary did not say much about drugs. As the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, diversion from crime is an important issue. We are top of the European league for the number of 15-year-olds experimenting with cannabis, ecstasy or amphetamines. The link between drugs and crime is clear and must be dealt with. I forgot to tell the House that the odds are that the young man in court whom I mentioned a moment ago is a drug addict. He is in court for burglary. He burgles not because he wants the goods, but because he needs to sell them to raise money to fund his heroin habit, which can cost £500 or £600 a week.
When that young man goes to prison, the situation will be no better, because drugs will be freely available. Banisters regularly plead with me not to send their client to prison because drugs will be more freely available there than outside. In 1996–97, there were 21,700 positive drugs tests among prisoners. In spite of the good efforts of many charities in prisons, the problem has not been 412 dealt with properly. We must break the vicious circle of drugs leading to crime, leading to prison, leading to release, leading to more drugs.
I welcome the drug treatment and testing order in the Bill, but more needs to be done. The appointment of a drugs tsar is probably gesture politics. Prisons need to be totally cleaned out of drugs. We must conduct research into whether there should be compulsory medical treatment of drug addicts. Research in America with the drug naltrexone has been useful. There is an increasingly strong argument that those who sell class A drugs should be treated more harshly by the courts because they purvey great evil and are responsible for a huge and disproportionate amount of crime.
Where do parents fit in? They fit in a lot better if there are two of them. Many of those who appear before me come from one-parent or broken families. We should make divorce more difficult and strive much harder to keep parents together for the sake of children, buttressing marriage in every way possible through tax breaks to keep families together. I am worried about the parenting order, because I do not think that requiring them to attend counselling and guidance sessions weekly will work. It is fanciful and unrealistic to expect to be able to compel people to be good parents. Good parents do not need such an order and bad parents will put two fingers up to it. Parents who do not turn up to court to support their children—parents who do not care—are likely to put a brick down the throat of anyone who visits them with an order to attend court for parenting lessons. That is the reality of life. The orders are fanciful and bureaucratic. A breach by a parent on supplementary benefit resulting in a fine of £3,000 will only clog up the means lists of our courts and will get us nowhere. Too much bureaucracy is involved.
There are some questions about the anti-social behaviour orders. What is the difference between the clauses on anti-social behaviour orders and sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986? They are both summary only. Why will an offence under the Bill be indictable as well as non-indictable? Why might a breach of an order result in five years in prison on indictment for a juvenile, whereas someone offending under sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 would have no such stringent penalty?
I congratulate the Home Secretary on many aspects of the Bill, but more examination is needed. There is not enough emphasis on the problems of drugs. My constituents are troubled not just by crime, but by the perception of crime. The Government must find the money for more closed circuit television. They should spend rather less on speed cameras and police cars and rather more on police boots, because boots are made for walking. People throughout the country want to see more policemen walking the beat, because that provides them with a great deal of comfort. I wish the Bill good luck.
§ Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. The issues are of huge importance to the people of Salford. I found some of the comments by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) depressing and pessimistic. The Bill is full of hope for the people of the constituency that I do my best to represent.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for visiting Salford last week. He spent a great deal of time with local people in one of the most besieged 413 communities in the country. He came to Langworthy, in Salford, and spoke with local people about the huge problems that they face, not only with crime but with disorder.
I should like briefly to give the House some statistics, because the volume of crime in my city is overwhelming. My communities are under seige and in crisis. I think that hon. Members will be genuinely shocked by the figures from only the past four weeks. In the past four weeks, in the police F Division, we have had 180 burglaries of dwellings and 168 burglaries of business premises. We have had 255 vehicles stolen, and 207 thefts from vehicles. We have also had 76 woundings—in a four-week period.
As for disorder, we have had 356 incidents of juvenile nuisance and 138 domestic disputes. We have had 445 various "suspicious circumstances". We have also had 1,228 incidents that were not recorded as "crimes". In a four-week period, 1,431 key crimes have been recorded in F Division.
The volume of crime daily facing local people is what grinds them down and depresses their spirit. I believe that the Bill's provisions will give them the morale and confidence that they need to begin to fight back.
Many local people are frightened and intimidated by the prospect of even getting involved in reporting crime. I remind the House that the horrific figures I have quoted deal with only recorded crime. All hon. Members know that under those figures are many layers of crimes and incidents that go unreported because people do not want to become involved. They fear harassment, intimidation and retribution. Such fears are why we have had to establish in our city, not only a witness support scheme, but a witness protection scheme—to protect witnesses from the very real fear of personal violence that some criminals, given half a chance, would mete out to them.
Police in our city are working extremely hard to tackle the problems. A recent operation—Operation Jellyfish—was aimed specifically at youngsters aged between 10 and 14, and involved video surveillance. Police videoed youngsters committing crimes—such as theft from vehicles, damage and all types of vandalism and anti-social behaviour—and then visited parents with that video evidence.
Previously, when police went round to young people's homes to accuse children of involvement in anti-social behaviour and crime, parents—perhaps some of those parents mentioned by the hon. Member for Woking, who do not care about their children—often said, "My son or daughter couldn't possibly have been involved in that crime." However, when faced with video evidence, parents' reactions have been tremendously encouraging. Some of those parents have begun to take responsibility for their children's actions, because the evidence has been incontrovertible.
In my city, we have to rely on video surveillance and police action, as local people are finding it very difficult to come forward, because of intimidation, to give evidence against their neighbours. In many cases, we know the identity of the criminals who are committing one offence after another. In Salford, unfortunately, good families—rather than the criminals, who are not apprehended or dealt with effectively—are living behind bars and numerous locks, almost in steel cages.
414 Problems in many inner-city areas, such as Salford, are about not only crime but disorder. Although our police can probably cope with some of our most serious crimes, the detection rate in Greater Manchester—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said—is appalling. I am sure that a similar situation prevails across the country.
Disorder causes police the most problems. If police are to deal with serious crime, they cannot constantly be on the streets trying to control behaviour in the community. Orders dealing with anti-social behaviour will be most useful in dealing with that type of situation. They will apply to anti-social families, who often roam the streets of my city with impunity, causing misery and mayhem to the decent people who are trying to uphold standards.
The anti-social behaviour orders will be especially useful because the civil burden of proof, rather than the current higher standard, will apply. The orders will therefore be easier to obtain. Obtaining evidence also will be easier, as such a heavy burden will not be placed on local people. Currently, they are required to come forward personally to give evidence, and subsequently to face retribution. Breaching an order may result in a sentence of up to five years, which may well cause some criminals in our communities to think twice about doing so.
The proposed reparation orders will confront young criminals with the effects of their crimes on their victims, and make them repair the damage that they have caused. The orders will be more effective than the numerous cautions and fines that are currently imposed. Some criminals have absolutely no intention of paying their fines.
Curfews imposed on youngsters under 10 have been criticised by some hon. Members for potentially being ineffective. However, curfews will send out a message in the community that it is not right for youngsters under 10 to be roaming the streets—not only at 9.30 pm, but, in my city, at 11 or 12 at night. I know a youngster of six who regularly sleeps in the park. Such things are happening in our inner-city areas. If we have to resort to measures such as curfews, so be it. I agree that they are a drastic measure, and I do not want people's freedom to be limited. I remember being out fairly late at night when growing up in Salford—the inner-city—but it was a safe place to be. It is no longer a safe place to be for youngsters, because of the influences to which they are exposed, the damage that is done to them, and the abuse to which they might be subjected on the streets of our cities. As I said, if we need curfews, so be it.
The Bill's provisions will start to bring confidence back to our communities, which, in recent years, have had the heart knocked out of them. Conservative Members are reluctant to accept the link between unemployment, poverty, family breakdown, the benefit culture and crime, but those factors are undoubtedly related. My city is living evidence that mass unemployment has a dramatic effect not only on crime but on community disorder.
Things are beginning to change in my city, and I should like to give one or two examples of positive ways in which local authorities, police and communities are working together to tackle the problems. Their actions will be helped and reinforced by the Bill's provisions.
We have the safer Salford scheme, in which our local authority is spending half a million pounds annually on closed circuit television, security, fencing, creating areas 415 of defensible space and youth outreach work. The youth outreach work is not being done in youth clubs, as some of our children will not go to them, but by sending youth workers out to estates and the areas of greatest disorder. They are bringing in youngsters and re-engaging them with the community.
Extra police officers have been funded by our single regeneration budget. In one case, a local housing association has provided funds to secure extra police officers to help in improving an area in which its properties are located. By focusing the work of dedicated police officers on the areas of greatest need, we will begin to restore order where there is currently mostly chaos.
No longer do we have problems with disorder only on large council estates. The biggest disorder problems in my constituency are in areas of privately rented property belonging to absentee landlords. One area has 200 absentee landlords, who do not vet their tenants but will put anyone in housing simply to get the housing benefit. Those landlords have no stake in the community. Our communities have dissolved almost overnight because of uncaring landlords who are interested only in a quick profit. We will have fundamentally to address that issue.
In Salford, we have a couple of excellent schemes, such as the Street to Stadium Trust, which is trying to divert young people from crime by using sport, art and other activities to re-engage them. Those schemes say to youngsters, "You will not be written off. You have talents and skills. Let us help you to make the most of them, rather than being involved in crime and anti-social behaviour."
At our local high school, we have embarked on an experiment of an alternative curriculum for youngsters who, by 14 or 15, are completely disaffected from school. The curriculum has been in operation for only two terms, and applies to a group of 20 youngsters. Last year, those youngsters rarely attended school. They were truanting and on the verge of permanent exclusion, which would, inevitably, have been followed by involvement in crime.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)
I greatly welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, particularly because it gives me a chance to speak about one or two aspects of the Bill—in which I have had a long-standing interest, especially its provisions dealing with serious crime committed by juveniles. However, I should like to say first that it is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), both of whom made powerful speeches, to which the House will have listened with great care.
Like the hon. Member for Salford, I welcome the success of closed circuit television. I share her concerns about absentee landlords. However, there are grave concerns that Labour Members have been unwilling to recognise what the Home Secretary graciously recognised in his opening speech: many of the successes have been the result of the previous Conservative Government's actions.
416 Conservative Members have been greatly concerned that, over many years, Labour authorities have been working hand in glove with a number of absentee landlords who have been tied up with local government corruption in many cities. I use those words advisedly. [Interruption.] In many documented cases, those links have been proven. The hon. Lady should look at the record of Labour councils and their links with absentee landlords and those involved in housing benefit fraud.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I will not, because I have only 10 minutes in which to speak. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) refused to take my interventions because of the time limit. I shall not be able to take interventions either.
I agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South about the importance of recognising the need to devise alternatives to custody where possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking and I serve on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which the hon. Gentleman chairs. Yesterday morning, when some members of the Select Committee visited Sherborne house, we had the opportunity to see a good example of a project that provides an alternative to custody. I pay tribute to the dedicated and experienced senior probation officers who are running that project with great success. It deals particularly with people who would otherwise have faced custodial sentences for muggings and street crime.
It may come as a surprise to my hon. Friends to hear me, as someone who has always been a tough law and order spokesman, supporting any idea of alternatives to custody, but I recognise that there are occasions when the courts look for a way in which to break somebody's cycle of drugs, imprisonment, more drugs and more imprisonment, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Woking referred. Projects such as the one that members of the Select Committee saw yesterday can provide an opportunity to break that cycle.
I refer to one or two specific aspects of the Bill. I hope that, if I am lucky with the Committee of Selection, I shall be able to serve on the Committee that scrutinises the Bill, so that I can go into greater detail than I can in only 10 minutes. The Bill has been referred to as something of a Christmas tree—anything can be hung on it. I hope that that is not so. I prefer to describe the Bill as a portmanteau. There are many good aspects to it—and that is no surprise.
Recently, as the Home Secretary was generous enough to acknowledge, there has been more of a bipartisan approach to criminal justice. Many of the Bill's proposals were originally planned when the previous Government were in office. Before Labour Members take too much credit and say that this is a wonderful new Labour Bill, they should remember that most of its proposals came forward under the previous Government. If the verdict of the electorate had been different—[Interruption.] Labour Members, some of whom have not been in the House very long, may smile, but if they check the facts with their Front-Bench team, they will realise that many of the Bill's proposals were coming forward anyway. We all know that, and the Minister knows that better than anyone.
One can trace the history of many of the proposals in many of the speeches and policy documents of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and 417 Hythe (Mr. Howard) when he was Home Secretary. The Minister and I have debated these issues many times, particularly in the 180 hours of debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, when he was in opposition. He knows that many of proposals before us owe their origins to that Bill and subsequent Bills during the previous Parliament.
I particularly welcome the provisions on electronic tagging. To reinforce my earlier point and the fact that we on the Conservative Benches so much welcome the belated conversion of Labour Members to some of the things in which Conservatives have always believed, I shall quote the words of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), the then Labour spokesman, who said in a debate on the Criminal Justice Bill in 1990:Electronic monitoring is a dangerous and irrelevant concept. It is wrong in principle … It has enormous implications for civil liberties".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 18 December 1990; c. 274.]We recognise the Labour party's very belated but none the less welcome conversion to matters in which we have always believed, such as electronic tagging.
I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), about the importance of young people not being out on the streets late at night. Although there was some hilarity when she intervened, she was quite right. All of us as Members of Parliament worry when we see very small children on the streets at 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock at night. We know that the parents of those children are irresponsible. We know that, sometimes very sadly, those children's lives are tragically ended when they fall into the hands of the very paedophiles whom the Government are rightly taking steps to control. The Bill encourages good parents to be sensible and ensures that the courts have powers to impose curfews when parents are not sensible. That is one of the most welcome aspects of the Bill.
From my experience of practising at the Bar in courts, particularly juvenile courts, my years serving on the Bar Council and from three years on its inner cabinet, I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking about drugs in prison. One of the ways in which I would like to toughen the Bill—I hope that we shall succeed in doing so in Committee—is by taking further steps to control the use of drugs by those serving prison sentences. It is absolutely right that we take firm steps to try to ensure that prisons become, as far as possible, drug-free zones. We know that that is not so at the moment.
As my hon. Friend said, defence advocates frequently present cases to him and many others who sit as recorders, assistant recorders and judges, that allowing a defendant to go to prison will worsen his drug problem because of the extent of drug use in prison. We must stop that, and the Bill may give us an opportunity to toughen controls on drugs in prisons, particularly drugs supplied by those visiting convicted prisoners serving sentences.
We sought to address the problem by increasing search powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. The Minister may remember, because he was the Opposition spokesman on that Bill, that we were able to toughen powers for police officers to search for drugs. I remember in particular that the former Member for Milton Keynes, 418 North-East and I tabled an amendment that gave greater powers to search for drugs under somebody's hat, because drugs were often hidden under the hats of Rastafarian criminals and Rastafarian visitors of those serving sentences. That was well known to everyone. It may sound trivial, but for police officers and prison officers, the point was valid. That is a small example, but one which I hope will point the way to opportunities to toughen provisions in the Bill.
Before I run out of time, I want to refer to the matter first raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), the former Attorney-General, about clause 50. The Government added it to the Bill only in the House of Lords, but I think that they will think again about it. As my right hon. and learned Friend rightly said, there is great concern that prosecution duties, even in uncontested hearings, are to be given to people who are not legally qualified. As I said in my intervention on him, it is a duty of any prosecutor in court to raise any relevant matters. Serious offences may be dealt with in uncontested hearings. This is not a matter of circling the wagons to defend the legal profession. It is of concern that somebody who understands the law should consider serious offences and matters affecting the liberty of the subject.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)
I want to make three main points. Colleagues have spoken about the effect that the legislation might have on their constituencies. Before I talk about that, I should say that not all the youth of Britain are throwing bricks through windows. Not all the young ladies of Britain are single, unmarried mothers. Not everybody who lives on an estate in my constituency is a criminal. In fact, the vast majority are not; they are good citizens seeking to earn a living, if they can get a job. They want decency, security in their old age and opportunities for their children. We should bear that in mind. The purpose of the Bill is to protect precisely those people.
I want to read out an extract from the Hull Daily Mail, my local newspaper, of 27 March. Under the headline "Vandals halt estate buses", an article states:Night-time buses to a Hull estate have been cancelled after a series of vandal attacks.Stagecoach has pulled the plug on services to Bransholme between 6.30pm and 9.30pm until next Wednesday, after bricks were thrown through windows of their vehicles.The attacks have been carried out by children as young as 10-years-old.In one incident on Monday, a piece of rock was hurled through a window with such force that it travelled the width of the bus and out through the other side …Two years ago, children believed to be as young as four were blamed for attacking buses on Bransholme, injuring passengers and drivers and causing £6,000 of damage.That is horrendous, but it is made even more so by the fact that there is only one road into the remote north Bransholme estate and one road out. There is only one bus service and, because of the poverty, very few people own cars.
The behaviour of those louts and young kids has not only led to criminal damage—which is important but not as important as the danger inflicted on bus drivers and passengers—but has put an estate almost under siege, 419 albeit in an entirely different way from that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears). In any event, it prevented old people from going to bingo. People could not get home from work without having to walk on dark nights, as they were then, through narrow lanes along that road. People were in considerable fear.
What is there in the Bill to deal with children in that age range? There are parenting orders, parental control orders, child safety orders and anti-social behaviour orders, all of which could help to deal with the age range involved in the incident that I have outlined and with their parents. Like other hon. Members, I have seen children of six or seven pushing babies in pushchairs. That is frightening, and something has to be done. It is not a question of wanting a nanny or draconian state; it is a question of ensuring young people's safety.
I deal now with absentee landlords, who were also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford. The previous Government poured millions of pounds into the south part of the Bransholme estate, but the council tenants who had bought their homes could not keep up their payments, and some houses were sold to absentee landlords. Legislation enables a landlord to get rid of a tenant, but what if the landlord himself will not act to get rid of a tenant because he is quite happy to receive the tenant's housing benefit, which comes straight to him? That leads to someone in my constituency having what he calls his extended family calling at all hours of the day and night, knocking on the door and asking for drugs. The neighbours are afraid to give evidence, and the police and the local authority are not able to do anything to eject the tenant. Charges could be pressed—the police are quite happy to do so—but the tenant cannot be got rid of because the absentee landlord refuses to act.
I have written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) about the matter, but I have been very disappointed with the replies that I have received. Whatever we think of private property in this instance, landlords who are prepared to keep such tenants should be deprived of their property.
I deal now with clause 33, which I regard as extremely important. The House has the opportunity to get rid of capital punishment for all civil criminal offences, if that is not a contradiction in terms. I am especially happy that clause 33 will amend, among others,
I regard those amendments as a bonus to the balanced constitutional accommodation that we are seeking at the talks in Stormont, although if the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) knew about it, he would probably dive into the Thames following the tricolours.
- "(a) section II of the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 (occasioning disturbance) …
- (b) section XII of the Act of Supremacy (Ireland) 1560 (penalties for maintaining or defending foreign authority);
- (c) section 3 of the Treason Act 1702 (endeavouring to hinder the succession to the Crown etc. punishable as high treason);
- (d) section I of the Treason Act (Ireland) 1703 (which makes corresponding provision)".
420 Clause 33 is important because it means, or I hope it means, that we are now in a position to sign protocol 6 of the European convention. Paragraph 4.13 of the White Paper relating to the Human Rights Bill states that signing it wouldmake it impossible for a United Kingdom Parliament to re-introduce the death penalty for murder, short of denouncing the European Convention. The view taken so far is that the issue is not one of basic constitutional principle but is a matter of judgement and conscience to be decided by Members of Parliament as they see fit. For these reasons, we do not propose to ratify Protocol 6 at present.I stress the words "as they see fit". If both Houses of Parliament agree to the clause, will my hon. Friend the Minister of State say that we can now ratify protocol 6? If we accept clause 33, the House of Commons will have said that it wants an end to capital punishment.
When he winds up, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that the Government will accept the will of the House and, more important, that we can sign protocol 6. Or will he say that we are going to have to wait for a Government amendment to the Human Rights Bill? I do not mind which answer he gives, but if the House has decided that we should sign protocol 6 and remove the obscenity of capital punishment from our system in relation to ordinary criminal law, I hope that he can persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to do the same for military offences.
Finally, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) in congratulating our noble Friends in another place and in the Council of Europe who have argued for the abolition of capital punishment, but I especially congratulate Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former distinguished Member of this House. He has a history of fighting for civil and human rights throughout the world, but especially in this country and in Northern Ireland. I can think of no greater epitaph than that he had carried the appropriate amendment through the House of Lords and had seen it passed by the House of Commons, and thus ensured that the death penalty disappeared.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). Although we represent different political parties, we share many values. Indeed, we have debated many of these matters in Hull.
It is terribly important that the House builds on the consensus that appears to be developing. I suspect that the two major political parties are now closer together on law and order issues than at any time in the past 20 years. I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said. Indeed, I thought that the latter part of his speech was the best that I had ever heard him make in this place. However, given his authority and experience, it does not encourage rational debate when he maintains that all the problems are down to Thatcherite yob culture. I wish that life were so simple, but it is not. If the problems are entirely the fault of the Conservative Government and especially of my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, why are they so prevalent throughout all western nations? We have to try to tackle the problems together: coming out with simplistic statements does not help at all.
421 In many ways, I do blame the Conservative Government because, like most Governments, they followed legal fashion. In the late 1980s, when I was parliamentary private secretary to Lord Waddington at the Home Office, distinguished judges were telling the Home Secretary that we were sending far too many people to prison, and that every piece of research showed that prison did not solve anything. Lord Waddington and my boss at the time, now Lord Patten, took the judges' advice and started to make it more difficult for judges to send people to prison. That was the legal fashion at the time and, as a result, my own Government were guilty of making a major mistake, although their action was applauded by legal opinion and all other political parties at the time.
The nation owes a debt of gratitude to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) for the way in which he reversed the results of that fashionable legal opinion. He has been castigated by the great and the good of the legal establishment ever since and his name is mud with many people, but now, not only the Conservative party, as one would expect, but both the main political parties accept much of what he did. Whatever Labour Members think, much of the groundwork for the Bill was laid in the Conservative manifesto. We have to work together.
Recent Home Office research clearly shows what we all know, which is thatthe key factors relating to criminality are being male; being brought up by a criminal parent or parents; living in a family with multiple problems; experiencing poor parenting and lack of supervision at school; playing truant; associating with delinquent friends; and having brothers and sisters who offend.The single most important influence on a child's development is that of the family. We talk too glibly about "the family" and, if we want to be politically correct, we say that all families are equal. But not all families are equal. The same Home Office research states:For both males and females, those who lived with both natural parents were the least likely ever to start to offend … The difference in offending rates between those brought up by two natural parents was statistically significant for both males and females.Those quotes are from "Young People and Crime" by Bowling and Graham, which was published in 1995.
Twenty per cent. of all recorded crime is committed by juveniles, so anything that the Bill does to solve that problem should be welcomed; but I fear that the Bill only scratches the surface. Why are all western countries facing similar problems? It is because we have created a sort of yob culture, not through what some Minister did or did not do five or 10 years ago, but through a general decline in religion, ethics and morality. Parliament is absolutely powerless against those trends, but we have to have the courage at least to make a start. It did not help when the previous Parliament, when my own party was in office, made divorce even easier than it had been previously, despite the fact that some of my colleagues and I fought that Bill line by line.
However, we have to start somewhere, so I welcome parenting orders and anti-social behaviour orders, even though, like my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I believe that they will be bureaucratic and 422 difficult to implement. In its briefing, the Law Society acknowledges that anti-social behaviour is a serious problem in some areas, but it makes a good point when it says:A range of civil proceedings already exist which should adequately deal with these neighbourhood problems. If they are not used, it is because the 'victim' is not helped to make use of the civil system and may not be eligible for legal aid. Local authority or police solicitors should be responsible, as is proposed for these new provisions in this paper".There is absolutely no point in the Government introducing a new criminal justice Bill or disorder Bill every year, while not providing adequate resources through legal aid to implement what is already on the statute book.
Many people who, like me, have practical experience in the criminal courts of this country know that magistrates and judges, especially after the work of the past five years, have adequate powers to deal with the problem; what they do not have are the necessary resources. The way to deal with young offenders is not through bureaucratic parenting orders, but through having more secure places available to magistrates. Magistrates are sick and tired of people like us—parliamentarians—lecturing them when they have the powers, but when every time they want to lock up a young thug who is terrorising a local estate there is no secure place available.
Such problems are not confined to typical inner-city areas, like Hull, North or other Labour areas. Some people think that Gainsborough is a pleasant rural constituency in Lincolnshire, but I can take hon. Members to the Park Springs estate where there is a road which is devastated, with a whole row of houses boarded up, and where people are terrorised. The most powerful part of the speech made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South came when he quoted the case of the gentleman who had made the mistake of buying his council house, but who could not sell it and whose life was made a misery. Our people who live in estates are fed up. We must have courage: we must not continue to pretend that providing new legislation every year and having orders here and extra powers there will solve the problem; we have to give the resources to police and magistrates.
We cannot solve the problem by pretending that slick improvements in the administration of justice will achieve anything, but we make that mistake again and again. We should be proud of our legal system; we should be recognise the fact that not everyone who comes before the courts is guilty and that people must have a fair trial. Listen to what the Bar Council saysEven where a defendant admits his involvement in a particular offence, there may be a substantial amount of negotiation prior to entering a guilty plea and, even without negotiation, it is rare that all the facts of the case as set out in the prosecution statements are accepted. In mitigation, facts may be presented to the Court which run contrary to the prosecution case and decisions concerning the acceptability or otherwise of what is advanced in mitigation must be made on the spot by the CPS lawyer in court. Without a lawyer present, there would be a risk of further hearings or that the defendant will be sentenced on an unduly lenient basis.Those are people who actually practise law and who know what they are talking about, but we are going to allow non-lawyers to take important decisions.
Let us not fool ourselves that any slick solution proposed in the Bill will solve the problem—it will not. Crime has been rising inexorably because of a breakdown 423 of moral values in society. The only way to deal with that breakdown is to give adequate resources to our courts and to the police.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), used the words "we believe" 24 times in his speech—it was more of a confession than a speech. We in the Labour party also believe: we believe in the good sense of the electorate in returning a Labour Government last May. One of the principal reasons why so many Conservative Members lost their seats in the general election was the Conservative Government's appalling record on crime and disorder.
I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his outstanding record over the past 11 months. He is a Home Secretary who is committed to bringing crime under control; he is the Home Secretary who abolished the primary purpose rule and who is taking action against illegal immigration advisers; he has introduced several other measures relating to race and immigration; and he established the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. On the issue of crime, he has been tough on hooligans and provided extra support for victims.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) is no longer here. He ridiculed the work that has been done in respect of drugs, but the appointment of the drugs tsar has been one of the most effective actions taken by the Labour Government. As one who served on the Home Affairs Committee when it reported on the problem of crack cocaine and the way in which it has pervaded society in America, I believe that the work of the drugs tsar is extremely important in combating drugs.
I therefore pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to his excellent ministerial team, one of whom—the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael)—is here, for the work that they have done, and pledge my continued support for them in their fight against crime.
My right hon. Friend visited my constituency last June and went to one of my most difficult estates, Northfields. He saw what 18 years of fear and neglect—18 years of the creation of fortress Britain—meant to the people of Northfields. He had the opportunity to have tea with Dolly Juby, one person in an estate racked with crime who feared going out by day—let alone by night—because of the large amount of criminal activity there.
My right hon. Friend also met members of the local tenants' association and re-asserted his commitment and that of the Government to the creation of a crime policy that involves various agencies. The partnership approach is the most important consideration in the Bill—bringing the police, tenants' associations, schools and, indeed, local businesses into the fight against crime.
I never used to support closed circuit television. In fact, like my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is no longer present, I used to be critical of it, because I thought it affected people's civil liberties. However, it is one of the only means by which we can fight crime on housing estates. Recently, I went to Thurnby lodge in my constituency and met local 424 campaigners Paul Newcombe and Ricky Thomas, who are at the forefront of the campaign launched by local residents in support of greater video surveillance. They believe that it is an effective use of resources. That is why we fully support what the local chief constable, David Wyrko, and Leicestershire constabulary have done in the fight against crime.
I heard the horrific statistics mentioned by many of my colleagues. In fact, there was a 9.5 per cent. drop in recorded crime in Leicestershire between April 1997 and March 1998 because of the effective work done by the local police and the local partnerships that have been created. In October 1997, the safe school initiative was launched and a new initiative—motorcycle watch—has also been created. The Home Secretary's visit to Northfields has been followed up to ensure that time, resources and police person power are used on estates of that type.
I must highlight two more issues. First, I urge the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, whom I recently met to discuss the issue, to try to include in the Bill a provision on hit-and-run drivers. They know that we have a long-standing major campaign in Leicester in support of giving the police greater powers to arrest people whom they suspect of hit-and-run driving. It is odd that there is a loophole in the law that prevents the police from arresting someone whom they suspect of committing that offence.
In 1993, I introduced a Bill to deal with the problem. Initially, the Conservative Government opposed it, but, on the very day the election was called, I received a letter from the then Home Secretary saying that the Government would support the creation of a new offence. At my meeting with the Minister of State, I was pleased to hear that this Government also support the measure. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions also supports it and the Minister for Roads has written to tell me that she supports the creation of such an offence, as has the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department.
We need a new offence to deal with hit-and-run drivers because of the many people who have been killed or injured by them—for example, 84-year-old Bill Carter, who was knocked down and killed as a result of the actions of a hit-and-run driver, which is why his daughter Carmel and his son-in-law have helped to launch our campaign for the legislation to be amended. I hope that the Government will be able to ensure that something is done—if not by amending the legislation, by assuring us that they will introduce legislation in the near future to deal with that gap in the law.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary again—now that he is in his place—on what he is doing on race. He is the first Home Secretary to tackle racial discrimination seriously. I do not know whether this is an unparliamentary term, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but what a silly man the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire is for saying that the Conservative Government did not have an opportunity in 18 years to introduce legislation to combat racial harassment and attacks. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out, he and others had been urging the previous Government for 18 years to do something about it. Now, we have a Home Secretary and a Government who are prepared to do something. 425 The statistics are appalling. In 1988, there were 4,383 reported incidents of racial harassment or violence, and between 1995 and 1996, there were 12,222 such incidents. It is estimated that, in 1991, as many as 130,000 racial incidents took place—26,000 involved vandalism and 32,250 assaults. That is why the Government's commitment to ensuring that something is done is absolutely clear.
I must also pay tribute to Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who has worked hard to ensure that the issue remains on the agenda. Legislation is not enough to change people's attitudes. We have to do a lot more to ensure that our multiracial country shows that it guarantees the rights of minorities and celebrates its cultural diversity. I know that legislation will not change those people who commit racial assaults, but it is an important step along the way and it sends a message from this place that we will not tolerate such action.
To quote my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary:There is still discrimination and prejudice and too few opportunities for black and Asian people, too many glass ceilings, too many closed doors".Also, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, speaking at Brighton last year, said:We cannot be a beacon to the world unless the talents of all the people shine through.Legislation is a way in which we can show the black and Asian community that Parliament wants the talents of all its people to be recognised and that anyone who would prevent that from happening will be dealt with severely.
Finally, the Solicitor-General, closing the debate in another place, said:In our view, this is a sensible, wide-ranging Bill. It is ambitious and innovative."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 1997; Vol. 584, c.593.]I am certain that the Bill will enhance this Government's reputation as a Government who are tough on crime and the causes of crime.
§ Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)
I, too, must start by congratulating the Home Secretary—my congratulations are perhaps more surprising than some of the others that he has received during the debate—on the intellectual journey that he has taken to arrive at this Bill. In his opening remarks, and more particularly in his article in The Times this morning, he described clearly how everything that the Labour party had been saying about law and order for his entire time in politics until the past couple of years had been wrong.
It was brave of the right hon. Gentleman to admit that. I can only wish him joy and success in trying to educate some of the hon. Members on the Benches behind him into cutting themselves off from their previous prejudices. From some of the remarks and noises made from a sedentary position, it was clear that, whereas the Home Secretary may have made a considerable intellectual journey, it has not yet been made by the rest of his party.
I also pay tribute not merely to the contents of the Bill but to its size and timing. The fact that the Home Secretary has produced it in the first Session of this Parliament is a tribute to him—and, more particularly, to his predecessor. The many actions taken by my right 426 hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) not only did good in themselves, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends pointed out in the debate, but achieved something extremely unusual for any Minister in any Government. It would be unusual enough for a Prime Minister, but it is particularly unusual for any other Minister. Those achievements have transformed the climate of debate in Britain on law and order and the measures appropriate to achieve its objectives.
One of the greatest tributes that could be paid to my right hon. and learned Friend is the fact that one of the Labour Government's flagship Bills is the wide-ranging Crime and Disorder Bill, which contains measures which, only four or five years ago, practically every Labour Member of Parliament would have described as unacceptably authoritarian. Many Conservative Members would have described them as common sense, and they supported the former Home Secretary in the many measures that he introduced, as they support the measures in the Bill that on proposals made by the previous Government and their Home Secretary.
The Home Secretary will be glad to hear that I am about to stop embarrassing him with my congratulations, but, before I do so, I must congratulate him on joining the ranks of the authoritarians, as he would have described them in previous years. That is where his journey has taken him. It has taken him to a more sensible place than that which he and his party occupied for much of the past 20 years.
Before the Bill goes into Committee, it is vital to flag up some of our individual concerns. The Bill's intentions may be good, and many of its measures welcome, but it is clear that, in some areas, the Government have allowed their rhetoric to run away from the practicalities. In particular, the many measures that rely on local authority action require careful consideration by the House this evening and in Committee.
The reliance that the Government propose to put on local authorities in their law enforcement strategy is startling. Local authorities will have to work with the police to apply for anti-social behaviour orders, they will be responsible for crime and disorder strategies, and they will have to set up a local child curfew scheme. Many new responsibilities are being put on local authorities, and, as ever, the essential question is where the money will come from.
We have already had a notably skewed and ungenerous local authority settlement this year, and one assumes that that will continue during the Government's lifetime. The Government are therefore expressing pious hopes that local authorities will be able to contribute to the fight against crime and disorder—we all hope that they will be able to do so—without giving them the tools to do the job properly.
One fears that many local authorities will take their responsibilities seriously, and remove money from other budgets. It would be cruel and counter-productive if local authorities, in their desire to meet those important new responsibilities and to help many of those who live on estates—we have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House of the many problems that exist in certain areas—take the money from the education or social security budgets to put into the crime prevention budget. Unless and until the Government provide the resources 427 for local authorities to have a proper and effective law enforcement strategy, they are in danger of cruelly deceiving people.
There are also legitimate concerns about the many measures in the Bill to cope with children and young teenagers. One of the more interesting parts of the Home Secretary's article in The Times this morning was his point that the Government have moved from listening to pressure groups, and have started listening to real people living in real communities, who have always been much more sensible—that is, much more tough—about law and order than the pressure groups.
It is worth the Home Secretary's while to take note of the various representations I have received from bodies that could not be regarded as wild pressure groups, such as Barnardos and the Children's Society, who say that the compulsory attendance part of a parental responsibility order, under duress and threat of a fine, is likely to exacerbate tension between parent and child, and, in some instances, result in family breakdown and admissions to care. Clearly no one would want that, but if responsible bodies such as Barnardos see it as a possibility, I hope that the Home Secretary will take it seriously.
There are obviously gaps in the Bill. It is still not clear whether 10 and 11-year-olds might be detained alongside rather older teenagers. That would clearly be an extreme threat to their welfare, and would, I suspect, be counter-productive in the long run. I hope that the Minister can guarantee that that will not happen.
The Government are also failing to deliver on their pledge to remove 15 and 16-year-olds from adult gaols. That was a practice which the Prime Minister described as a scandal when he was shadow Home Secretary. I assume that he has not changed his view, so I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to deal with that fairly quickly.
The principal danger that the Government will have to address is that the Bill has been over-hyped and will raise expectations too high. I hope that the Minister will deal with how the Bill's success can be measured. Labour Members have made many rather cheap and simplistic points about the failure of the previous Government's law and order policy. I simply point out that, for some years now, there have been consistent falls in the crime rate, and that is the best way of measuring the success of a law and order policy.
Will the Bill's success be measured by falling crime rates, falling juvenile crime rates or falling prison numbers? I and, I am sure, the House, will be grateful if this evening we can be given some clear idea of objective measures by which the Bill's success can be measured.
The Home Secretary has made a long journey in the right direction. I hope that the measures he introduces as a result will be successful. I have doubts about some of them, and I should like to know how he will measure the success of his law and order strategy.
§ Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling)
Unlike the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I welcome the opportunity to have Scottish legislation piggy-backed through on the Bill. It would have been 428 faintly bizarre and somewhat bewildering for the Scottish people if some of those generic issues relating to anti-social behaviour and sex offending had not been considered in this way when there is such pressure on legislative time.
Given the time restraints, I want to address particularly clauses 18 and 19, which deal with the generic issues of anti-social behaviour and sex offending orders.
Stirling, in its own time, has gained a certain notoriety in all sorts of ways, but, in January 1997, the douce town hit the media images across the United Kingdom when we saw, perhaps in many respects for the first time, a vigilante mob in an area of the town seeking to expel a recently released paedophile.
The sight was not edifying. The forces of law and order seemed almost unsure of their role, and the local authority was wrestling with two conflicting and almost self-exclusive roles. As a social services agency, it had a duty of care to the released prisoner, and, as a housing department, it had a duty to provide accommodation for someone who had just been released from prison. Yet, at the same time, it was the statutory guardian of the children in the community in terms of their safety, and was also, obviously, the education authority, responsible for the schools which surrounded the area into which that person had moved.
The paedophile was removed from that bed-and-breakfast accommodation and taken to another hostel, only to be traced in that community. Women from the first area were joined by mothers in the second area. Having spoken to those parents later, I can tell the House that they were almost embarrassed by their actions, but not one has expressed regret to me about the activity in which they had to be involved. As parents, they saw that their primary duty was to protect their children, and they did not see any other route by which they could do that.
One of the most welcoming features of the Bill is that it will provide an alternative route to guarantee public safety. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the way in which he has confronted vigilante mob rule over recent days. We have to come up with a system of managing the freedom of the sex offender or of deciding whether that sex offender should be released. Parents, children and communities across the country need to feel safe. I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments, because, if we do not challenge the vigilante approach, there is a grave danger of driving sex offenders underground, which would be an even greater danger for communities.
That is why I particularly welcome the extension of supervision orders within the Scottish element of the Bill where there is a serious perceived threat to the community or to public safety. I reckon that parents, knowing that the extensions exist and that there are severe penalties for breach of them, will feel some comfort.
I give a word of warning to the House. We must remember that the majority of sex offenders are not from outside the network of family or friends. More often that not, children know the sex offender, and they may be from within the family circle. Many complex relationships must be addressed.
I welcome the Scottish Office initiative to establish an expert panel under the chairmanship of Lady Cosgrove, who is the only female High Court judge in Scottish legal 429 circles. I trust that that expert panel will take forward some of the recommendations of the recent Skinner investigation.
The other aspect that I want to mention introduces an element of poetic irony. One of the leaders of the vigilante group against the paedophile was hounded out of her home by local people only a few months later. They were fed up with her family's well-documented anti-social behaviour. She learned from bitter experience that, once one is branded as anti-social, as a paedophile or as somebody who is not acceptable within a community, it is incredibly difficult to be rehoused. One ends up being shunted around the local authority system.
I hope that we look in Committee at ways in which local authorities work collectively to solve those strategic problems. I am pleased that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has already started on that route.
Like most hon. Members, I have seen my fair share of serious distress, with people coming to my surgery detailing appalling anti-social behaviour. Some might call it a clash of life styles, but that is too comfortable a term. I do not know why people need to play loud music in the middle of the night or to hoover at 4 am. I find it bizarre that people hammer nails into the wall at 6 am in order to put up pictures. That does not take account of the loud, violent behaviour, foul language and consistent intimidatory behaviour that some people have to put up with.
The Law Society of Scotland briefed Scottish Members of Parliament today on some of the clauses dealing with anti-social behaviour. It said that, in its eyes, the breach of the peace element of Scottish law was sufficient to deal with some of the issues.
With the greatest respect to my legal friends in the Law Society, that view is out of touch with reality. Councils often cannot get the necessary action under the breach of the peace element. It is a one-off incident approach, and a cumbersome mechanism. If anybody wants to know how it operates, they should ask the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. McLeish) because he was a witness in a lengthy and dreadful court case dealing with an anti-social family.
I am talking about a sustained pattern of anti-social behaviour. My council area has, on average, 40 active cases in which a portfolio of evidence has been gathered and diaries kept. I am sure that everybody here has seen the diaries that people are asked to keep.
In those cases, a meticulous gallery of information has been gathered, and mediation and conciliation have been tried to an infinite extent. In spite of that, the local authority has managed to gain only five court judgments on anti-social behaviour over the past two years. That does not give confidence to those on the receiving end. The current system in Scotland is not working to deal with anti-social behaviour. People in my communities in Stirling have no confidence in it, because it does not deliver for the good resident.
Perhaps the last word in my contribution should go to somebody on the receiving end of all this. A woman from Dunblane came to see me, and said:Our nerves are raw because of the continued stress of all the noise, loss of sleep and frustration of complaining endlessly and little being done. We feel tension every time we turn into our street 430 to come home … I have cried daily … everything seems so futile and so very unfair. The bad language is awful … these people have made me a prisoner.I want to liberate that sort of prisoner. This Bill is a way of starting that process, and I wish it a good wind.
§ Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
I will try to be brief to allow as many hon. Members as possible to contribute.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) finished on a point that is relevant to most of us from our surgeries and that is the problem of anti-social neighbours and trying to get across to people who are not living in such circumstances how devastating it is to have one's family home destroyed by the activities of a neighbour. Until something is done about it, it is a life sentence for the people living in those conditions. Obviously, both sides of the House welcome the fact that the Bill attempts to tackle those issues.
The Bill must not be oversold, and people must not be given a false sense of a quick solution, in the belief that a simple law here or there will change things. I have the same briefing from the Law Society of Scotland as the hon. Member for Stirling, and I believe that we may need to look at the relevant clause to see whether it makes improvements.
There is a recognition that there are sitting on the statute book laws that, if properly used, could help people in those situations. We must ensure that the agencies involved—the police, the council and everyone else—are making full use of the resources already available to them, and that we are not just bolting on an extra law in the hope that it will deal with the problem. Clearly, resources are part of the problem and the solution.
The fear of crime has already been mentioned; we must try to deal with those fears. We must recognise that politicians play a key role in creating fear of crime—in our desire to outbid one another in sensationalism, we can overstress the incidence and nature of crime, so that there is greater fear than the statistics warrant.
It could be argued that, by an empirical measure, bobbies on the beat do not effectively fight crime, but they may be an extremely effective way in which to tackle the fear of crime. The fear of crime among elderly people, in particular, is easily fuelled, and if they feel able to leave their houses because they see bobbies on the beat, the money is well spent—it liberates people and gives them more control over their lives.
In my constituency, the police in the south division of Grampian have put more bobbies on the beat as an experiment, which has been extremely well received—the pilot studies in Banchory are now spreading throughout the constituency.
As we have sat through so many debates on the Government of Scotland Bill, I say to the hon. Member for Stirling that almost all these matters will be dealt with by a Scottish Parliament. I find it strange that she does not believe that the Bill needs true scrutiny by Scottish Members holding Scottish Ministers to account.
Shelter raised the issue of how clause 23 would work in practice—it may be drawn far too widely, and could be used to evict people who are sent to prison for committing crimes that do not affect their neighbours. That contradicts 431 Scottish Office guidelines, which suggest that local authorities should do all that they can to ensure that prisoners are not made homeless—the Government are telling local authorities not to make prisoners homeless, but they are also promoting a measure that could make prisoners homeless without tackling the core issue of violent and drug-related crimes. I hope that the Government will consider constructively amendments to that clause.
As the Government have such a large majority, there is a danger that constructive amendments will not be considered as openly as possible—I hope that that will not be the case. There is also a danger that we may believe that because an issue is important, the mere fact that it is covered by the Bill will deal with it; that is not necessarily so.
We also need to consider whether the Bill has been properly drafted in terms of Scottish law. Clause 20, for example, gives powers to a chief constable, but I wonder whether the powers should rather be granted to the procurator fiscal. Clause 30 deals with race crimes and racial harassment, and, in Scotland, we may want that to be defined differently, so that it takes into account religious motivation. Again, I hope that the Government will view debates on these matters in Committee constructively.
I see from the notes on the financial effects of the Bill that clauses 81 to 87 will be introduced as pilot schemes. That highlights the important question of resources. If we are to help people to cope constructively with their drug behaviour, we must fund the help that we want to give.
As there is a good deal of consensus on the Bill among hon. Members, I hope that, in Committee, we shall listen to the bodies from outside the House that lobby us, to ensure that the law is effectively drafted and tightly drawn, and achieves what was intended. There is a danger that, after happily passing laws because we agree with the motives behind them, we will come to regret that either they do not deliver or that they deliver consequences other than the ones that were intended—we will regret not listening to the warnings that came from outside the House. I hope that, in Committee, all hon. Members will carefully read and take on board the briefing that we receive—badly drafted laws fail to serve the victims or the wider society that they are meant to help.
§ Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East)
I am sure that all hon. Members agree that crime and disorder not only cause fear and misery, but have a devastating effect on individuals, families and whole communities. A criminal may commit an offence in a split second, but the act will often have long-lasting and dramatic repercussions, sometimes affecting the victims and their families for the rest of their lives. It is crucial that crime and disorder policies should have the desired effect of enabling law-abiding citizens to live peacefully and harmoniously without unnecessary interference from others.
The Government must be congratulated on the urgency with which they have introduced the Bill—within a year of the general election—in an attempt to tackle the appalling problems of crime, disorder and lawlessness that, in truth, were inherited from the previous Administration.
432 The Bill is innovative, and contains some imaginative and creative thinking. It will tackle crime head on—such a no-nonsense approach has been a long time coming. We must send out a signal to the criminal perpetrators of so much misery that they and the illegal activity that the country has become familiar with—through compulsion rather than choice—will no longer be tolerated.
The Bill is wide ranging, but I intend to concentrate on three main areas. First, there is the relationship with local authorities. I am pleased that the Government have recognised the major role that local authorities can play in tackling crime and disorder. It is a role which the previous Conservative Government so often brushed aside.
I welcome and applaud the provisions on youth justice, and especially the joint responsibility placed on local authorities and the police to develop and implement local crime-and-disorder strategies in consultation with other agencies. That will enable the community to work together on crime strategies that are adapted to reflect local needs and priorities.
The principle of cross-agency communication has been successfully developed over the past three years in my home town, by the Bolton safer cities project, which has focused on reducing crime, reducing the fear of crime and creating safer cities where economic and community life can flourish.
The result has been extremely encouraging. First, the project's work has helped to break down barriers between the various agencies. In particular, Bolton safer cities tackled and confronted the age-old misconceptions that tackling crime is the responsibility of the police and that looking after young people is the responsibility of social services. Instead, the project has helped to reinforce the idea that the issues are often intertwined and that a collective approach can be much more effective in tackling criminal activity.
One of Bolton safer cities' many initiatives is the partnership scheme, which was targeted in a part of my constituency where recorded crime was the highest in Bolton. Public opinion was that crime was the accepted norm. The successful introduction of the partnership scheme involved housing, leisure, homewatch, the police, the youth service, the probation service and, most important, the community as a whole. As a result, the crime rate in the targeted areas has fallen and public confidence has risen. There has been an improvement in quality of life and the initiative has given residents real sense of belonging.
Most important, the cross-agency approach has helped to achieve a general reduction in crime in the Bolton safer cities areas, which has not been reflected elsewhere in Bolton. For example, in 1996–97, Bolton overall experienced an 11 per cent. reduction in crime compared to 1994. However, in the safer cities target areas there was a 26 per cent. reduction. There was a 5 per cent. reduction in burglaries throughout Bolton, but in the safer city target areas we enjoyed a 41 per cent. reduction.
Those figures clearly demonstrate, at least in Bolton, that a successful partnership between the police and the local authority can greatly increase the chances of winning the battle against crime.
The measures to which I have referred should all greatly improve the present system and help to steer young people away from a life of crime. Such a life undermines their individual welfare and denies them the 433 opportunity of developing into contributing members of society. Bolton safer cities has discovered through its various projects that a multi-agency approach can help to curtail the deviant behaviour of young offenders and help also to stop them drifting and then collapsing into a life of crime.
The Bolton safer cities project included an initiative called "Breaking the Chain", which focused on involving young people in positive play activities. It was designed to break the chain when children become involved in anti-social behaviour, which can lead to crime, including vandalism, as they grow older. It has been recognised for generations that idle hands create mischief, and that saying is as true today as it ever was.
The Bill, coupled with the Government's new deal for the long-term and young unemployed, is a brave and important attempt to break the mould, and will help to remedy the evil that enforced idleness and criminality inevitably bring. It will help to restore essential public confidence in the agencies that face the daunting task of tackling crime and disorder. Until now, the agencies received a rough deal from all concerned.
The truth is that the police have been fighting a losing battle in recent years, and it is vital that this country realises that crime, particularly youth crime, is the responsibility of all sections of society. Public confidence is essential if we are to have any hope of achieving mutual responsibility in the struggle against crime.
Anti-social behaviour causes distress and abject misery to innocent, law-abiding citizens. It can undermine entire communities. At its most extreme, it can force people out of their homes. Sometimes, as we all know, it can have even more tragic consequences. The anti-social behaviour order will give local authorities and the police the power to restrict the behaviour of those who engage in intimidating and threatening behaviour, and thereby improve the lives of those who are subject to such abhorrent abuse. We must send out a loud and clear message that the activities of those who take a sadistic delight in making the lives of others a misery will no longer be tolerated by British society, and certainly not by the present Government.
On reparation orders, clause 63 contains an innovative approach to making individuals accountable for their actions, which I particularly welcome, as it helps to demonstrate to young offenders the harm that they have caused to their victims and to communities, and provides them with the opportunity to make amends and rejoin law-abiding society. It is hoped that, in the years ahead, this will enable them to become responsible young adults again, and contribute effectively to community life.
The Bill is all about the community, because there is still such a thing. Indeed, the vast majority of people value the community. They deserve a quality community and a quality of life, and we must not allow that to be destroyed by a mindless minority. The Bill is the first step towards ensuring that we will tolerate nothing less.
§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I shall be brief, as many hon. Members wish to speak.
I, too, commend the Government on many of the measures in the Bill, which builds on measures introduced under the previous Government; but they are important 434 and welcome none the less. The measures to accelerate justice, to crack down on youth crime and tackle anti-social behaviour are welcome, and deserve the all-party report that they have received. I wish to make five brief points.
First, as I mentioned earlier, I am concerned about clause 53, which is difficult to reconcile with the Government's commitment to be tough on crime.
Secondly, the Minister would be well advised not to follow the advice of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who urged him to use clause 33 as a reason for signing up to article 6 of the European convention on human rights. That would not be right. The Government, in their White Paper, were right to say that the death penalty—whatever our views on it—will remain a matter for the conscience of Members of Parliament, and this Parliament or any other should not seek to bind its successor and override the views of future Members of Parliament.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) dealt with resources, and, while I agree with the congratulations expressed by many Conservative Members on the activities of the previous Home Secretary, it is worth noting that he used a two-pronged approach. One was legislation—the Bill takes forward the sort of ideas that he was in the course of introducing. The other was persuading the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), in each of his last three Budgets, to devote additional resources, above and beyond planned public expenditure, to the police—accorded equal priority with education and health. The current Chancellor has said that education and health alone are his priorities for public expenditure above and beyond previous PES lines. I hope that the Minister will accept our support for any future negotiations that he and his colleagues embark on with the Treasury on the proposition that the police should be given equal public expenditure priority with education and health.
Fourthly, it is worth noting that clause 34, intended by the Government to be the heart of the Bill, lays the important—but sole—duty on the youth justice system to prevent youth crime. I am not a lawyer, unlike many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but, earlier this week, I discussed the Bill with a distinguished and successful defence lawyer, who told me he believed that clause 34, if enacted, would enable a canny defence lawyer to persuade a magistrate or judge that a juvenile offender who might otherwise be sentenced to detention should not be so sentenced. He might use the argument, advanced not least by Liberal Democrat Members, that incarceration could lead to exposure to other criminals and hence to more crime in the longer term.
As Ministers and Conservative Front Benchers alike now accept that there are circumstances in which prison works, I hope that the Government will think again about clause 34 and consider the need to introduce an element of punishment and retribution in addition to the duty to prevent youth crime. That would ensure that the Government's intention behind the clause—tougher sentences—was not abused or misinterpreted.
Fifthly, I hope, at this sensitive time for Northern Ireland, that the Minister will put on record the fact that he does not accept the arguments of those who say that there are political prisoners in Northern Ireland who 435 should be released as part of any peace settlement. I hope that he will make it clear that no one is incarcerated in any part of the United Kingdom for his political views. People are incarcerated solely for having been convicted of criminal activity. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) claimed this afternoon at Northern Ireland questions that there were indeed political prisoners in Northern Ireland—an outrageous misinterpretation of the truth. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to correct it at the end of this debate.
§ Mrs. Fiona Jones (Newark)
I am pleased to have been called in the debate, because crime and its causes—especially youth crime—are of great interest to me. We all recognise that crime and general disorder are a major blight on the lives of many people living in ordinary housing estates—estates undermined by high crime levels.
Last year in my constituency, youngsters from a couple of families caused havoc with their unruly and aggressive behaviour—they made people's lives on their estate a misery. Subsequently, they attracted other badly behaved children, and crime and vandalism in the area escalated out of control. I am glad to say that the problem has largely been resolved now, by the willingness of a number of agencies and the local authority to work together. The Bill advocates partnership with local authorities; youth offender teams will enable the police to work with social services and teachers to tackle youth crime and its causes.
Although the problems on the one estate I have mentioned have improved, the same is not true of other areas in Newark. Like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I receive letters every day about graffiti, about plants being kicked over and about garden ornaments being broken. Many would describe such incidents as petty crime, but they are often a source of great distress to the unfortunate recipients.
Youth crime has got out of control, and ordinary people all over the country have suffered. This is by no means an urban issue. Anti-social behaviour is experienced in even the most rural areas. The Bill will tackle the problems that we face with a sense of urgency and with a determination to be effective.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
I shall endeavour to be as brief as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), but I cannot promise to be as succinct.
The Bill has been welcomed by both sides of the House. I hope that I will not spoil the fun of the party by suggesting that one or two matters should be considered a little more carefully before we give the Bill the welcome that many people think it deserves.
Clause 31 abolishes the presumption that a child aged 10 or over is incapable of committing an offence. I wish that we had done that in our time in government. I am glad that this part of the criminal law, which was introduced in the middle ages for good, sensible and humane reasons, is now to go.
It is interesting that clause 32 allows a court to draw an inference from the silence of a child. The chances are that a child will be in court only if accompanied by a lawyer. 436 A child's silence at trial should not be treated in the same way as the silence of an adult. I hope that the Government will think carefully before exposing children, no matter how naughty or criminal they may have been, to such a risk.
Much fun has been poked at the ancient language of some of the mediaeval and 18th century Acts of Parliament that deal with treason. I make no secret of my implacable opposition to the death penalty for murder. However, I believe that we should not lightly abolish the death penalty for treason or offences against the state, especially during time of war. I say that in the context of the ordinary criminal law, not military law.
I shall concentrate on clause 2, which deals with anti-social behaviour orders. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I say that that has a Soviet ring about it. I fully understand the points made by the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) in her powerful and moving speech. Her experience is entirely different from mine. I hope that she will accept that my remarks are disinterested and dispassionate, and are not designed to devalue or undermine her case. The crime figures for the last four weeks in her constituency reflect the crime figures for the last 10 years in mine. The gulf between us is not just political, but based on our different experiences.
The Home Secretary said that this is a substantial Bill. In my view, it is far too big and cumbersome. The Bill is intended to create a safer and more peaceful country. We all agree with that. He also wants to modernise the criminal justice system. There is nothing wrong with that. However, we should be a little more careful about how we go about that before we reach any hard and fast conclusions. I am suspicious of this all-party cosiness. Unless ideas are tested by argument, bad laws can slip through. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who sits as a recorder, sees the consequences of criminal justice legislation. I hope that a little more rigour will be used as the Bill progresses through Committee; otherwise, measures will slip through on a tide of good will, which, although well-intentioned, may have adverse consequences for our law-abiding constituents.
Clause 2 is a dangerous mix of the criminal and the civil law. It gives the police or local authorities a power to apply to a court for the benefit, predominantly but not necessarily, of public housing tenants. As others have pointed out, there are private housing estates that suffer from such problems. Effectively, however, exclusion orders are being created to deal with people who are behaving in an anti-social way.
We must be careful—this observation is not mine originally; it has been made in another place, not necessarily by members of my party—not to create a system of law that discriminates against eccentric people. I mean people who are loosely described as "a nuisance": people who raise eyebrows. We should be tolerant—I say this in the context of what was said by, for instance, the hon. Member for Salford—of people whose lives are somewhat different from the lives that we would like to lead.
Someone said that it was extraordinary that people should want to hoover at 4 am, or to play loud music all night. We should be careful before we pass legislation that could lead to five years' imprisonment. I am having to conflate my remarks, but I am sure the Minister will 437 understand the point that I am making. We must bear in mind what is involved in leaping from the granting and the subsequent breaking of an order, to the potential of sending someone to prison for five years when the act that constitutes the basis of the breach of that order, if subject to prosecution under the normal criminal law, would not lead to anything like a five-year prison sentence.
That, in a sense, encapsulates my argument. However, I hope that the Minister will also bear in mind the standard and burden of proof in connection with clause 2(4) and (6). I think that he should be careful about legislating by means of Home Office guidance. In another place, the Solicitor-General said that Home Office guidance would be issued with regard to the shape and type of prohibitions. I am instinctively opposed to criminal legislation by Home Office guidance notes, and I ask the Home Office team to bear that in mind.
Let me make a brief point about clause 2(9). In that subsection, the Government are allowing the prosecutor—the police or the local authority complainant—to become part of the sentencing process. The prohibition period can be reduced to less than two years only with the consent of the two parties involved—one of whom, presumably, is the defendant, while the other must be either the police or the local government organisation cited in clause 2(1)(b).
I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that my time is limited and that I want to enable others to speak. I hope, however, that he will accept that, although my remarks have been brief, my underlying concerns are much more substantial than time has allowed me to demonstrate.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Ivan Lewis (Bury, South)
Listening to the shadow Home Secretary's speech, I was tempted by the phrase "clutching at straws"—not literally, of course, but there was little of substance in his speech.
It is obvious from today's debate that most hon. Members consider it important that what is said is based on the experiences of people up and down the country. In rural villages, inner cities and leafy suburbs, crime and disorder have become an accepted part of everyday life for too many of our citizens. People leave for work in the morning only to find that their cars have been broken into or, even worse, stolen. They peer through their windows at midnight to find out who is making the noise that has woken their children, only to see a group of 13 and 14-year-olds swigging from cans of lager and bottles of wine. Someone may visit his elderly mother in sheltered accommodation, only to find her in a state of panic and distress after her neighbour has been mugged and badly beaten on her way back from the post office. Someone may find that his teenage son is regularly arriving home late because he is trying to avoid a gang who have mugged him on several occasions. Those are not fanciful scenarios, but real-life experiences in my constituency and many others.
The Bill represents the beginning of a genuine and long-term fight against the acceptance that crime must always disfigure our society. It tackles many of the fundamental questions that are raised day in, day out on our estates, at public meetings and in councillors' and Members' surgeries. Why should I have to tolerate my neighbour's all-night music and constant abuse? Why do parents not know where their children are at night? When 438 I told parents about their children's abuse why did they swear at me and threaten violence? In my constituency recently and most seriously, why did two 15-year-olds get only a caution when they beat my teenage son so badly with a baseball bat that he sustained a fractured jaw and is currently in a psychiatric hospital suffering acute stress and anxiety? Why does everybody pass the buck, and why does no one seem able to do anything?
The Bill ends years of confusion about the role of the youth justice system and youth crime. Welfare and punishment always represented muddled and false choices. That will be replaced by a cohesive approach, the overriding objective of which is the prevention of offending by young people. Parents will no longer be allowed to avoid their responsibility for the well-being and behaviour of their children. In some cases parenting orders will assist families to rebuild relationships and re-establish boundaries. That needs to be part of a much broader agenda to support positive parenting. Too many of our children are growing up in homes in which parents provide neither love nor discipline. In some families that parenting deficit is being passed from generation to generation.
The Government are also right to remove the presumption in law that children between the ages of 10 and 14 are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Child curfews were scoffed at by the great and the good when they were first mooted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Such people should live in neighbourhoods such as Polefield in my constituency where elderly people are terrorised by young children late into the night. Can anybody justify a young child being out unsupervised after 7 o'clock at night, let alone 9 o'clock?
Ending the farce of repeat cautions and prolonged periods from arrest to sentencing for juveniles will also be widely welcomed. Not only will that ensure enhanced protection for the community, but will allow the earliest possible intervention with the young person to prevent him drifting irreversibly into a life of crime, misery and ultimate social exclusion.
Neighbourhood nuisance reflects the undermining of shared values and a sense of community which pervaded the Tory years. People's quality of life can be shattered by abusive and socially unacceptable behaviour by one person or by a small group. Overnight, people's peaceful home environment can be turned into a living nightmare causing stress, anxiety and, until the publication of the Bill, a sense of powerlessness.
The new anti-social behaviour orders will give local authorities and the police the power to act in defence of decent, law-abiding citizens. The Bill's toughening of racial violence and harassment laws will send a clear message to those who operate the criminal justice system and to every citizen. Racism cannot be tolerated in a civilised society. It is a scar on our democracy, and we are determined to root it out in every area of British life. There must be no excuses for a criminal justice system that has failed to protect members of ethnic minority communities from the racists and fascists who continue to peddle their filth in today's Britain.
The Bill is the first piece in the jigsaw of a strategy to combat crime and disorder. It draws a line under the Tory years, when tough and empty rhetoric that was designed to secure a cheap tabloid headline was the substitute for 439 effective action. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary speaks rationally about practical solutions and he is on the side of the victim. A partnership at local level has been enshrined in law and includes statutory and voluntary agencies who are required to produce, implement and monitor a community safety strategy. We have social and economic policies to tackle poor education, inadequate parenting skills, youth unemployment and the menace of drugs.
The Government are committed to an overall philosophy that stresses the importance of society and community. We want a Britain in which individuals have not only rights but a responsibility to behave in a civilised way towards their fellow citizens. Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime may be a slogan, but it is the only honest and effective way to minimise future crime and disorder. The Bill is the beginning of new Labour's crusade to reclaim Britain from the criminal and the thug and return it to decent law-abiding citizens. I hope that the House will give it the support that it deserves.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
I have been instructed to be extremely brief. The statistics that were released yesterday are welcome, and I congratulate the Home Secretary and the chief constable of Hampshire on their role in that splendid achievement. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) said, it is also proper to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) on his role in that achievement. Our constituents' experience of crime will be determined by their perceptions rather than by statistics. Perception, of course, will be determined by their experiences and those of their friends.
Speaking of experience, as I cycled home from this place last night at about a quarter to 11, I came across four youths smashing up a telephone box. I gave chase and cornered one of them. I am glad to say that I assisted the police in securing the arrest of one of the offenders.
Between Notting Hill Gate and Wormwood Scrubs, that is not an unremarkable occurrence. The unfortunate fact, however, is that that experience is common throughout constituencies throughout this land. Only last week, the Bournemouth Evening Echo reported on the rowdy activities of 60 youths in Ringwood. In New Milton, we have a persistent problem of vandalism in Station road. Plants are being ripped up in the recreation ground.
I have had letters from constituents complaining about the agony that they have suffered over two years as a result of a stalker, and then the fellow gets off with nothing more than a suspended sentence. I have complaints from Pennington, of all places, of rowdiness in Ramley road. In January, in the New Forest village of Burley, I came across six drunken youths urinating in a street and attempting a break-in and entry.
This is characteristic of a society that is deeply disordered. I accept much of what the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said about that society, but I reject almost entirely his diagnosis of the causes. Those causes go back to the disastrous decade of the 1960s, when society lost confidence in its values and lowered its guard—its immune system, if you like—giving rise to all sorts of cancers.
440 Like many of its predecessors, this Bill will not be able to deal with many of those causes. That will require greater consensus than currently exists, although I am confident that that consensus will exist one day, as indeed I am confident that the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. However, the Bill is welcome in many respects and will do much. I have complaints from lobby groups about its impact on individual liberty, but this is a time when we should give greater consideration to expediency than to liberty.
My fundamental objection to the Bill is with respect to clause 33. It strikes me as being of little practical value and therefore it would perhaps be a good thing if the Committee were to remove it.
§ Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution in this debate.
There is no doubt from the contributions so far that there is consensus in the House that our justice system in general and our youth justice system in particular are ripe for reform. I represent a constituency that would perhaps be stereotyped as leafy and suburban, but in some parts there is a real challenge of youth crime and anti-social behaviour. The Bill provides crucial extra powers to enable us to tackle those challenges.
In particular, the new statutory duty on local authorities and the police has been widely welcomed in Enfield, as it has throughout the country. It builds on existing good local practice. In Enfield, we have an excellent multi-agency approach. In the area of my constituency where we have particular problems of anti-social behaviour—the Oakwood ward—the Addison avenue working group already brings together the police, local authority, local secondary school and youth service, and I get involved as the Member of Parliament.
Springing from that, we have the Oakwood focus group of local residents, again meeting the police, local authority and other agencies. Much has come out of that approach: improved conduct between the police and residents, better co-ordination between the police and local authority, and greater confidence for victims to come forward and to report crimes.
Labour Members are talking about tackling not only crime, but the causes of crime. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take part in the opening of a new football and basketball pitch in the heart of the Oakwood ward. The idea for the pitch came from the young people themselves, who secured funding from the London borough of Enfield and from the London Marathon Charitable Trust. It is an example of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Nothing can excuse youth crime or anti-social behaviour, but providing improved facilities for our young people will divert many of them to more positive activities. That is an inherent part of any successful anti-crime strategy.
The ugliest feature of the youth crime that I have witnessed is the sustained harassment of families from ethnic minorities. The new offences of racial harassment and racial violence are long overdue. In the past year, an elderly Jewish couple in the Oakwood area of my constituency have had a star of David daubed on their front door in the middle of the night. An Asian-run corner shop faces daily harassment, including bricks through the 441 windows. A nearby Asian family have had eggs thrown at their windows. The perpetrators were found only when the family rigged up an amateur video camera and caught them on film.
That has been going on for years in the Oakwood area, but many of the families have felt isolated, because their concerns have not been taken seriously by the authorities. That has started to change with the multi-agency approach that I have outlined and the excellent work of the Enfield racial incidents action group. Awareness is increasing among local people, the council and the police. Practical solutions are being delivered: pinhole cameras to catch offenders; the prosecution of offenders; and the council using its power as a landlord to act against council tenants whose teenagers are responsible for much of what is going on.
The Bill will make our job easier. The new offences of racially motivated crimes—in particular racially aggravated criminal damage—speeding up youth justice and the new anti-social behaviour orders will make a big difference to tackling crime and the causes of crime throughout my constituency. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited Oakwood about a month ago and saw what is going on. If we involve the public, we can ensure that the statutory duty makes a real difference to people's lives. I am confident that the people of my constituency expect that from the Bill. I am delighted to support it.
§ Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)
It is clear that there is general agreement about the aims of the Bill, but, although we all share the common objective of reducing crime, in Committee our views may differ on the best way to achieve that. I should like to raise four issues.
First, we welcome the community safety strategies, which may be a way to start tackling the causes of crime, which have received far too little attention. The causes of crime will best be addressed by involving local authorities, which have influence over many factors relating to housing, poverty and services. I have seen some good schemes in areas such as the London borough of Sutton, where the council has got to grips with the issues.
Secondly, we welcome the racial offences provisions. That is a serious matter for thousands of our citizens. The 1996 British crime survey shows not only that there are tens of thousands of incidents a year, but that ethnic minorities score higher than white people on all the measures of fear of crime. That fear is engendered by their daily experience of harassment. We all welcome having a multiracial society. We must deal with the fact that some groups suffer from greater fear of crime.
Thirdly, we welcome the anti-social behaviour orders and the Conservative contribution about their use. Anti-social behaviour does not mean being young, wearing the wrong clothes or being the wrong colour in the wrong part of town. Anti-social behaviour is malicious, intentional behaviour that borders on the criminal. I hope that the orders will be used appropriately. The Government should reflect on their use, to ensure that they are targeted on the right people. We must catch yobs in the net, but we must not sweep up all sorts of other people who are doing ordinary youthful activities. Kids will carry on hanging out on street corners, as they always 442 have done. If they are not committing crime or seriously harassing people, they should not be dragged into the criminal justice system.
Fourthly, we hope that the Government will relent and accept that having a standing advisory council on criminal justice matters is a good way forward. They should not continue to use the system that they inherited from the previous Government—a standing advisory committee of newspaper editorials. We believe that a standing advisory council has a function in the modern system and would bring together people at national level to do the inter-agency working that everyone wants.
I hope that the Government will accept that there is plenty of good practice to build on. I refer specifically to Sheffield magistrates courts, which speed up proceedings on young offenders, and the Thames Valley police experiment on restorative justice, which does much to improve the cautioning system. I hope that such practice will be built into the Government's proposals.
§ Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
Before the general election, I conducted a crime survey—a straw poll—in Burnt Oak ward, and discovered that, in the preceding three years, a third of my constituents had been victims of crime, and that more than two thirds of them went about their business in fear of crime. I have been a victim of crime myself: having had one car stolen and, recently, another one burnt out, I very much sympathise with those constituents.
Last Friday, I paid a visit to our local youth court. Of the 10 cases that I witnessed in the court, a disposition was possible in only two of them, which were linked, with a conditional discharge. In another case, a defendant faced five charges, which went back as far as August 1997. Although it was his third appearance on the charges, it was not his last, as another adjournment was granted for pre-sentence reports. One case was thrown out—it was the defendant's fourth appearance on it—because the main prosecution did not appear. A couple of defendants did not show up, as they were in other courts facing other charges. Another case, which involved a persistent offender, started more than an hour late, because the defendant was already serving a custodial sentence and Securicor produced him first at the wrong court.
I was assured by the magistrates that that was a typical day—illustrating the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our current youth justice system.
Much could be done to reduce delays in criminal proceedings, by making simple administration changes and improving co-ordination—on witness availability, for example—between police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. Delegating functions to single justices and justices' clerks is a good start, but it is necessary to encourage the more hands-on case management approach that is already being practised in the civil justice system. We shall have to impose penalties on lawyers who cause delay by inefficiency and for no good purpose.
The partnership approach heralded in the Bill is already being practised in my area of Barnet, which has excellent links between the council and police. We hope that the health authority will soon be involved in the partnership. However, in building partnerships, we shall have to include, for example, housing associations—which are becoming landlords of ever larger parts of our communities. 443 Grahame Park—in Colindale, in my constituency—is an example of a large council estate that contains a substantial number of housing association properties, of which the Warden housing association is the landlord. The estate has typical problems of anti-social behaviour, petty vandalism and graffiti. Residents have become frustrated by the association's lack of action, especially after residents made positive suggestions on limiting access to the estate and improving lighting. We have to hear from those residents and involve them. They have already suffered so much, and building on their ideas should form a part of our partnership approach.
In emphasising to me their support for the Bill and its underlying principles, local police and magistrates have also mentioned the need for more local secure accommodation for young offenders, so that family links are maintained.
A senior police officer stressed to me that fast-tracking and tougher action with young offenders will not work effectively if there is nowhere to house those offenders. He illustrated the problem by describing the case of a female juvenile who was in local authority care but continually ran away—at least half a dozen times. She armed herself with screwdrivers, knives and even shards of glass to injure those who tried to stop her. She was a danger to the community, and police officers were trying to apprehend her. However, all they could do was to return her to local authority care, where the cycle would continue.
The Bill's introduction of racially aggravated crimes and tougher sentencing on offences with a racial element has been welcomed by the diverse ethnic communities in Hendon. However, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister, in his reply, will confirm that the definition of racial harassment in clause 25(2) will include the Jewish community. We have already witnessed the fact that anti-Semitism can be a very light sleeper, and several members of Edgware's orthodox Jewish community are concerned about a perceived increase in harassment in the area.
From my discussion with my constituents, all the youth justice agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service, police, the local authority and Middlesex probation service, I have no doubt that the Bill has overwhelming support. The Bill's time has come, and I am happy to give it my full support.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
We have had some interesting speeches in the debate, which has been conducted in a constructive spirit. On behalf of the Opposition, I shall seek to respond in a constructive spirit.
I refer straight away to the important points made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about racially aggravated crime, which we have already said we regard as a serious and sensitive subject. His speech struck a slightly discordant note in one respect. I suggest to him that what really matters is what happens in practice. We question how much difference the proposed changes in the Bill will make to what happens in practice.
As the right hon. Member for Gorton and the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) well know, the courts have long regarded a racial element to an offence as 444 an aggravating feature and have accordingly given higher sentences. The Government have decided on their course, and we shall look constructively at their proposals to see how they can be improved. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would join me in asking the Government why less serious offences of assault and public order are being dealt with by the creation of separate offences, but more serious offences, including wounding with intent, are not to be the subject of the specific offence of racial aggravation and will be dealt with as they were under the old system. There are some important questions of detail to be asked on the matter, and I assure the House that we shall ask them constructively.
The right hon. Member for Gorton spoke with some feeling about burglary in his constituency, and mentioned a specific case. The hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) mentioned the problems of burglary in her constituency, in a speech that she delivered with some feeling. I appreciate that every burglary provokes strong feeling. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady will join me in satisfaction at the substantial fall in the number of burglaries in the latest crime figures. The number has fallen more sharply than the general fall in recorded crime—by almost 14 per cent. That means tens of thousands fewer victims, which is a good thing.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) made a very authoritative speech. I was pleased to hear him speak about inner-city areas, which we on the Conservative Benches think are important. He also made some important points about the detail of the Bill. He is absolutely right that we must make the best use of technology, to try to streamline our justice system. Other changes, particularly administrative changes, must not be made at the expense of the quality of justice. Although justices' clerks will be better trained and more professional than ever before, as my right hon. and learned Friend rightly said, magistrates should play the dominant role. We should look particularly at what is done by unqualified staff. We need to maintain high standards of quality of justice in our courts, and we shall consider the Bill in some detail in order to see that that is done.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) spoke with feeling about the abolition of the death penalty for treason, which is an important part of the Bill. We have said—and I think that the Government agree with us—that it should be the subject of a free vote. The hon. Gentleman clearly has his views; perhaps other hon. Members will want to express theirs.
I was very interested in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who spoke from an interesting perspective. He was an opponent of the death penalty for murder, but made some interesting points about the retention of the death penalty for offences of treason in wartime. I am sure that the House will want to consider carefully that very serious subject.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will not be surprised to hear that I did not agree with much of what he said. He raised one important point. He spoke with some feeling about the system of local child curfews and of his experience of playing cricket as a lad in the streets, which I am sure many people share. If local child curfews are to be part of our armoury in the fight against disorder in areas where 445 disorder has been identified, why should they be restricted to children under the age of 10? The hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) spoke about children of eight, nine and 10, but the 10-year-olds would not be caught by the curfew; nor would those mentioned in the newspaper report quoted by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). What is to happen to older children?
We know that, in response to consultation, the Government have received representations specifically on the restriction of the curfew to children under 10. The Liberal Democrats as well as Labour lawyers came out against that restriction. If those two sets of the Government's most loyal supporters are against it, perhaps the Government ought to think again. The Home Secretary mentioned the city of Coventry, but it is also against the restriction, in response to consultation.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) asked the Government not to be dogmatic when considering amendments to the Bill, and we say amen to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) made an important and well-informed speech. It was also authoritative, because he sits in the Crown court and sees the sort of problems that we are discussing. He was absolutely right to highlight the problem of drugs. He spoke about the vicious circle of drugs leading to ever more crime and was right to say that we need to make tackling drugs a higher priority.
We welcome the fact that the Government have implemented our provisions for mandatory sentencing for repeat drug offenders, but we want them to consider how the Bill might be strengthened to deal with not only drugs but the evil people who push them. We want tough action on that.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East said that one of the best things that the Government had done was to appoint a drugs tsar. I was slightly worried by that, because the drugs tsar has not done anything yet. We await his strategy with interest, because the mere fact of his appointment as a figurehead is not enough. We are looking for substance, not presentation, just as people across the country are looking for tough action. During the passage of the Bill, we shall be considering how the law against drugs and pushers can be strengthened.
I have already mentioned the speech of the hon. Member for Hull, North, who also drew attention to the young people who are well behaved, and we must not lose sight of that fact.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) put before the House some of the moral reasons for the problems that we are experiencing. He also highlighted problems affecting family life. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made an excellent speech, in which he made some important points about resources. He also mentioned the question of 10 and 11-year-olds, to which I shall return.
In that context, it was quite fair of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford to ask what performance measurements the Government are setting for themselves. After all, the Bill sets performance indicators for local and police authorities, which will have to set targets by which they must judge how well they have done. What targets are the Government setting for themselves? How will they measure whether the Bill's provisions are successful? We shall be interested to hear from the Minister the criteria by which the Government will be judging the Bill.
446 We heard a great deal of hype. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire was right to warn us against going overboard. Let us hear the substance, not just presentation.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) spoke about paedophiles and sex offenders. I appreciate that, coming from Stirling, she spoke with particular force and feeling. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) warned that the Bill was being oversold. He, or another Liberal Democrat Member, said that the Government never came up with anything that was knowingly undersold, and that is certainly a danger. He also mentioned the danger of a Government with a large majority not listening, but we hope that they will listen in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman also drew attention to important differences between the Scottish and English legal systems. To those differences we would add another—why is it that a sex offender order in Scotland carries the power of arrest, when that is not the case in England? That is one of many drafting points to be considered in detail in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) made an important point about clause 53, which he was right to draw to the attention of the House. The clause removes the absolute bar on receipt of bail from defendants charged with homicide or rape who have a previous conviction for an offence of homicide or rape. That is clearly a matter of great public concern, to which we shall return.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, in his elegant speech, spoke about the consequences of bad law and how we need to consider this subject with rigour. He made some important legal points about the anti-social behaviour orders and about the sort of behaviour that leads to the making of such an order.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) made a good speech, which the House appreciated. The House also listened with interest to the speeches of the hon. Members for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby), for Newark (Mrs. Jones), for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg). The hon. Member for Newark made some good points in a brief speech, and the House appreciates brevity in these circumstances. We also heard from the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).
In the brief time left, I shall put to the Minister three points on which I want a specific response, because, in a debate such as this, it is not always possible to cover every important issue. I was a little surprised, although I quite understand the limitations of making such a wide-ranging speech, that the Home Secretary did not address the treatment of young offenders in some detail. That is an important subject, especially given the new sentence of detention and training, on which we have spent some time in the past.
The Home Secretary knows that the Bill contains a power to put young offenders aged 10 and 11 into custody alongside offenders aged 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. That power is not for 10 and 11-year-olds who commit grave offences, for whom provision has already been made, but for young offenders who get into the sort of trouble that is an imprisonable offence when caused by an adult. 447 Will the Minister of State tell us why that power is being included in the Bill and what is the justification for it? I have submitted written questions on the subject, but the Government's answer is, in effect, "We are bringing in the provision because it is not needed." If it is not needed, why are the Government bringing it in? What is the explanation and what research led the Government to seek such a power?
We also want to know about the Government's plans in respect of home detention curfews. They have introduced a provision for early release of prisoners from their sentence through home detention curfew. To strike a note of discord, the Government know that we do not agree with that course of action, because they are making a mockery of honesty in sentencing and releasing prisoners far too early. Will the Minister of State tell me whether, under the provisions for home detention curfew, a prisoner sentenced to six months' imprisonment—the maximum sentence that a magistrates court can impose for a single offence—will serve a period in custody of only six or seven weeks? Will the Minister confirm whether six months will mean six weeks?
Will the Minister deal with the question of sex offenders? When the provisions for home detention curfew were originally unveiled, Ministers suggested that sex offenders would be eligible in precisely the same way as prisoners serving ordinary sentences of imprisonment. We know that, last week, the Government made a welcome change and in a written answer said that sex offenders would be eligible for home detention curfew only in "exceptional circumstances"—the Minister looks surprised, but that comes from a written answer from 31 March. Does the Minister agree that no sex offender who would be subject to the provisions of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 in respect of notification and so on should be released early from prison through tagging or home detention curfew? At the moment, it is possible for such a prisoner to be released.
Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) was far too kind in attributing to me the thesis about 15 and 16-year-olds being remanded in custody to adult prisons. It was not my thesis but that of the Prime Minister, who raised the matter on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and made a great song and dance about secure accommodation places. He told the House in that debate:the places could be achieved without delay. This country does not want to wait years before the problem is dealt with. It wants it dealt with now."—[Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 40.]
So far, the Government have done precious little to deal with the problem. As the Minister knows, the record of this Government is that so far they have provided only a miserable six places in secure accommodation. I see the Minister nodding; he knows that that figure is right because it comes from the Government, but if it has been changed—[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to contradict me. I want his response, and if six is not the right figure, will he tell the House what it is and when the Government will end the remand of 15 and 16-year-olds to adult prisons? We shall continue to press him about it—other hon. Members did, too—because that was an early pledge made by the Labour party, presumably in its pre-purge period.
448 We have witnessed a certain amount of purging of previous history by the Government Front-Bench team this evening. That promise was not a purged promise, but one given early on under new Labour. When will it be made good?
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)
After six years of speaking from Labour's Front Bench on home affairs it is a pleasure and a relief to debate the first Bill in all that time that goes to the heart of crime and offers hope to communities throughout the country that have been demoralised by crime and disorder. In this measure, we are being tough on crime, but we are also offering hope and opportunity.
During today's debate, we have heard many fine speeches. Indeed, it was probably the best criminal justice debate that I have heard during my time in the House. Many of the speeches were brief but excellent. 1 am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) that I will be in the city tomorrow to speak to a full council meeting about our proposals to tackle youth crime. No doubt he will be heckling me.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) support some of our innovative proposals, such as the youth curfews. I hope that he will support us further in the measures that we are introducing. He asked about the provision of detention and training orders. The main purpose is to tidy up the current mess—all the different sorts of orders and provision of secure places around the country. He asked for details of the different types of regimes and the way in which they will operate. He has missed the point, which is that the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales will be introduced to oversee and set standards and ensure quality and appropriate provision for youngsters in each of those places.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the sex offenders order. The breach of an order is a criminal offence punishable with five years' imprisonment, which means that it is automatically an arrestable offence under section 24 of the Police and Criminal and Evidence Act 1984, so he is under a misapprehension about the availability of appropriate powers. He also asked about the release of prisoners who are subject to the provisions of the Sex Offenders Act 1997. The whole point about the reference to exceptional circumstances is that normally sex offenders will not be allowed out on early release. I invite him to read the list of offences and to appreciate the wide range of sentences specified in that Act. There may be exceptional circumstances in which it is appropriate and just that release may apply, but it will not normally apply—and certainly not at all in the extreme cases, which are the ones that have caused the great debate over the past few days about the danger of sex offenders to children.
It is a total and absolute cheek for the hon. Member for Hertsmere to mention secure accommodation. I remind him that I was one of those who challenged the previous Government to do something to deal with the holding of youngsters aged 15 and 16 in adult prisons. We extracted a promise that they would remove them, and they took powers in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to do so. The only tiny thing that they did not do was to make arrangements to deal with the holding of those youngsters 449 in secure accommodation. In February 1991, when the Conservative Government made that promise, they calculated the number of places that were needed—but they are still not in place. This Government are serious about their promises and we will keep them. The previous Government made promises, but took seven years not to keep them.
§ Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)
With regard to young people, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the excellent bid that has been put in by Northamptonshire to pilot some of the measures on youth offending. I urge him to ensure the approval of that bid, which will be a great success and greatly welcomed by communities such as Blackthorn, to which he spoke earlier this year.
§ Mr. Michael
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I shall be totally objective and say that we will consider the applications that have been made. However, I take the opportunity of congratulating the authorities in Northamptonshire on the co-operation that has existed up to now. We have learnt lessons from the success of the diversion unit, which has used reparation as such an effective tool with young offenders.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
Let me take the Minister back for one moment to the home detention and sex offender orders. As I remember, the governors will decide whether there is any risk in allowing people to be released early. Should we assume from what the Minister has said that the Government will be giving advice and guidance to governors as to which of the specific notifiable offences are to be considered as exceptional in the circumstances?
§ Mr. Michael
The right hon. Gentleman is right. We shall be giving clear guidance to governors. We have made it clear, and have acted on that since the implementation of the Sex Offenders Act 1997, that we must move from a culture of waiting to see what will happen to assessing risk and acting to prevent it from turning into reality with another victim. That is the type of approach that we shall adopt in this case, too.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was among those who asked how we would judge success. For his benefit, and that of the House, I echo the words of the Evening Standard leader tonight which says:Londoners will believe that crime is going down when they really feel safer in their homes and on the streets, and when their insurance premiums stop rising.It is our intention to ensure that people throughout the country feel safer and are safer. An important element of that is the setting of local targets by the partners—the police and the local authority—which will enable the local community to judge their success, just as we shall be judged on the success of our policies nationally.
§ Angela Smith (Basildon)
Does my hon. Friend agree that an important way of reducing crime is through local partnerships, and that many local authorities, including my own in Basildon, welcome the duties placed on them by the Bill in that regard? Is my hon. Friend aware that that has already been undertaken without the support of Government and that the authority now welcomes the Government's support?
§ Mr. Michael
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I saw the enthusiasm of the partners in Basildon— 450 the local authority, the police and the voluntary sector—when I visited the town with my hon. Friend. Many of those who have already been enthusiastic about working in partnership have been desperate for the Government to provide support for the partnership approach in legislation. It needs a proper structure within which to be effective and within which we can see and measure the results so that we can increase the feeling of safety for the wider community.
Some Conservative Members showed imagination in claiming credit for paving the way for the Bill. That is particularly interesting considering that many of the Bill's key elements were voted down when they were tabled as amendments by the then Labour Opposition to a series of criminal justice Bills. Conservative Members should share my experience of meeting police officers—from chief officers to those at the sharp end—who are filled with enthusiasm for what we are doing in the Bill.
We are offering those police officers a massive challenge. One chief officer told me that we were asking them to measure their success not by how fast they answer the telephone or by how many crooks they catch, but by whether they cut crime. Rather than interim or more peripheral measurements, the real measurement is whether we succeed in the fight against crime. As the Evening Standard said, do we make people feel safer? That is the measurement that we shall apply to the police. We will not ask the police to do it on their own. We are asking them to work with the local authority as partners. We are asking the whole community and all agencies to be involved in the fight against crime.
Another hon. Member suggested that the Bill is rooted in previous Conservative speeches and legislation. Yes, the Conservatives were promising action for years, but it did not come. We supported the previous Government when they got it right, but the only connection between the provisions of this Bill and previous Bills is that our suggestions were voted down. The proposal for reparation was voted down in every year since 1993. The action plan order, the speeding up of youth justice, the anti-social behaviour order and statutory partnerships were all voted down. I welcome the support of Conservative Members for what we are proposing, but if there has been a U-turn, it has not been by Labour Members. I welcome Conservative Members' support for the measures that they have voted against in the past.
I will not be able to deal with all the specific points that have been raised, so I promise to write to hon. Members. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) made a number of points about the legislation. We will consider any constructive amendments that hon. Members may table in Committee. The Scottish clauses will be dealt with by the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office. As I promised earlier, we will propose that they be grouped together so that they can be dealt with coherently as a series of Scottish debates.
I must point out that there is no drafting error in clause 20. It is our intention that the chief constable should have the role of applying to the court for a sex offender order. That is an application to a civil court and it would be inappropriate to give a role in civil proceedings to the procurator fiscal.
451 It is also the intention—this applies equally to England and Wales—to deal in the Bill with racial offences. The definitions of racial groups in clause 30 and elsewhere build on existing race relations legislation, which applies throughout Great Britain. There would be great problems in attempting to widen the definition.
I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) that the Jewish community is covered by the definition in the Bill. That is intentional in view of the extent to which that community has been the victim of a great deal of racial harassment and violence.
On anti-social behaviour orders and the point raised by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), I can tell the House that guidance, which will be offered, will make it clear that the target is not just odd behaviour or loud music. We are talking about continuous behaviour, over time, which causes harassment, alarm and the ruination of lives. Over the years, the criminal justice system has not been able to deal with the criminal, sub-criminal and violent behaviour that goes on over time.
§ Mr. McNamara
My hon. Friend has only three minutes left and I would like him to say what he intends to do about protocol 6, clause 33 and absentee landlords.
§ Mr. Michael
As my hon. Friend is well aware, that is covered by the Human Rights Bill rather than this Bill.
I should like to deal with some of the points made by the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), who made some favourable and constructive comments about the Bill. I hope that the debate in Committee will see us looking practically at the issues before us. We will be able to answer many of his points in the detail.
We have considered how the anti-social behaviour orders and the local partnerships can work in a way that will ensure that they are practical. I can give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that there is no conflict with the way that the policing plan operates, as set out in the Police Act 1996. Indeed, the local strategies will fit well with those approaches and create building blocks that will give an enhanced role to the strategic approach that the police authorities are intended to provide.
I am looking forward to the opportunity of serving on the Committee considering a Bill that contains so many significant and important elements.
As a magistrate and youth worker, I was very frustrated over the years by working in a creaking system that failed to engage young people. Young people were processed through the system as spectators in discussions about the offences in which they were supposed to have taken part—the system often dealt with them so late that they had forgotten what they had done by the time they were punished. The lives of victims were damaged, the community was undermined and the lives of young offenders were ruined.
452 The Government are taking action. The Bill gives the tools for the job to our partners the police, local government, the courts, parents and the community. That is why I believe that it will be a successful instrument for tackling crime and disorder in the community.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).