§ 6.6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not being in my place.
I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill that comes before your Lordships is a set of substantial and hard-hitting measures that cut right across the boundaries of our law enforcement process. With your Lordships' support, the Bill will fundamentally change the way in which the police and the criminal justice system operate. It will help us with our goal of building a more just, safe and tolerant society.
The Bill will hit hard at the yob elements in society who show no restraint in public. It will give practical protection on the ground to those vulnerable elements of our society, whether they are at risk when they try to give evidence at a court hearing, or whether they are 656 being unjustly harassed in their own homes by the activities of animal rights "terrorists". It will rein in those young people making others' lives a misery, whether they are acting like bandits while on bail or whether they are in need of curfew orders to protect themselves and those around them.
The Bill offers a wide range of measures to drive down crime. It provides: improved measures in respect of fingerprints and DNA, to ensure that we make best use of the latest crime fighting technology; improved powers for the police and judiciary in respect of alcohol related disorder, search and seizure and sharing of information; and improved measures to modernise police organisation and training. These all combine to make this a highly practical and effective piece of legislation.
Perhaps I may briefly set out the main proposals in turn. Part I of the Bill contains measures for combating crime and disorder. Chapter 1 of Part I sets out our proposals on penalty notices. Penalty notices, in Clauses 1 to 11 , are a practical measure which enjoys the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers. They will help our policemen and women to deal quickly and firmly with aspects of minor disorder, freeing officers up from paperwork to get back on the streets fighting crime.
Penalty notices were well debated in the other place. I was glad to see that the Official Opposition had no objection in principle but were more concerned with points of detail—over which much debate took place. I welcome any constructive debate in this House that ensures that these measures operate to their full capacity.
Chapter 2 of the Bill contains a number of measures targeted at alcohol related crime and disorder. In short, these measures will enable swifter action to be taken in terms of closing certain licensed premises due to disorder or excessive noise and closing places which sell alcohol without a licence. The provisions will also strengthen the law to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors. I have had a constructive meeting with those noble Lords and honourable Members of another place who sit on the Parliamentary Beer Group to discuss these measures.
I hope that, following our debate, those concerned will feel able to put their full weight behind the proposals. I was glad to see that the alcohol measures and many of the other measures that I shall mention shortly—subject to points of detail—were broadly supported by Members on all sides in another place.
Chapter 3 of Part 1 completes the package of measures to combat crime and disorder. Restrictions on drug trafficking offenders in Clauses 33 to 37 will be an effective tool in restricting the activities of those who deal in drugs, while those measures (in Clauses 38 to 40) to protect witnesses will make it safer for those law-abiding members of the public who seek to give evidence in court. Again, I was glad to note that these measures received broad support in the other place.
Our strengthening of child curfews is significant, as set out in Clauses 45 and 46. I imagine that some noble Lords—perhaps of a Liberal Democrat 657 persuasion—may be concerned about the principles involved. I should merely argue that these measures will be fundamental in protecting people in their own homes. We must act to protect those who are afraid to leave their front doors because of the gangs of youths that are known to stalk, and sometimes maraud around, the streets of many estates.
In response to the harassment and intimidation suffered by members of the scientific community at the hands of animal rights extremists, the Government inserted further measures in the Bill (Clauses 41 to 44) during the Committee and Report stages in another place. These amendments attracted wide support of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members.
I am sure that many noble Lords will be all too familiar with some of the unpleasant practices that have been used by animal rights extremists to terrorise law-abiding citizens in their own homes. Indeed, on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House good examples have been given of those practices. Many noble Lords have spoken powerfully on behalf of those seeking to advance animal scientific experimentation in controlled circumstances, quite properly, and have argued for their protection.
I am proud to say that the laws we have to protect animals in this country in relation to experimentation are the toughest in the world. The measures in Chapter 3 in respect of harassment at home, malicious communication, collective harassment and the disclosure of the home addresses of directors and secretaries of companies will protect those who are legitimately and lawfully going about their day-to-day business. It is only right that this House should also be seen to be fully behind this package of proposals.
Clauses 47 to 50 in Part 2 of the Bill deal with disclosure of information for the purposes of criminal proceedings. These provisions will improve the ability of government bodies to disclose information for specific crime-related purposes. We have to recognise the difficulty of fighting crime if potentially useful sources of information are not available to law enforcers.
The Government also see the information disclosure provisions as a key way to improve international cooperation in the fight against anti-competitive behaviour. We have listened carefully and closely to the CBI's concerns on those proposals. Safeguards have been put in place. These safeguards include the power of the Secretary of State to prohibit overseas information disclosure in cases that ought to be dealt with in the United Kingdom or a third country.
Part 3 of the Bill gives the police and the other law enforcement agencies powers to seize material and remove it for sifting elsewhere. The new clauses have two separate aims. First, the clauses give the police and other law enforcement agencies powers to remove material from premises for examination where it is not reasonably possible to carry out the process on the premises due to constraints of time or technology. Secondly, the clauses deal with problems arising where investigators need to seize material that is inextricably 658 linked to other material that they would not currently be entitled to retain. For example, it may be impossible to separate specific items of information held on computer without losing critical data about when they were created, amended or deleted.
In Clauses 72 to 87, Part 4 makes a number of provisions in respect of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Terrorism Act 2000. Some of these measures, such as powers of arrest for hit and run, kerb crawling, making the importation of indecent and obscene material a serious arrestable offence and the execution of process, received widespread support in the other place.
Measures in respect of detention hearings for terrorist suspects by video link will fine tune provision within the Terrorism Act 2000 to make a practical improvement in the way that terrorist suspects are dealt with. Those in respect of access to special procedure material will give DTI investigators powers that are already available to the police and Customs and Excise investigators.
Some of the most important measures within Part 4 relate to the taking of DNA samples and fingerprints. If enacted, they will give the criminal justice system a significant lever in the fight against crime. The measures will permit all fingerprints and DNA samples, taken on suspicion of involvement in an offence, to be retained. Currently Section 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act specifies that, where a person is not prosecuted or is acquitted of the offence, the sample must be destroyed and the information derived from it cannot be used.
The need for this provision arises as a result of two recent cases—R v Weir and R v B. Compelling DNA evidence that linked one suspect to a rape and the other to a murder could not be used, and neither could be convicted. This was because at the time that the matches were made both defendants had either been acquitted, or a decision had been made not to proceed with the offences for which the DNA profiles were taken. The subsequent decision of the House of Lords, published on 14th December of last year, stated that where a DNA sample fell to be destroyed but had not been, although Section 64 of PACE prohibited its use in the investigation of any other offence, it did not make evidence obtained as a failure to comply with that prohibition inadmissible but left it to the discretion of the trial judge.
The position was unsatisfactory and the law clearly needed clarification. The Government decided that rather than live with a situation that might appear to encourage the police to retain DNA samples unlawfully, it would be preferable to put retention on a proper legal footing—hence the inclusion of these provisions in the Bill. These measures will also allow fingerprints or samples given voluntarily for the purposes of elimination, such as DNA intelligence screens, to be retained where the volunteer gives his written consent. The re-taking of fingerprints and samples in certain circumstances would also be permitted and the position on the exchange of information held on the fingerprint and DNA databases would be clarified.
659 In bringing forward and proposing these measures we have carefully considered the rights of the individual and the broader rights that members of society have to be protected. We must be able to make the fullest use of the technology available to prevent and punish crime.
Other measures in Part 4 will include provision for remote reviews of detention to be conducted by video link—in certain circumstances by telephone—and for some other custody decisions to be undertaken by video link. I am confident that these measures will improve the efficiency of the review and custody system by enabling an expert custody officer to apply his knowledge to decisions that may need to be carried out at a distance.
Part 5 of the Bill introduces new arrangements for police training. It creates a new central police training and development authority as a non-departmental public body, whose primary aim will be delivering top-class training to police officers in England and Wales. Part 5 also includes measures to improve and modernise police training by introducing a mandatory core curriculum and qualifications for the police. It will improve the quality of training by the closer involvement of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Those provisions are widely supported, practical measures to ensure that the police have the best possible training to support them in their work.
Part 6 deals with a number of provisions to improve the way in which the police service is organised. It makes small amendments governing police authorities and the service authorities for the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. They will permit the statutory appointment of vice chairmen, remove the maximum age limit for membership and permit these authorities to devise their own schemes for payment of allowances. It also introduces new funding arrangements for the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Such provisions will remove the existing cumbersome and time-consuming arrangements for funding by means of contributions from police authorities, with direct funding from the Government. There are also some changes to the service authorities to make them more inclusive, and to streamline them by reducing the number of members.
Part 6 also contains a number of other straightforward changes to the organisation of the police. It re-introduces the ranks of deputy chief constable and chief superintendent, and the equivalent ranks in the Metropolitan Police, as well as making provisions about the role and appointment of deputy chief constables. It removes an anomaly in police disciplinary proceedings so that officers in those proceedings are subject to the new caution introduced in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This allows inferences to be drawn from a refusal to answer questions. Finally, it makes some small, but essential, changes to the pension arrangements for senior police officers with fixed term appointment As well as dealing with miscellaneous and supplemental matters, the final part of the Bill, Part 7, contains important provisions in three areas. The first 660 is in relation to the treatment of young offenders who are at risk of re-offending. The Bill, as drafted, will extend secure remand criteria, introduce electronic monitoring for juveniles on bail and remanded to local authority accommodation, and allow local authority remandees to be placed in secure training centres. These measures are essential in preventing juveniles from committing further offences while passing through the criminal justice system.
Secondly, this part of the Bill will provide additional safeguards for the vulnerable by helping the Criminal Records Bureau to prevent unsuitable people from becoming registered to countersign applications, a critical position of trust in the bureau's operational arrangements.
Thirdly, and finally, it will amend the Bail Act 1976 so that the courts will be required to give reasons for granting bail where the prosecutor makes representations against so doing.
The Government believe that this Bill is fundamental to building a safe, just and tolerant society. It gives valuable tools to the police, delivers a range of improvements to the criminal justice system and ensures that the public continue to receive the fullest protection. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Bassani of Brighton.)
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, I am delighted that it now seems we are to have plenty of time to discuss the Bill as there is not to be an early general election. That seems to be one of the few good things to have come out of the foot and mouth outbreak. The Bill was only partly discussed in another place; indeed, whole parts of the Bill were not discussed at all in Committee or on Report.
This is the sixth Home Office Bill of the Session, not counting the one we heard about this afternoon that is to come before us in a day or two. Some of the others have required hundreds of amendments. The present Home Secretary has an exceptional ability to influence decisions on the Government's legislative programme. which has normally been thought of as overladen, but no corresponding influence over the appointment of sufficient departmental lawyers and parliamentary draftsmen, or, for that matter, officials, to prepare the legislation properly. I may be doing them an injustice. Perhaps it is a case of Ministers not being able to make up their minds sufficiently clearly, but either way it gives your Lordships' House an extra responsibility to scrutinise the proposals properly.
As became clear while the Minister spoke—if it was not clear before—this Bill is one of the Home Office's miscellaneous "ragbag" Bills. It has no theme. As far as I can see, it is made up like crazy paving rather than a mosaic with a clear picture emerging. I have the impression that Ministers sat around like customers in a pub chewing over events and the latest disaster on the 661 television, saying, "Disgraceful—there ought to be a law against it". Except, of course, that Home Office officials immediately create such a law.
One consequence is that my speech will have no theme either. Before I launch into the details of the Bill, I welcome the interim report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I believe that this is the first Bill on which we have had a report from this new Joint Committee. It is a welcome development. As far as I am aware, the committee has not yet given its conclusions on the Bill. However, it has published a large amount of evidence it received, including from the Home Office, and the accounts of witnesses. That information is helpful, particularly when considering the human rights aspect of the Bill.
Part 1 of the Bill is a mini-ragbag in itself. It comprises on the spot penalties; alcohol offences related to public order; travel restrictions on drug dealers; intimidation of witnesses in civil proceedings and child curfew schemes for the under 16s. I am not altogether happy about the selection of offences to be the subject of fixed penalty notices. The fixed penalty notice will need, quite rightly, to state the offence and the alleged circumstances of the offence. For that reason it is no good using that procedure for offences which will require the policeman to write an essay there and then in the street describing the offence on the notice before he hands it to the individual concerned.
The main object, of course, is to speed up the whole process of bringing offenders to justice and to save bureaucracy. However, if the measure is used for the wrong offences, particularly for offences where the policeman's judgment on the spot is crucial as to someone's behaviour and whether or not that constitutes an offence, it will not achieve its object. On the other hand, there are some offences which are not at present included—and which it has been suggested might be—to which we shall need to give attention. Two examples are prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes and urinating in the street. Both of those are fairly clear offences which one would have thought might be the subject of measures of this kind.
I note that the Home Secretary can, by affirmative order, with the permission of Parliament, add any other offence to the list, though presumably he does not have any particular ones in mind at the moment or he would have included them in the Bill in the first place. I am interested to know why that power applies, apparently, only to those over 18. There is a separate provision for curfews for those under 16, but in practice it is quite often those aged 16 and 17 who are involved in the kind of offences we are talking about. They were discussed earlier in the consultation on the provisions but, as far as I can see, are not included in the Bill. I also note that if these offenders are challenged and given a ticket and do not pay the penalty, they end up in the magistrates' court anyway for non-payment of a fine.
662 I have other questions with regard to records. The Society of Editors is concerned that it should know who has been fined. I am not sure about that. But the point is certainly worth considering. If someone is taken to court for these kinds of offences, the reporter at the local magistrates' court can make a note of the person's name and act as he or she thinks right. In effect, the use of these powers will be conducted in confidence between the offender concerned and the police unless the offender fails to pay and appears in court anyway for non-payment of the fine.
There is also the question of whether there will be a criminal record. As I understand it, there will not be a criminal record for anyone who is awarded a fixed penalty in these circumstances. However, it is important that there should be some kind of record. If an offender continues to display drunken behaviour, or whatever the offence is, the police will want to know that and to have a proper record of the fact that someone has been stopped for the same offence a number of times in the recent past. They can then consider whether to charge that person with a more serious offence or take him or her to court rather than issue a fixed penalty notice.
Part 1 contains a clause which concerns the names and addresses of directors and secretaries. This is obviously a welcome measure. I refer to the notorious case of Huntingdon Life Sciences, but a number of other people have found themselves in a similar situation. The clause provides for directors' and secretaries' private addresses to be concealed in the future. However, it does not address the fact that their private addresses are already on the record. It does not stop Companies House disclosing the addresses on previous annual returns. Therefore until the directors or secretary of the company change, their private addresses will remain well known. The provision does nothing for shareholders who have had similar problems.
It is not only the directors and secretaries of companies involved in scientific research, and so on, who are concerned, having been the subject of attacks from violent activists, but also farmers and others involved in GM crops and hunt staff. Although the law is strengthened a little in the Bill, those actions are thoroughly against the current law. The strongest police action is required.
Part 2 of the Bill relates to disclosure of information. It contains a clause allowing the tax authorities—Inland Revenue and the Customs—to disclose the secrets of tax returns. Until now they have always been regarded as some of the most confidential documents in the country. There are now to be extremely wide powers for information from tax returns, and other information gained by the tax authorities, to be disclosed. However, from correspondence and background information, I understand that they will be carried out only where serious crimes are involved. But that is not stated in the Bill. It is what is known in the tax jargon as a concession. The Revenue will not disclose all kinds of information. Where it wishes to do so, it will disclose the information only in serious cases.
663 Under Clause 48 the Secretary of State can give a direction restricting the power but only where the offence is capable of being tried in a United Kingdom court or in a third country. I do not understand Clause 48(3)(c) but we shall come to that in due course.
For example, a resident of Iraqi origin may be publishing a dissident magazine in the United Kingdom criticising the Iraqi government. I believe that it is not intended that the Revenue report that information—it may arise when considering his tax returns—to the Iraqi government. I understand that such criticism is thoroughly against the law in Iraq. Although that is not the intention, it is possible under the provisions of the Bill. Not to do so is only at the discretion of the Revenue or the Customs authorities.
A Chinese national resident in the United Kingdom might also be running a business in China through which he was evading a certain amount of Chinese tax. Again one might think that it was fair for the Revenue to report that to the Chinese authorities. However, the penalty in China for tax evasion in some circumstances is the death penalty. So in reporting an individual, the Revenue might bring him in danger of the death penalty. Those are somewhat extreme cases about which there is no apparent restriction in the Bill.
Part 3 relates to the seizure and retention of property by the police. There are serious issues regarding lawyer/client confidentiality in general, and legal/ professional privilege in particular. The Law Society was most concerned about what it saw as lack of proper consultation. That was a surprise to me; there had been previously quite a lot of consultation but not apparently at the last minute. In practice, there has been a procedure known as bagging up. When the police raid premises and collect papers, the lawyer for the individual whose premises are being raided is entitled, by general practice, to say, "There are some legal papers there". They are then sealed in a bag and taken to the police station. The bag is then opened only in the presence of the lawyer who is able to extract any papers to which legal privilege attaches. The different sides can argue in court later if there is some dispute as to whether legal privilege attaches to certain papers. But it means that the papers are not disclosed to the police, and legal professional privilege, which we all support, is in place. The system of bagging up—I gather that it works well in most cases and had been accepted as adequate until a recent case—has not provided the model on which the Bill is based. One wonders why.
There are concerns about journalistic material from the Society of Editors. There is talk of a code of practice. I am not sure what that would mean in practice. Editors and journalists in general are extremely protective of journalistic material for reasons which we well understand. But included in this part of the Bill are provisions relating to retention of DNA and fingerprint information. In many respects, that is clearly a very large step in the direction of Big Brother. The problem is whether the proposals will mean that people are less likely to co-operate with the police in big cases. A few years ago when I was a Member of another place, there was a particularly 664 horrible murder of a young lady on her way home from a dance at one o'clock in the morning. She was abducted and murdered. It proved difficult to catch the individual. There was more and more publicity locally. For reasons which were well understood a huge number of fingerprints and DNA samples were taken from a large proportion of the local male population who could conceivably have been involved. Most people were entirely willing to give their samples and to be eliminated from the inquiry, helping the police to do all they could to catch the murderer.
Should there be similar cases—we have no wish to see them—in other parts of the country, it would not be many years before there was a national DNA database which included us all. I do not think that the Government are aiming at that but I should like reassurance. Guidance on the Bill suggests that the DNA of those who come forward voluntarily in a case such as the one to which I referred will not be retained. The Bill does not seem to allow for that. It is important for public confidence to know what will happen to the particulars obtained in that way. Everyone wants to catch such a criminal, and criminals generally. We do not want to put people off as a result of the retention provisions in Part 3.
Part 4 concerns PACE and related matters. I wish to refer to the use of video and telephone links for decisions about detention. I am not sure how that will work. Will the inspector talk over the telephone to the suspect or his legal adviser as well as to the police about his decision to extend custody? Will he be able to have a video conference with the accused and his legal adviser to decide whether it is right to extend the detention? Or will he talk only to the custody officer and other policemen involved in the case?
The provision for such work to be done at a distance is a tacit admission by the Government of the overstretch that police inspectors in particular have been talking about recently. There are 1,385 fewer inspectors in this country now than there were about six years ago. They are feeling the overstretch very severely. The Bill makes many provisions that require the permission of a police inspector or someone of more senior rank. If they are thin on the ground and trying to cover ever more boroughs in London, for example, it will be difficult for them to do their job properly or to give proper attention, when they are in the middle of one case, to whether to detain somebody in a different case.
Part 5 is about training. It is entirely appropriate that the Bill should include a section on police training. It concerns changes to the central training authority and changes in the financing, as the Minister said. But the whole Bill will require considerable effort to retrain the police and others concerned with the criminal justice system in the new provisions. I sometimes wonder whether Ministers realise the retraining effort required by such a huge Bill, particularly when it is one of six Bills so far this year—or this half-year. An awful lot of paper and overtime are required to keep up with all the changes in the law. We need to think carefully 665 about that when bringing about desirable changes to the law at such a furious pace as we have been doing recently.
Part 6 is about police organisation and bringing back the ranks of deputy chief constable and chief superintendent—moving the chairs round again, as it were. It also makes provision for police disciplinary proceedings and the inference to be drawn from silence. That is a difficult provision that requires consideration, given that a lower standard of proof is required in police disciplinary matters to that required in criminal matters—the balance of probabilities rather than beyond all reasonable doubt. The inference to be drawn from silence is therefore not the same as in criminal cases.
Part 7 is described as, "Miscellaneous and Supplemental", but it contains not only the usual interpretation and commencement provisions, but also important changes to bail, secure remand, electronic tagging and criminal records.
The Bill seems to contain the sweepings from the Home Office pigeon holes. I must warn the Minister that Home Office pigeon holes are rather like the automat cafes of some years ago in America. The customer opened a glass door and took out their choice of meal whereupon a secret door immediately opened at the back and the slot was filled up again. Home Office pigeon holes are never empty. In time, some of the provisions in the Bill will prove valuable additions to the armoury of the criminal justice system while others clutter up the statute book and lead to waste time being wasted on retraining policemen and rearranging the chairs. The challenge in Committee will be to try to work out which are which.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, described the Bill as a ragbag without a theme. I hope that my response will have a theme: that Parliament, and this House in particular, has a solemn duty to resist bounced, hasty, ill-considered legislation. It has a duty to resist the sweepings from Home Office pigeon holes, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I hope that Ministers will not represent us as in any way soft on crime for insisting on a full and thorough examination of the Bill. Earlier this afternoon, before the Minister joined us, we heard a powerful speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about the nightmare of living cheek by jowl with the feckless, the violent and the criminally inclined. No party in any part of this House or in any Chamber of this Parliament is anything other than totally committed to providing our citizens with the basic right to freedom from fear—fear of their neighbours and fear of the young and violent.
The Minister said, with a slight tone of condescension, that certain of the proposals dealing with the yob culture would attract some concern among the Liberal Democrats. Yes, we are concerned about the implication once again that the only responses to certain problems are ever more draconian 666 laws and ever more draconian policing, when it has been proved beyond peradventure that on many sink estates the provision of a youth club, after-school facilities or sporting facilities—the provision of some hope—has at least as much impact on overall crime as ever more serious criminal sanctions.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, this is a big, wide-ranging Bill. It would be proper to treat it with due solemnity if it was the Home Office's first effort. but this is something like the 16th Home Office Bill that we have had in just over a Session and a half. The problem is that the Home Office has had a seamless succession from Michael Howard to Jack Straw. They both believe that a succession of measures to show a macho approach to crime and criminals is the way ahead.
One reason why Parliament, and this House in particular, should be concerned is that we have had a ratchet effect, with successive Bills chipping away at civil liberties. When they do not produce a magic impact on the crime statistics, another Bill is brought forward and the ratchet is moved another notch. It is not as though the Liberal Democrats have not warned the Government. We warned them against the erosion of police numbers and proposed various community and other measures to take the pressure off the police and allow them to do their core jobs. We have argued for alternatives to prison, instead of the continuation of this country's appalling record of putting ever more young offenders into young offender. institutions, which even the Government's own inspectors see as nothing more than universities of crime. Anyone who enters such an institution drug-free is very unlikely to emerge drug-free. But time and time again the Government bring before us legislation which inflicts yet one more turn of the screw.
Nothing better illustrates that than the curfew proposal. We thoroughly debated proposals in relation to curfews for children up to the age of 10, but none of them was taken up and nothing happened. So what do we do? We return with proposals for 16 year-olds. I quote from the Parliamentary Monitor of January 2001:The home secretary, Jack Straw, has admitted that the age limit of 10 for child curfews is too low. He blamed himself for the decision, saying that he went 'with caution' by not including older children. The fact that there has not yet been a single curfew applied was the fault of 'the conservativism of the social services departments' and he has called on them to use the full panoply of powers available to tackle unruly behaviour.
New fines for anti-social behaviour will also be introduced, although the government has retreated from 'marching yobs to cashpoint' machines in order to pay them". We all remember when the Prime Minister had a blank page in a speeches. He put in that proposal in order to catch that evening's news headlines.
That has been the pattern. There has been no admission of having got things wrong, and, too often, proposals have been brought forward not with a longterm theme or strategy but with the sole purpose of catching the evening's news or following day's headlines.
667 Another example is the new proposal for the remand of children in secure accommodation. This is what the Law Society brief says in relation to that:The treatment and care of children, whatever their offending history, is a sensitive matter and should be subject to public scrutiny and debate prior to legislative change".Then we come to the real point:The late timing of the changes to the Bill was surely due to the recent publicity that the government was behind target in their pledge to reduce the case progression times for children identified as Persistent Young Offenders".That is the exact point that I am making. A piece of legislation is brought forward not to deal with any long-term problem or to provide a long-term solution but for the purpose of a little quick-fix media manipulation.
Therefore, I believe that Parliament is right to be sceptical about a Government who are prone to cheap populism and too prone to quick fixes. We have seen that in the legislation that has been brought forward: a bomb explodes and new terrorism legislation is rushed through this House; football hooligans rampage and we have a football hooligan Bill; and the same has occurred with regard to animal rights protestors.
The probllem is that a response to a particular problem is given in legislative terms but the general principle embodied in that legislation remains and has wider implications. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that it would be much more reassuring to have a theme and philosophy in Home Office legislation rather than a simple deluge of Bills and rapid responses to headlines, which has been the practice.
We all know why that occurs. We are told that, whatever the outcome of the general election, Jack Straw will be moving on. He will be able to do so with an absolutely perfect record: on no single issue has he ever been outflanked to the right by either Michael Howard or Ann Widdecombe—something of which I am sure he is considerably proud.
Therefore, we need less legislation from the Home Office. We on these Benches advise more pilot projects for some of the schemes that appear out of the pigeon holes. We also put forward the idea of establishing a Select Committee with the ability to take external evidence in examining some Home Office Bills in draft form. The human rights committee procedure would appear to be a good procedure for certain Bills.
We must get out of the habit of believing that, unless legislation is passed immediately, this day or at once, civilisation as we know it will come to an end. That is the recipe for ill considered and bad legislation. We must build into our procedures a process for taking a more measured look at proposals and for ensuring that outside interests, expert groups and others who are directly involved have a chance to provide input on legislation. The scattergun approach is not succeeding, as evidenced by the Home Office returning time and again with different wheezes in order to deal with problems.
I referred to a "scattergun" approach, and it would therefore be rather surprising if parts of the Bill did not hit the target. We welcome the measures on the various 668 abuses of alcohol. I believe that we face a national schizophrenia in relation to alcohol. Only recently we passed a statutory instrument which greatly relaxed opening times. We live in an age in which both the relative price of alcohol and its availability to all sections of the community means that it is more accessible than at probably any time during the past century.
On television there is a much greater acceptance of alcohol abuse than there is of smoking. Now, one rarely sees a key character in a television play who smokes. Yet whole television series are built around men behaving badly and laddish behaviour. Such programmes are aimed mainly at the vulnerable, 15 to 20 year-old age groups. The proponents are usually on the verge of middle age but still cling on to the laddish image. Alcopops, again, can only be aimed at young drinkers, and sometimes advertisers take an irresponsible attitude. Therefore, I believe that more needs to be done, not least by the industry itself, in relation to alcohol and its connection with anti-social behaviour.
We support the measures in relation to drug traffickers and the protection of witnesses. We fully appreciate and support—and, indeed, have advocated—the need to break into the drugs supply line at a higher point. As the Minister knows, we have called for tougher action to be taken against money launderers—the people who often lubricate the drug trade.
We also welcome the measures against animal rights extremists. That leads me to an issue with which I believe society as a whole must come to terms. In the United States, and to a certain extent in this country, we have come across people who feel strongly about a single issue and believe that their strength of feeling puts them above the law. I refer to animal rights extremists, people who are anti-abortion, people who feel strongly about the environment, and people who simply believe that capitalism is wicked and that all capitalists are "fat cats".
However, the attitude which leads people to say, "My individual belief is so strong that I am against the law", cannot be accepted in a democratic society where a parliamentary process changes laws. I believe that that applies in all directions. If Parliament in its wisdom bans hunting, I shall look to people who want to hunt to accept that law, too. That cuts in all directions. We change our laws—our society—here in Parliament, not by intimidation or by breaking the law.
Our concerns are not unlike those of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. That reaffirms the need for a thorough Committee stage. We are concerned about the DNA database, and whether a move to a national DNA database may be involved; the use of curfews, which I discussed earlier; video-conferencing in relation to PACE; the lacuna involving 16 to 17 year-olds and fixed penalty notices; and aspects of police training, which my noble friend Lady Harris will discuss in 669 detail. My noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Phillips of Sudbury—the fact that he is absent from these Benches does not mean that he is not interested—
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, is he? I knew that my noble friend Lord Dholakia was here, but my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury especially asked me to tell the Minister that he cannot be here tonight but that he wants to play a full part in Committee. You have been warned! I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope: in another place the Bill did not get full consideration in Committee. It must be given the fullest consideration in Committee in this House. If the general election had been on 3rd May, we on these Benches would have strongly resisted nodding through the Bill. We do not believe that it has been properly or thoroughly examined in the other place; this House has a duty to do so. Our approach will involve words that I know are dear to the Minister's heart—we want proportionality and practicality to be the test of the proposals. The provisions must last longer than tomorrow's headlines or even next month's election campaign. They have to be tested against basic freedoms: against the freedom from fear, against civil liberties, human rights, the age-old freedoms of assembly and of speech and the right to privacy from an over-intrusive state. Those are the tests that we shall apply to the Bill.
The director-general of Liberty put the matter very well. He said:The Government continues to confuse being tough on crime with being tough on civil liberties and human rights. Eroding rights does not crack crime".Quite so. We shall ensure during the Bill's Committee stage that eroding rights is not part of the Bill's outcome.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I support the Bill's intent. In so far as I shall discuss the Bill rather than its background, I shall restrict myself to discussing Part 1, about which I have some reservations. I refer in particular to violent youth crime. yob culture, the abuse of drugs and persistent young offenders.
I am convinced that the Bill on its own will not effectively combat crime and disorder. To combat crime and disorder among young people—excluded young people in particular—three things are needed. The first is to make crime less attractive. That, we hope, the Bill will do. The second is to ensure that appropriate alternative opportunities exist. The third is that excluded and hard-to-reach young people should have the help they need to access those opportunities. I want to talk a little about the second and third of those requirements, which are essential if any policy to combat crime and disorder is to be effective.
670 I make it absolutely clear from the start that I am not one of those who condones crime and that I am not making excuses for criminals. I am trying to sketch in the background with which many noble Lords are familiar; that is, the reality of some young people's lives in our society today. Unless we understand that reality we will not understand why crime seems to them to be an attractive option.
Each of us needs something to make our life seem worthwhile. That is true of all of us. Recent research involving a sample 1,500 boys—there was also a survey of girls, but I shall focus on the survey of boys in this context—showed that more than 12 per cent of boys in our society today do not believe that there is any future for them in the legitimate economy or as responsible fathers. That is a frightening figure. Those boys have not been prepared by their experience in their family, by the example of their father or by their experience in school to cope with the competitive, high-tech society that we live in today.
I shall discuss the Connexions service in more detail later, but for the moment I quote its definition of that kind of young person. It states,a significant minority experiences a wide range of acute problems and crises in adolescence including alcohol, drug and substance abuse, illiteracy, mental illness, serial offending and under-achievement".Such excluded young people may be short on communication skills and have low self-esteem and they have probably never experienced any encouragement or success in their lives. Gone are the days when such a young man could expect to keep his end up and support a family provided that he was strong and prepared to work.
The Government came to power on the promise to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. This Bill, and the other 16 Bills to which other noble Lords have referred, are a contribution to redeeming the first part of that promise. What about the second part? Are the Government actually going to deliver on that? Let us look at the progress so far. In 1999, the Government set up the Connexions service to address the problem. This month—April—2001 the first pilot schemes are being set up. The Connexions service for south London, from whose report I quoted a moment ago, envisages producing an action plan by 2002 and being fully operative by 2004. That is simply the pilot scheme. Can the Minister give a date by which the Government expect the Connexions service to be fully operative throughout the country? That may be an unfair question and if the Minister wishes to write to me about it, I shall understand.
Many noble Lords know that the Connexions service is intended to bring together existing local bodies that work for 13 to 19 year-olds. It will co-ordinate their provision and provide each young person with advice and guidance and, where necessary, a personal adviser or mentor. It is not itself a provider of services, such as special schools, special training facilities, sports clubs, youth services or any of the other services that young people need. Local authorities, LEAs and voluntary bodies provide—or fail to provide—those services; provision is very 671 patchy. Yet, if the Connexions service is to work, it must have something to connect to. It needs the support of those services.
For decades, successive governments have allowed services for young people to be cut. Playing fields have been sold off, youth service budgets have been cut to the bone, special schools have been closed and core funding, which is central to voluntary providers, has been cut and cut again. An enormous investment in terms of money and effort will be needed to rebuild that infrastructure.
Each young person needs something to encourage him to believe that his life is worth living. If he does not find that in the legitimate economy, he will find it in crime. There is therefore an urgent need for a coherent cross-departmental government plan to rebuild services for young people.
That raises an interesting question. Who is responsible? We know that the Home Office and the judiciary are responsible for being tough on crime. Can the Minister say which department of state is responsible for co-ordinating action to address the causes of crime?
Finally, I should like to give the House just two examples of what appears to be a dramatic lack of co-operation between the Home Office, the Department for Education and Employment and the local education authorities. The first concerns the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill. It is a well-established fact that some boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties benefit from being in a special school. The higher staff-pupil ratio helps them to catch up with their basic skills and they are not exposed to ridicule and derision, as they would be in a mainstream school, from other boys and girls who do not suffer from their disadvantage.
There are successful examples of such special schools throughout the country. One with which I am familiar on the Isle of Dogs is called the Burger Academy—the staff-pupil ratio is about six to one—and there are others. Those schools help young people to build their skills and self-confidence and eventually, very often, to reintegrate into mainstream education. Yet only a few weeks ago the Department for Education forced through your Lordships' House, against the advice of many of your Lordships on all sides of the House, clauses in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill which will effectively exclude many young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties from special schools. Only if their parents demand it or if they are disruptive will the local education authority be able to send them to a special school.
Such insecure and disturbed young people, vulnerable to bullying, will soon truant from a mainstream school. They will then be back on the streets facing the same severe risk of being drawn into crime. Surely if we believe in addressing the causes of crime, that does not make sense.
About a month ago my noble friend Lord Tenby arranged for four Members of your Lordships' House to visit the Medway Secure Training Centre. We were 672 impressed by the work of the centre, and in particular by the fact that a number of young people, during the period of their stay, were becoming interested by the possibility that education could provide them with a way out of exclusion; a gateway to full membership of the consumer society.
Many of those young people, having completed the first half of their sentence in the secure training centre, were returning to their home communities to find that their local education authorities were unwilling to provide full-time education for them or even education at all, let alone the specialist catch-up education that they needed. I tabled a Question for Written Answer around one month ago and the Minister confirmed on 21st February that of the 259 young people aged under 16 who have so far passed through the Medway centre since February 2000, only nine have been accepted back into full-time education by their local education authorities; 68 are being provided with what is called "education outside school", which means a few hours a week. So most of the 250 are back on the streets.
It may well seem to your Lordships that I have strayed rather far from the Bill before us. I make no apology. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I am convinced that this Bill will not work unless the Government address at the same time the causes of crime. To do so will cost money; but so does crime. A recent piece of research published by Barnardo's—I have deposited a copy in the Library—shows that prevention can cost less than one-tenth of the cost of intervention later in a young person's life. I am convinced that unless the Government do more to provide comprehensive, properly funded, coherent programmes of prevention and diversion to encourage those who are at risk into the legitimate economy, neither the building of more prisons nor fat Bills like this one—let alone 16 of them—will significantly reduce youth crime.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords, there are many sensible and positive proposals in this Bill and I commend the Government for introducing them. However, the Minister and the Secretary of State know that I am not a believer in the effectiveness of curfews. It is right to say that many people who are concerned with the welfare of children and young people share my lack of faith. In our view curfews will drive those who are already marginalised into further marginalisation. It is not the way to draw people into responsible behaviour.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, spoke movingly about the problems faced by many young people and the need for a positive programme to help them into active citizenship and a productive life. For many young people, home is not a haven and a protective environment to which they should be immediately pushed back. The reason for gathering on street corners is often to avoid their domestic circumstances which, for many of them. may be violent, abusive and certainly unwelcoming.
673 I know that my noble friend Lady David intends to deal with the issue of curfew in terms and I want to concentrate, in the time available, on the issue of the forensic database and DNA. The database we have in this country has proved a remarkably useful tool in bringing to justice those who commit serious crimes. The examples of its successes are well-known and have resulted in the arrest of those responsible for murders and other violent or sexual offences. So I agree that anything that can be done to assist is to be welcomed.
There is no doubt that the public support the use of a forensic database. The Human Genetics Commission, which was set up with the task of advising the Government on all aspects of genetics and which I chair, recently carried out a survey of public attitudes to the storage and use of personal genetic information. I believe that the poll was the largest survey yet undertaken of those views and its results make for interesting reading.
On the question of the use of forensic databases people were very clear in their feelings. In response to the question as to whether the police should be entitled to take a DNA sample from a person charged with murder, 98 per cent of those polled said that they should be so entitled, while 68 per cent said that they should also be entitled to take such a sample from those charged with burglary. Less serious offences such as shoplifting received less support as grounds for taking a DNA sample. But the overall picture was one which supported the taking of DNA samples by the police.
I shall return to the survey in a few moments. It may sound as though I am enthusiastic about the databases and I certainly share the Government's belief that we should support them. However, major human rights issues are involved which need to be considered in taking a view on the relevant clauses of the Bill. If the Bill goes ahead in its current form, the United Kingdom forensic database will officially include the DNA of many completely innocent people.
Let me return to the MORI poll commissioned by the HGC. When we asked people whether they believed that the forensic database should have the right to retain samples of those acquitted of a crime with which they had been charged, the majority—48 per cent—said that they should not. But hard on its heels 46 per cent said that they should be so allowed. That is a bare majority and one from which one could reasonably conclude that the opinion of the public is fairly evenly split. However, the fact that so many people have misgivings about retaining DNA samples should make us stop and think about the degree to which this measure enjoys public support.
The issues of legal and ethical principles to which the measure gives rise are extremely serious. I have rehearsed the benefits of having such a database. I should now like to allude to some of the concerns which the Human Genetics Commission received. It will be found that those concerns are really quite weighty.
674 The first is the very basic one which touches upon the relationship between the state and the citizen. In this country we have long adhered to the notion that everybody is presumed innocent of a criminal offence until the contrary is proven. Taking intimate information on innocent people and holding it in official records merely on the basis that at some stage they have been suspected of a crime is a major step and, many would argue, a major erosion of the presumption of trust which exists between each of us and the state. Nobody likes to be suspected of criminal conduct; but being on a database of potential offenders, which will be regularly trawled by the police, means that in a very important sense one is on a list of suspects and that surely very subtly alters the way in which the state sees us and the way in which we see our fellow citizens. It is of course different if one has committed an offence. The state may quite reasonably say, "You have been convicted of a crime and we are going to keep you on the list in case you do it again". In other words, "We reserve the right to check up on you when similar offences are committed by unknown persons in future".
It is quite different if the person from whom the sample has been taken proves to be innocent. That person has committed no crime and nothing can therefore be said about any propensity to commit crime in the future. So why should he or she be kept on the database? What justification can there be other than to argue that perhaps they are really guilty and it has not been possible to prove it, or that the more people there are on the database the better, and that a big database will produce more positive results than a small one as a matter of elementary statistics. So we have the frightening move towards a national database.
The first of those arguments—that people are really guilty even though they are acquitted—is based on expediency and it is always a very dangerous principle on which to base any rules of criminal justice. The latter argument completely ignores the rights which people may claim to have under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that their DNA is a private matter and no concern of the state.
The Minister has said that the Bill goes further because it is intended that the DNA obtained from an intelligence screen, say, of all the people in a village who are asked to give a sample for the purposes of elimination will be kept on the national database, although they will be asked at the time if they consent to that. I believe that there are real issues here as to whether consent obtained in those circumstances could really be considered to be properly obtained consent especially where someone is doing it in circumstances where they may at that stage be a potential suspect.
Concern over issues of individual privacy have led a number of other countries to take a much more cautious view than the one commended in this Bill. The Human Genetics Commission has been examining these alternatives and recommends that 675 they be given serious consideration. In fact, we were rather surprised that the Home Office did not contact the commission for its view.
In France, under the 1998 law allowing the lodging of DNA samples on the national forensic database, the level of the crime which has to be committed for the material to be kept is much higher than in this country and is effectively restricted to crimes involving substantial violence, sexual or otherwise, and homicide.
In Canada, under the DNA Identification Act 1998, there is listed in a schedule those crimes under the Canadian criminal code which merit inclusion on the database. They are all serious crimes. The Canadian database was the product of careful consideration involving a great deal of public debate and careful scrutiny of the proposed legislation of individual privacy by the federal privacy commissioner. As a result of this approach, with its scrupulous attention to human rights considerations, the legislation in Canada provides only for the retention of the samples of those who have been convicted of an offence and for the destruction of the samples of those who have been proved to be innocent. It also, very creditably, makes special provision for disposing of the samples of juvenile offenders after a certain period thereby ensuring that young men who typically offend in their teenage years and who may then become law-abiding are not labelled in this way as criminals for the rest of their lives.
By contrast, the British database contains, and will continue to contain, the DNA of those who have a brush with the law in their youth. Under our system these young men will remain on the database indefinitely, a fact which may serve as a permanent reminder to them of youthful crime out of which they have grown and which they may otherwise be entitled to forget once they become responsible adults. The French database also allows for people to be removed after a period of good behaviour. Once again, that is to ensure that those who have had a clean record for a good period of time can be allowed to think of themselves as no longer being suspects. I wonder whether the Government might consider that at the Committee stage of the Bill.
In my view the arguments in favour of maintaining the current system whereby the samples of those who are proved innocent, and the data obtained from such samples, are destroyed are weighty ones. However, if the view is taken that we should move to the proposed position whereby samples are kept, even if the person giving the sample is proved innocent, then it would be desirable to have some time limit to this retention. At the very least it should be possible for a person to apply to have his or her sample removed after a period during which they have not been convicted of a relevant criminal offence. That means that even if innocent people are going to be included on the database, those who object to that should be entitled to have their sample and data removed. Not to allow that is to ignore an objection which some people may have to having what is, after all, a very intimate biological sample held by others when one has done 676 nothing to deserve it. Those who do not object to that may volunteer for the samples to be retained indefinitely and that of course would be their right.
If there is one thing which the Alder Hey inquiry and its counterpart in Scotland have shown, it is that people have very serious feelings about their own tissue and that of members of their family. These concerns over the way in which biological samples are treated by the state must be respected. That provides us with another reason to stop and think very carefully about the implications of these clauses.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. These Benches provide a splendid vantage point to observe the discomfort which sometimes her outspoken remarks provoke on her own Government's Front Bench. This evening she has spoken in a lower key although as relevantly and effectively as usual. Perhaps I may also say how much the House as a whole valued the profound insights of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who speaks with special knowledge about young people.
I shall confine my remarks to Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Bill, "On the Spot Penalties for Disorderly Behaviour". At first sight it seems an enterprising attempt by the Government to counter what is an evident social problem. No one will contest the Home Secretary's comment when moving the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons that the anti-social behaviour of a yobbish minority all too often impinges on the quality of life of the law-abiding majority. He was also right to emphasise the extent of public nuisance caused by alcohol abuse, and underage drinking by young people, especially in town or city centres.
As a result, the opening clauses of the Bill contain some novel provisions for combating crime and disorder. The first point I should like to make is that, however easily coupling them together rolls off the tongue, crime and disorder are separate concepts with different sanctions attached to each. Whereas most crimes are specifically defined in legislation, often with stated penalties, disorder has no precise legal definition. In general terms it can be described as human conduct which disturbs others.
Against that background let us consider for a few minutes the proposal that a police officer should be empowered to issue penalty notices on the spot for disorderly behaviour. Practicalities apart, the main objection is that it is a further manifestation of a trend which we have seen only too often in recent years: that is, mixing criminal and civil law procedures. The principles and the protections of the criminal law, in particular the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof, are correspondingly diluted.
This House has always been concerned to scrutinise with particular care any extension in the reach of the criminal law. Despite its hybrid nature, it is safe to assume that Ministers intend the proposals set out in Chapter 1 of the Bill to be treated as a strengthening 677 of criminal powers. A penalty notice can be issued if a police officer "has reason to believe" that at least one of the offences listed in Clause 1 has been committed by a person aged 18 or over. Yet that requirement falls short of being able to establish beyond all reasonable doubt that the person has committed the offence, which is the criminal standard of proof.
In technical language, a penalty notice is described as notice of the opportunity to discharge any liability to conviction of the offence by payment of a fixed penalty. Thus there is no criminal conviction, or indeed admission of guilt, as I understand it, associated with payment of the penalty; hence the justification for a lower standard of proof. This is all thin ice in terms of criminal procedure.
The alleged offender has the right to opt for trial by a court and to risk conviction if he, or less often she, so chooses. Failure either to pay the financial penalty, which is likely to be in the range of £50 to £200, or to opt for trial, may lead to the imposition of a fine equivalent to one-and-a-half times the penalty on the defaulter. Non-payment of such fines may result in imprisonment.
As a consequence, the population in the inner-city prisons, where overcrowding is at its highest and constructive activities are at their lowest, is likely to be swollen by an additional influx of people with inadequate personalities, low incomes, and an unsettled way of life. It is particularly unfortunate that there has been no prior consultation with the district judges the former stipendiary magistrates—who sit in the busy magistrates' courts in city centres and who have first-hand experience of the issues with which this Bill deals.
If all that sounds complicated—I am conscious it does—it is because once again the draftsman has had the unenviable task of trying to rescue a headline-grabbing initiative, and to reconcile it with the requirements of the rule of law.
I strongly believe that in this House, insulated as your Lordships are from the more extreme populist pressures to which Ministers and elected Members in another place are subject, we have a particular responsibility to resist encroachments on the rule of law, even where it is the probable result rather than the intended purpose.
If we look back to a somewhat similar initiative earlier in this Parliament, the anti-social behaviour order contained in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we find an example of an attempt to control anti-social behaviour in particular localities. The issue was not so different from that which we are discussing under this Bill. It too was a hybrid measure in that the application for an ASBO was treated as a civil procedure, subject to the burden of proof on a balance of probabilities, rather than to the criminal burden of proof of beyond reasonable doubt.
That legislation, like the present proposals, had decent enough antecedents: the furtherance of community safety, especially on crime-ridden housing estates. Yet the problems of implementation were such 678 that in some parts of the country the orders have hardly been used at all. In the Commons debate on the present Bill, for example, it was stated that since their introduction ASBOs have been used on only two occasions in the whole of the Thames Valley Police area, one of the largest in the country.
If that legislation, which has been on the statute book for some time now, has failed to bear down effectively on anti-social behaviour because the police and the local authorities are reluctant to use it, why should it be thought that the present proposals on disorder are likely to be any more successful?
As an afterthought, I should explain that I had prepared what I regard as these relatively moderate criticisms before I was aware of the devastating strictures by the Criminal Bar Association of the proposals in Part 1 of the Bill. The detailed analysis by practitioners of some of the likely consequences of enforcing this measure, if enacted in the form in which it is before us at the moment, makes electrifying reading. The House should be grateful to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for reprinting the document verbatim in its first special report.
Surely it is also relevant that both the Police Federation and the Magistrates' Association—two professional bodies which would be closely associated with the implementation of this legislation—opposed the Home Office proposals in the consultation paper on fixed penalty notices. Referring to the type of incident that would attract a notice to be served at the scene, the Police Federation stated:We do not believe such offences readily lend themselves to such a scheme and therefore must express our deep concern as to the considerable operational impracticalities and public perception as to the implementation of such a concept".The Magistrates' Association was equally forthright, stating:The Association opposes the introduction of fixed penalty notices for the offences set out in the consultation paper. Where the police decide that a warning or caution is insufficient the alleged offender should be 'fast-tracked' to a court on the next day, and dealt with in a proper and judicial manner".I repeat,dealt with in a proper and judicial manner".Those are fine words that surely should be ringing in our ears as we debate the provisions of this part of the Bill.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Harris of Richmond
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. It is probably one of the most important Bills to have come before us this Session. I start by declaring an interest. As many noble Lords know, I chair the police authority in my home area of North Yorkshire. I am also deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, the national body that represents all police authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The current service authorities for the National Crime Squad, of which I was formerly a member, and the National Criminal Intelligence Service are also members of that association.
679 This Bill is large and diverse. I shall confine my contribution to those aspects about which I have particular knowledge or expertise.
Effective, targeted training lies at the heart of modern, professional policing and a diverse, inclusive culture for the police service. The Association of Police Authorities has worked closely with the Government in helping to shape a reform programme for police training. It is an ambitious and a broad programme of work. A number of elements do not require legislation and are already under way. However, the clauses in the Bill are central to the success of the programme as a whole and in particular they would, as the Minister outlined, establish a new authority to oversee national police training arrangements; provide a core curriculum of basic police training; and allow for new, mandatory qualifications for certain police roles.
Overall, these measures will help to enhance further the already excellent standards of commitment and professionalism that exist in the police service, examples of which I witness daily in my work as chairman of North Yorkshire Police Authority. They are to be welcomed.
The Bill would also change significantly the accountability arrangements for the two national policing squads—the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. These provisions were not debated in detail in the other place and I urge this House to give careful scrutiny to them. They are important.
There are two issues involved, and they are linked. First, the Bill introduces new funding arrangements for the national squads. by direct grant from central government rather than the existing levy on police authorities. Secondly, the Bill reduces drastically the number of representatives of local police forces and authorities who serve on the two service authorities which oversee the work of the national squads.
As currently drafted, these provisions would weaken unnecessarily the existing links between local and national policing organisations; links which tie the national squads firmly into our arrangements for maintaining local accountability for policing actions. I do not believe that that is the Government's intent ion but I believe that it will happen in practice.
I place on record my admiration for the excellent work undertaken by the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service in tackling some of the most serious crime and dangerous criminal gangs in this country and abroad. However, they do not operate in a vacuum and they are part of the overall policing family. Strong operational, organisational and cultural ties must be retained between the national squads and local police forces. All have an important role in the fight against crime.
A balance must be struck to find the right level of investment in policing at its different levels. Whatever the complexion of the government in power, this will be a difficult and delicate task and Parliament has a right to scrutinise their decisions closely. I know that the Association of Police Authorities has proposed drafting changes to the Government that would 680 enhance consultation with all interested parties on the priorities for policing at local and national level and resources needed to meet them; enable Parliament to take an informed view on that consultation exercise when scrutinising the government proposals for grants to the national squads and for policing generally; and recognise more fully the value and breadth of experience which representatives of police authorities and forces bring to the work of the service authorities which oversee the two national squads. Once again, I encourage the Government to bring forward the amendment at the Committee stage and enable the House to debate these provisions properly.
I could not let the Second Reading pass without a word or two about those provisions which relate to police authorities themselves. These give statutory recognition to the role of vice chairmen; remove the bar on people over 70 serving on a police authority; and let police authorities decide what allowances their members should receive. I am delighted that the Government have finally recognised that police authorities are grown up enough, and responsible enough, to set the levels of their own allowances. At present, they have to run, cap in hand, to the Home Office all the time.
The time, energy and commitment which police authority members give to their work is incalculable. And I wish here to pay my deep gratitude to members of my own police authority in North Yorkshire who have given me such marvellous support throughout my years as their chairman. Police authority members do this work on top of their day jobs and other responsibilities. They need to be recompensed fairly and it is very important to encourage those sections currently under-represented to serve on police authorities; for instance, younger women, by having the flexibility to pay for baby-sitters.
I know that the Association of Police Authorities is drawing up a model scheme which will set sensible national guidelines for all authorities to follow. Independent advice on what those levels should be is being sought. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it is only fair to seek to ensure that people are justly treated for the enormous amount of time they devote to public service. So that is one small step.
However, it is disappointing—and I misquote Neil Armstrong—that the Government did not feel able to make a somewhat larger leap. The Home Office will decide how police authority members should be reimbursed by way of expenses and will still say how much members will receive per mile if they go to police authority meetings by car, by bicycle or by skateboard! I shall return to that at the Committee stage. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the Government have finally honoured the long-standing commitments they made to the Association of Police Authorities to make these changes.
I must now introduce a new element into the debate; what I call the "Humberside judgment". As your Lordships may know, every police authority includes members from local councils. I myself am a councillor member of my police authority. Only a month or so 681 ago, the High Court ruled that only councillors from political parties can be counted when appointing local authority members to police authorities. The judge felt bound by the wording of the Police Act to say that independent councillors—those who do not belong to a political party—must be ignored. I believe that that is manifestly unfair and inequitable. It means that no police authority can ever reflect the views of those members of the electorate who voted for an independent councillor. To give just one example, it means that the Isles of Scilly can never have a say in how they are policed.
That cannot be right. A simple technical amendment can put that right and the judge herself called on Parliament to make the change. I know that the Association of Police Authorities has pressed the Government to act in this Bill and the Government have not done so. I will continue to press for this change at future stages.
I conclude by asking the Government to think again about the proposed changes to the accountability of our two national police services; and to think again about the exclusion of independent councillors from police authorities. I am pleased that now there will be time to give proper consideration to these matters.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Brennan
My Lords, I shall express three welcomes for the Bill and one serious word of caution. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said that the Bill was not a mosaic but was crazy paving. It is an unfortunate, perhaps an unhappy, fact of human behaviour that those who commit crime and those who have to detect and punish it cannot do so within a framework which is intellectually an attractive mosaic. That simply is not life. That is why from time to time the Home Office must bring forward a Bill which comprises many different aspects of the criminal justice system. This is such a Bill. It may lack uniformity, but it has one central theme which I support: the maintenance of public order and the protection of the public.
I shall illustrate that conclusion by three welcomes that show it to be a valid theme. The first is concerned with alcohol-related crime. As a member of Liberty, I commend this House on the most searching investigation of each and every clause of the Bill that might affect civil liberties. But the victims of crime also have civil liberties, one of which is the right to be protected from the commission of crime, or exposure to disorder. This Bill seeks to do that in relation to alcohol-related crime in several ways, two of which I highlight for note. The first is the imposition of on-thespot fixed penalty notices, the individual having the option to elect trial after considering his or her position.
I agree that this is a novel change to our system and that it lacks intellectual rigour because it links the control of crime and the effective protection of the public in a way to which we are not accustomed, but it should not be criticised for its originality. One should 682 determine whether the change has the demerit which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, suggested. I think not. As my noble friend Lady Hollis put it earlier today, we are not dealing here with thousands of feckless individuals who have no idea what they are doing.
In university terms I am a native of Manchester. A friend of mine told me that in the past few years the city has done so well that every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, at any time of year, half a million young people between the ages of 15 or 16 and 35 descend on the city. The key source of entertainment is drink. That is a social phenomenon to which we are not accustomed. A society which produces drinking on the part of so many people is a very rough and ready one. The ones who drink enjoy it and the victims of it suffer.
What are we supposed to do? Do we lecture to the sufferers about the importance of the human rights of those who may commit disorder, or do we seek to control it in an effective way? The issue of fixed penalty notices is one way that is worth trying, but they give rise to problems which I shall identify. The first is the collection of the fixed penalty which, as it stands, is no more than a fine without being related to a proven criminal offence. At the moment, about one-quarter of the fines imposed is not recovered. According to the most reliable LCD statistics, we lose about £45 million due to changes of address, lack of police powers, the inability of magistrates' courts to trace people and so on. It would be futile to introduce a form of fine—a fixed penalty—which was not effectively collected.
I invite the House to consider one particular offence which it is said arises under these proposals and gives me great concern in relation to fixed penalties. I refer to the offence of threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour, or any writing or sign which has the effect of causing distress. My fear is that such offences are very often committed with a racial motivation. I should be deeply concerned if it became the practice for police forces to treat that kind of offence as properly to be dealt with by a fixed penalty. I hope that in Committee we shall return to consideration of at least codes of practice to make sure that that does not happen. Subject to that, I welcome the change as one that is worth trying.
I associate that with the risk of closure faced by licensed premises if they do not enforce the licensing laws. Anyone with experience of the United States knows the degree of effort which the owners of licensed premises make to protect their licence. They exercise control in relation to the age of those who drink, and it works. It may not be pleasant for those in their late teens or early twenties who are excluded, but it works. When one accepts, as I do, that a minority of licensed premises will be at risk of closure, one sees that that too is a sanction that is worth trying.
Why are these new sanctions worth trying? One cannot overestimate the effect of alcohol-related crime and disorder on the functioning of our society. On any evening in any city centre or council estate this is a major new phenomenon which needs to be controlled. To believe that the human rights of those who commit 683 such disorder are more important than the effects on the individuals who suffer from it is an imbalance that I do not accept.
I have spent some time on the question of alcohol-related crime in relation to disorder. It is also a fact that much serious crime is associated with drink. I remember discussing with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in times past whether there were statistics to corroborate the anecdotal evidence available to those at the Bar about the vast increase in crime involving the use of knives. I understand that it is almost impossible to determine whether that anecdote is right, but many colleagues at the Bar tell me that the most serious offences of assault that they regularly encounter involve the use of knives stimulated by excessive drink. In that regard, a change of culture, not a total solution, is worth pursuing.
I refer much more briefly to my second welcome: the protection to be given to witnesses in civil proceedings. Some noble Lords may find it surprising, as I do, that someone who intimidates and seeks to pervert the course of justice in relation to offences that may carry a life sentence, or many years in prison, and allows someone else to escape such a penalty, is himself subject only to a maximum of five years' imprisonment, but that is the present law. This Bill adopts that in relation to civil proceedings. Looking at the Bill and the Explanatory Notes, I am a little concerned to see it suggested that in particular it is directed at breach of community orders. I presume that it is also intended to be directed at the pursuit of the proceeds of drug trafficking and, if it is implemented, the Proceeds of Crime Act where people play for big stakes and will be very ready to intimidate witnesses in such a quasi-civil proceeding. It may be that I am wrong and that the previous Act protects people in those cases; one or other should, and I look forward to confirmation that that is the law.
The third welcome relates to a matter about which I am particularly concerned because of my connections with children's charities. I refer to the preservation of DNA samples. I listened with great interest to the extremely interesting analysis of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. In Committee we must determine whether such a blanket power as the Bill presently provides to retain samples can be justified. I believe that it certainly can be justified in relation to crimes of murder and serious sexual offences. We are now in a society in which sex crimes against children in particular—paedophile rings—and sex crimes against women are very prevalent indeed. They are mostly the crimes perpetrated by strangers against their victims and in many such crimes DNA evidence, which can prove guilt to a near certainty, is a vital component in proving the commission of such a serious offence. The public would find it difficult to accept if this House did not devise some system that enabled DNA samples to be kept in order to assist in the detection of those who commit such very serious crimes. I noticed that although in its report the Joint Committee commented on Article 8 in terms of human rights considerations, it did not expressly criticise that part of the Bill; nor do 684 I, but I am happy that it should be returned to in committee in order to ensure that it is applied reasonably and fairly.
I turn to my note of caution. Legal professional privilege enjoys its historical importance in our criminal and civil law because it protects the citizen against unreasonable interference by the state. Citizens can talk to their lawyer in private and by so doing protect their human rights and protect their desire to prove their innocence if charged, if they can. In the view of many, that is still a vital pare of our democracy. It distinguishes us from a totalitarian state where such concepts are regarded as irrelevant. It is an important feature of our legal life and of our system of human rights as we now have them and it should not be damaged or diminished without the most careful consideration.
In an age of electronic records, I find it difficult to accept that the Bill will allow the seizure of electronic material by people who have no idea what they are doing in terms of distinguishing between what is privileged and what is not. Once obtained, even with an obligation to return it as soon as possible if it is privileged, are we really to think that the information obtained by the police if it is privileged will not be stored, at least mentally if not in some permanent form? I find that extremely concerning. It could give rise to a state of affairs whereby, at one extreme. lawyers do not record their advice and, at another. they encrypt their communications with their client or their records of them.
I invite the Government to explain—not at this stage but perhaps in Committee—how these powers will interrelate with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. If a solicitor has encrypted what he regards as privileged information, will he then face difficulties under that Act if he refuses to disclose the code because he says that it is privileged? I remember that under the Act it was said to be privileged and would remain so, but how will the Bill affect that, as it refers to seizure simpliciter, not seizure with the problem of encryption?
I have welcomed the Bill in some respects and on my previous point I have expressed significant caution. I conclude by commending two speeches. The first is the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who so rightly said that the causes of crime must be dealt with as well as the commission of crime. I also welcome the timely reminder of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that we should always think of a Bill like this in relation to the rule of law. I agree; but with the rule of law embracing not only the rights of the accused or the suspect but also the right of each citizen to go about his or her business without affliction from public disorder or crime.
I close as I opened. A Bill like this is really aimed at the protection of the public. That is what it seeks to achieve. In Committee it can be refined, but its valid objectives for the public cannot be doubted.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and to take up his final remarks about the right of citizens to go about their lawful occasions without fear of crime or, I would add, of intimidation and harassment.
It is just less than a month ago that the All-Party Group on the Pharmaceutical Industry gathered together to hear an address and to take part in a discussion led by Brian Cass, the managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences Limited. He described to us, in what I can only describe as horrifying detail, the appalling experiences which he and many members of the staff of his company have suffered over the past 18 months at the hands of animal rights terrorists. Perhaps I may say that I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, at the beginning of his speech refer to those people as terrorists. He did not repeat it but it was clearly in his script. To my mind, that is how we must look at the worst elements of the campaign.
The campaign is run by a body with the acronym Shac—Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. But Shac's campaign of threats, intimidation and violence directed at the management and staff is quite frankly outrageous. Their cars have been torched, their homes have been beset by large and angry mobs and their windows have been smashed. They are subjected to harassment every time they enter and leave the company's premises. Only a few weeks ago, Mr Cass himself was attacked by a group of thugs, bludgeoned with pick-axes and had to be rescued by his wife. Such treatment has now been extended to individual shareholders and, where shares are held by companies, to the directors and shareholders of those companies. It has been extended to their bankers and their directors. Most recently, it has been extended to their brokers and also to customers of Huntingdon Life Sciences. Many of us who heard Mr Cass had not begun to realise the extent and sheer viciousness of Shac's so-called campaign. I know that I was not alone in feeling a sense of shame that we, as central to the body politic, seemed to have done so little to deal with what seemed to me to be a very real evil.
What have we had from the press? Mr Cass quoted the remark made by one journalist, who said, "Well it goes with the turf, doesn't it guy?", as much as to say that if you are engaged in a business involving controversy, what can you expect? There are those who say that the right to protest is one of our precious constitutional rights, and of course that is quite correct in terms of lawful, peaceful protest. But that is not what we are seeing in the case of Huntingdon Life Sciences.
A bad signal was sent—this point may be regarded as controversial—when in yielding to pressure the trustees of the Labour Party's pension fund decided that they would sell their investment in HLS. I believe that that sent a clear signal to Shac and its supporters that it was perfectly legitimate to try to force other people to do the same. That is exactly what they have done.
686 They have attacked banks and their directors. It is a matter of some shame that the banks then withdrew their support. Only last week, I read in the Independent that:Two stockbroking firms that backed Huntingdon Life Sciences have walked out on the controversial animal testing company amid accusations that the Government and police failed to provide protection from animal rights extremists".The article goes on to say that,this came after a campaign of harassment and intimidation directed against Winterflood by activists".The Independent offered a comment on the City page of which I think we should take note. It opened by noting that:If Brian Winterflood is running scared, then things must be bad".Mr Winterflood has a reputation in the City for being a toughie. The article closes by saying that,the capital markets have to be defended from those who would destroy them. Mr Winterflood's decision is a bad day for the City, and for British resolve more generally".I agree with that.
Only at the weekend—new stories come forward almost every day—I read about another victim of this brutal campaign of intimidation. This time it concerned one of our leading biotechnology companies, British Biotech. The Financial Times stated the following:British Biotech yesterday became the first significant customer of Huntingdon Life Sciences to sever its relationship with the troubled drug-testing company after being targeted by anti-vivisectionists".What is interesting is the report of the reaction of Shac. Greg Avery stated that:British Biotech had been 'heavily targeted' by his organisation over the past weeks. It is understood the company has received a barrage of hate e-mails and that campaigners have protested outside its Oxford offices.
'This is the first premier customer of HLS to withdraw,' said Mr Avery." He said Shac was gearing up to target other customers of the company, including Novartis and Roche of Switzerland, and Bayer of Germany.
'Anybody who is a customer of HLS is going to be in the firing line,' said Mr Avery. 'And no customers, no HLS. It's as simple as that.'". One has to ask whether this is tolerable. For a while it appeared that very little was being done. When this Bill was introduced into another place, it contained nothing to deal with this. Indeed, at the suggestion that directors' names and private addresses should perhaps be withheld if they had a reasonable fear of being threatened with this kind of intimidation, the Government's first reaction was to say that a major review of company law was being carried out by the DTI. The matter should wait for that review. Happily, wiser counsels have prevailed. Clauses 41 to 44 of the Bill were added either in Committee or on Report in another place. They contain welcome measures aimed at countering this vicious campaign of terrorism.
687 I shall quote from a consultation document issued just before the weekend which contains a useful summary of the action to be taken: Animal Rights Extremism: Government Strategy. The four measures are as follows:to provide a new power for police to move protestors away from homes, where such protests may cause harassment, alarm or distress"—the point is made that this is aimed specifically at preventing the kind of intimidation which individuals may endure if protestors target their home or family, and,at protecting rights to privacy and family life".The second measure aims to,strengthen the provisions on sending malicious communications and to make this an imprisonable offence".This is to be extended under the new clause to electronic communications made by whatever means: telephone, e-mail, fax and so forth. Thirdly,to protect the home addresses of Directors in vulnerable companies, by providing that [they] … may be withheld from the public by use of a secure register".Fourthly,to amend the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to ensure that separate incidents of harassment organised by a group of people are caught by the Act".I shall return to the final measure in a moment.
This document was published only last Friday. I commend it to anyone who wishes to understand what has been going on. It contains a remarkable account of the nature and extent of this protest campaign. Il makes for chilling reading.
The Government have now added their proposals to the Bill and 'we can discuss the reaction of Shac.
Natasha Taylor of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign said that Mr Straw's measures 'won't make a blind bit of difference to us closing down Huntingdon Life Sciences'".She went on to say that:We are running a legal campaign which does not condone illegal activity. but history shows that there are always people in the animal rights movement who are prepared to step outside the law to achieve an end to animal abuse".I suspect that if the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, or the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, were seeking to prosecute Ms Natasha Taylor, they might give her quite an uncomfortable time in relation to the second sentence in that statement. She knows perfectly well what she is inciting in her campaign. Her protestations of acting legally ring pretty hollow.
There is reason to believe that Clause 43 goes some way further than the description that I gave a moment ago; namely, to amend the Protection from Harassment Act to ensure that separate incidents of harassment organised by a group of people are caught by the Act. I should like to address a question to the Minister, to which I hope that he will be able to 688 respond in his closing remarks. At first sight, the clause appears to catch anyone who aids, abets, counsels or procures an act of collective harassment. But does it do so? As I read the clause, I think that this may be ambivalent and I should like to know exactly what is intended here.
Perhaps I may cite an example. In Harlow there is a cluster of leading pharmaceutical companies. Three weeks ago a number of them were targeted by Shac invasions. The animal rights mobs battled their way into a number of company premises, overwhelming security staff and going on to cause a considerable amount of damage. All the attacks took place on the same day. The targets had been carefully identified and selected and it was obvious that the raids were planned and co-ordinated. What I should like to know is this: would Clause 43 as it now appears in the Bill catch not only those who were on the scene—I believe that the clause does that—but also those who may not have been there, but who planned and co-ordinated that series of violent invasions?
The leaders of Shac have not hidden themselves. I have quoted the names of two of them in my remarks. But they have been in receipt of very careful legal advice. They themselves take great care not to fall foul of the existing law. I ask again: will Clause 43 as drafted catch those who plan and organise collective harassment so that they will be found as much guilty of an offence as those who take part in the violent activity? If not, why not—or are we going to have to fall back on the notoriously difficult crime of criminal conspiracy in order to bring the leaders and instigators of such actions before the courts? This is a serious issue and I want a clear answer. It is something we have to deal with.
Before I sit down, perhaps I may remind the House that research to ensure the safety of drugs and other medical treatments must, by law, include the testing of products and components on animals. I have recently had open-heart surgery and I have read the fascinating history of Papworth Hospital. All the early experiments in heart surgery were carried out on pigs. Indeed, to my certain knowledge there is a Member of this House who at the moment has a pig's valve in his heart, and it is working extremely well. So one has a personal reason for recognising the importance of this research.
We in Britain have an extremely successful record in pharmaceutical discovery and innovation. We also have in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, the most scrupulous and comprehensive legislation in the world in balancing the needs of research with the welfare of laboratory animals. If the activities of Shac achieve their avowed purpose and drive these industries away from this country, not only would it do serious economic damage to the country as a whole but it would lead not to the end of these experiments but to their continuation in countries overseas which are much less protective of animal welfare than we are.
Again, only last week the Government published the interesting report of the Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force, which was jointly 689 chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Mr Tom McKillop, the chief executive officer of AstraZeneca. I shall read one short paragraph to demonstrate the industry's importance. Paragraph 1.1 states:The pharmaceutical industry based in the UK … is one of the most successful in the world. It is a prime example of what is needed in a successful knowledge economy".These people, by their own avowed intention, are trying to put that at risk by their illegal harassment, threats and intimidation, and by what is described in the Home Office document as "outright terrorism". It is of the utmost importance that they should never succeed.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, because a few months ago I went to a meeting of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority, where we heard the details of what was going on at Huntingdon. It was absolutely shocking. I endorse everything the noble Lord said about what the attackers are doing and condemn their actions totally.
The expense to the police authority was enormous. I am glad to say that the special appeal to the Home Office to increase the grant to the Cambridgeshire police was successful and that they received, I think, at least £1 million to help this year, which is badly needed. It is very discouraging for the police to have to spend so much time on these activities. I applaud the Government for having done something about the matter in the Bill—or perhaps the Commons for having forced the Government to do something.
I turn now to what I wish to say about the Bill. I intend to concentrate on one matter only; that is, the extension of curfews from the age of 10 to the age of 16. This appears in Clause 45.
When the child curfew scheme was brought in under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a QC advised a consortium of children's organisations that such curfews were in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, now incorporated into the Human Rights Act. Because the 1998 Act proposed curfews only for under-10s, the QC considered that it would breach parents' rights to private and family life under Article 8 of the convention. The extension of curfews under this Bill to 16 year-olds therefore compounds the likely breach of the European convention because it will also directly breach older children's own rights under Article 8, their rights to liberty under Article 5, and to freedom of association under Article 11.
The European convention allows citizens' rights under these articles to be interfered with if this is "necessary"—he word in the Bill—but, given that police already have powers to take action in respect of any under-18 year-old who is acting in any way which might harm their social, educational or behavioural development, why is it necessary to curfew perfectly innocent and law-abiding children and young people 690 living in a particular area when the police already have legal powers to deal with any children who are out late and acting in an anti-social or self-harming way?
I call attention to a letter written by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, in answer to a letter on this matter from the Children's Rights Alliance. The letter states:I find the whole proposal [to extend child curfew] to run absolutely counter to all my instincts and beliefs about the way to treat our children. I am particularly concerned that society appears to be marginalising its young males. They are represented as failures at school; domestic circumstances mean that too many are denied adult male role models: proper jobs are denied to them and all that is available is a series of unskilled, unsatisfactory employment".This echoes what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his excellent speech.
I should like to make two other points. First, what about the children who are out late on the streets because of domestic violence or other forms of abuse within the family? A curfew may well force such children back into nightmarish homes and, for example, prevent them from staying late at a friend's house until a drunken parent is safely asleep.
Secondly, when one London area introduced a form of curfew, parents complained to children's organisations that their sons saw the curfew as a challenge and took to staying out deliberately to taunt the police. The parents said that things rapidly got worse, not better, and greatly added to the stress on families.
This is a serious matter. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to what has been said by the Children's Rights Alliance and respond to that. I should also like him to provide the House with an answer to the allegation that a curfew will breach the Human Rights Act.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Noakes
My Lords, I wish to speak to the smallest part of the Bill, Part 2. Clauses 48 to 50 deal with information disclosure for the purposes of criminal proceedings. At their heart is an entirely laudable desire to ensure that information held by the state should be available to assist in the investigation of crimes and in criminal proceedings. But, as is so often the case, the Government have drafted very wide powers, the exercise of which could easily be injurious to citizens.
I will deal in particular with Clause 49, which concerns the disclosure of information by tax authorities. Members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, in which I declare an interest as a council member, have expressed considerable concerns about this clause, as have other representative bodies of taxpayers' agents.
Taxpayers have always believed that information given to the tax authorities is given in strictest confidence. This helps to promote a culture of tax compliance. For example, taxpayers whose affairs have got in a mess are positively encouraged to make a clean breast of outstanding issues. Under a procedure known as the "Hansard" procedure, a taxpayer can do 691 a deal with the Inland Revenue. If the taxpayer honestly owns up to past errors and makes a financial settlement—usually a very large financial settlement—the Inland Revenue will agree not to prosecute. This is clearly advantageous to the taxpayer. But it also promotes a culture of compliance, which is one of the linchpins of our tax system, as well as improving revenue collection.
How will this procedure work in future? What a taxpayer sometimes owns up to is a source of income or capital which has its origins in an illegal act. Will the Hansard procedure protect the taxpayer in future from information disclosure as well? If that is not the case, or if the taxpayer does not believe that that is the case, we could well see a diminution in the incidence of voluntary disclosure and settlement of past tax liabilities. That would be bad for individual taxpayers, for the culture of compliance in this country and for tax collection generally.
An area of difficulty under Clause 49 is that disclosure under the clause requires the authority of the commissioners concerned; namely, the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise. One problem with this is that in practice disclosure may well be authorised by a much more junior official to whom the commissioners have delegated their powers. I should be interested to hear whether there are any administrative processes planned to provide some protection to taxpayers against the over-enthusiastic use of these new information disclosure powers below the level of the commissioners themselves. I note in particular that, unlike Clause 47, the clause provides no penalty for wrongful disclosure. How will taxpayers be protected against the misuse of these powers?
I believe that the Government should also consider altering the authorisation procedures from within the tax authorities to an external authority. A precedent exists for occasions when the Inland Revenue wishes to obtain information about a taxpayer from external sources. It needs to obtain the permission of either a general or a special commissioner under Section 20 of the Taxes Management Act; that is to say, someone outside the Inland Revenue has to authorise the obtaining of information. It seems to me that there should be a similar requirement for the Inland Revenue to seek authority from someone outside the Inland Revenue—perhaps from a general or special commissioner—before information about a taxpayer is revealed.
I also ask the Minister to reconsider whether taxpayers should have a right to make representations before information relating to them is disclosed outside the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise. I am well aware that there could be difficulties involved in people being "tipped off"; nevertheless, under the Bill as drafted, the taxpayer has no right of redress or right of speech.
The new information disclosure power is not confined to crimes that have definitely been committed. It does not even require criminal investigations or criminal proceedings to be under 692 way. Clause 49(2) refers to criminal investigations which "may be carried out" and to criminal proceedings which "may be initiated". This Js a very wide power. I believe that some protection for taxpayers is necessary. One way of providing protection is to ensure that disclosure cannot he made unless there is reasonable evidence that a crime has been committed.
Clause 49 is not limited to disclosure in the UK. It specifically covers criminal proceedings or investigations outside the UK. The provision is not restricted to criminal offences or suspected offences that would be treated as criminal if they were committed in the UK. For example, some acts which in this country are regarded as civil offences are regarded as criminal in other jurisdictions. Are we really creating a power to allow information to be passed outside the UK authorities for acts that we should not regard as criminal?
Penalties vary considerably around the world. We need to avoid exposing individuals in the UK to penalties that we should regard as unacceptable in this country—for example, death or a long term of imprisonment in circumstances where we should impose a fine. This is not fanciful; penalties vary considerably around the world. About a year ago, there was a report in the newspapers that the Russian tax authorities had set up a tax collection army trained in mortal combat.
I am told that a relatively common source of taxpayer disclosure under the Hansard procedures that I referred to earlier is from individuals who have brought money or other assets into this country from their former countries in breach of local laws. Many still have relatives in those countries and would fear for their own or their relatives' safety if disclosure were made. Ethnic minorities persecuted overseas may well be particularly affected by the application of these powers.
I believe that all of this increases the need for an external authority to be involved before any disclosures are made. I hope that the Government will re-examine the matter. I hope that they will examine also the specific case of disclosures outside the UK to ensure that disclosure can be made only where the offence concerned would be treated as criminal in the UK and where there is a broad equivalence of penalty provisions.
Finally, would the Minister, who has signed the usual declaration on the European Convention on Human Rights for the Bill, confirm that disclosure of information could not be made under the Bill to a foreign jurisdiction where that jurisdiction does not itself comply with an equivalent of the convention? If he is unable to confirm this, will the Government consider amending the Bill to achieve that protection?
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ The Earl of Rosslyn
My Lords, I shall address my remarks to Part V of the Bill. In so doing, I declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police: I am a commander with responsibility for the force's training.
693 In order to be effective, the police service depends on the consent of the communities it serves. That consent depends significantly on the trust and respect that people have for the police. Increasingly, such trust is proportionate to the level of professionalism that we show.
Achieving such high standards of professionalism represents a real challenge for the service since policing is made up of so many different roles, each requiring appropriate attitudes, knowledge and often a high level of technical skills. Many of the situations in which officers will apply those skills will be hostile or stressful. The way in which we recruit and train them will, therefore, be central to effective policing.
Timely, relevant and effective training is recognised as fundamental in preparing officers to deal with the operational complexities of the modern world. As policing has become more complex and demanding, and as the pressures on the service have increased, so has the demand for training. Your Lordships' House, if I may say so politely, has played its part in that, since in the past 10 years over 100 separate pieces of legislation have been enacted which have had major training implications for the police service.
In 1999, an Inspectorate report estimated that the total cost of training police officers throughout the service in any one year was as high as —391 million. That figure took no account of the costs of training civilian support staff or members of the Special Constabulary. More recent studies have suggested that the figure could be considerably higher.
Since May 1998, five major reports have been published examining how such training in England and Wales is organised. These included the first thematic inspection of training by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary and an inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee in another place. Many aspects of that collective thinking are now reflected in Part V of the Bill and have led to the creation of the central police training and development authority. It was recognised that the service had put considerable effort and resources into training delivery but that it needed to put more effort into managing training.
The creation of the new authority to act as a focus for developing and promoting professional excellence across the police service is, therefore, welcome.
There appears to be wide agreement that such professionalism would be enhanced by a set of occupational standards for policing. These would specify the minimum level of competence, knowledge and skills that an officer must have to carry out a specific task or role. It would be open to individual forces to exceed the national occupational standards, and forces would continue to be able to choose training whose style or ethos best suited the force. The Bill provides the framework within which this can now happen, with a core curriculum to support those occupational standards and mandatory qualifications for certain ranks and roles.
694 The Policing and Reducing Crime Unit paper in 1998, for example, identified the advantages of a core curriculum for the training of officers investigating allegations of child abuse. While policing should never ignore its local context, corporate common standards of service delivery are sometimes legitimate and desirable, provided that any qualification is linked to competence in operational performance.
So the Bill may influence positively the content of police training, but what of how it is achieved? Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary has estimated that an "average"—if I may use that word—constable could receive as much as 14 days' training in a year, which compares with 2.8 days for all public sector organisations and 3.2 days in the private sector. This illustrates the scale of training delivered in the police service. Although it represents a positive investment in staff skills, the service must also consider using alternative learning strategies; for example, on average, only about 5 per cent of training in forces is currently delivered by distance learning. A more flexible approach to when and where such training is delivered could reduce abstraction levels from the frontline. The proposed role for the new authority in developing this thinking is, therefore, welcome.
My own force has been active in developing both computer-based training programmes and sophisticated simulation training for major incidents, and the investigation of serious crime. Officers are faced with a realistic and challenging recreations of live policing events. The system is now being used for other aspects of police training. At a time when partnership working is so central to the promotion of community safety, we are also using the system to deliver joint training with other agencies. It is pleasing to see that the Bill defines so inclusively the functions of the new authority to encourage just such collaborative approaches.
However, training cannot raise standards in isolation—effective leadership is also required, as well as an organisational culture that provides opportunities for self-development and continuous learning. But an investment in training will enable the service to accelerate the personal development of its staff, and so improve those skills and abilities upon which successful policing depends. Part 5 of the Bill will, I believe, contribute positively to that end.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, it was in 1984 that I took through your Lordships' House the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, or PACE. It was quite an interesting experience because a general election had been called—how things change!—halfway through the procedure for that Bill in the previous Parliament. When that Bill fell, your Lordships had gone through virtually the whole process of the legislation. So I took it through the House for a second time on what one would have thought was common ground, yet a host of amendments were tabled. At the end of the Bill's passage, I believed that we had a landmark piece of legislation and that at last we had put everything to bed: the system was there; it would work; and 695 criminals would be detected, arrested and put into smoothly-functioning prisons where they would be reformed before they were turned out again. I did not feel quite so confident about the prisons because I was the Minister in charge of them and I knew that they were not achieving that aim.
However, I should not have been so green about the other aspects of the effects of that Bill, because my previous position had been a short-term appointment in what was then the Department of Health and Social Security. During that time I was introduced to a particular form of intermediate treatment called the "Norfolk trail", and discovered that the rate of re-offending for children who had been through that process was between 16 per cent and 20 per cent lower than the rate for those who were sent for custodial treatment. That started me off on a trail that I followed enthusiastically when I left government. However, I did not leave your Lordships' House. I found that we were on a sort of "legislative treadmill"; indeed, one got to recognise the spokes as they came round. We have had main programme legislation on criminal justice themes on 26 occasions in this House since PACE went through. There has been no dramatic improvement in offending rates, or in rehabilitation since that time.
I am speaking here tonight in recognition of the fact that this is a rag-tag of a Bill. I cannot make a coherent speech, but one can do very effectively what my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding did about a piece of it. I should like to sign tip to every word that he uttered on the subject of the animal rights business. I have been encouraged in the theme that I seek to address because we are at the end of this Parliament, and we have a different view of the Government from what we had at the beginning. As a result of my experience at the Department of Health and seeing the "Norfolk trail", as well as further investigations, I invested much of my time and enthusiasm in, first, chairing the Intermediate Treatment Fund and then, out of its ashes when it was demolished by my right honourable friend, Virginia Bottomley, at the department, I chaired the DIVERT Trust, which was aimed at giving children what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, called "hope"—in other words, some hope in life.
I do not believe that we have achieved that aim. However, I should like to commend what the Government have achieved in the way of setting up the youth offending teams and securing a genuine form of co-operation across different services that, in my day, were more accustomed to bickering than co-operating. That is a welcome move. But what made the defeat of my parliamentary House of Commons colleagues in 1997 a little more bearable than it otherwise would have been was the enthusiasm with which Mr Jack Straw and his colleagues in another place supported the complaints made by myself and my noble friends here against the developing Conservative policy of those days of locking up an increasing number of young people, and giving the voluntary agencies a diminishing amount of core funding to enable them to provide the hope that such youngsters were not getting from the state system.
696 The fact that they had been so vociferous and effective in resisting such measures—for example, the institution of secure training centres in the last years of the previous Parliament—made many of us feel that a little benefit might be derived from the change of party in power. The first indication that that was not going to happen was the confirmation of the contracts for the building of all the secure training centres, followed by the continued diminution of the paying of core funding to the voluntary agencies.
I am on my feet this evening because I wish to remind your Lordships now—as, indeed. I did at the end of the previous Parliament and at the beginning of this one—that children starved of love will not grow up into whole and effective citizens, unless something is done to replace it. Children brought up without hope will turn vicious. There are two clauses only in the Bill that deal with young people. However, all old lags have been young lags previously. One of the disturbing findings of the report in 1994 of the Audit Commission entitled Misspent Youth, which was a seminal paper and one that I commend to your Lordships still, was that young people were not growing out of crime at the rate that they formerly were. If we do not get the young people before they become criminals, it will become impossibly difficult to control them when they are criminals.
In 1996, the audit office reported that only 3 per cent of all the crime by young offenders ever resulted in arrest. I set that against the moving and well informed speech of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, from the Cross Benches. An enormous amount of police effort and other effort is deployed to catch 3 per cent of the people responsible for crime. Of those 3 per cent, 1.8 per cent were cautioned and 1.3 per cent were charged and summonsed. Of that 1.3 per cent, no fewer than a quarter of the cases were discontinued or dismissed.
We are spending over £1,000 million a year on that effort and it is producing a ridiculously small result. Yet we think that by heaping statute upon statute upon statute upon statute we shall resolve the problem. We shall not. We shall not catch them. We shall catch only 3 per cent of them. We shall not reform those whom we catch. We shall reform perhaps 10 per cent. We must get to them first. It is not very cheerful for me to say to your Lordships, "In large part I think that you are wasting your time", but, in comparison with what we might be doing, we are.
If only these vast resources and these skilled and trained people were devoted to finding children destitute of love, who have been taught in schools with no proper discipline. Children rebel in order to discover where the parameters of proper behaviour lie. If they are not stopped when they reach them, they will go further. Proper discipline in a school is vital. If they do not feel that they have the respect of their contemporaries, they will seek to achieve it. If there are no legitimate ways to achieve it because the resources are not available to enable them to do so through sport, music or public works, they will do so through crime. Having been defined as someone's brother or sister—some known person—he or she will suddenly 697 become the hard man who has been caught by the police, or better still the clever guy who got away with it. There will be more of them.
I shall not delay the House longer except to say that I feel passionately that if whoever sits behind the Green Box on the other side of the Chamber after the next election does not seize the point that we have to get to people before they go wrong rather than remedy them afterwards, your Lordships will waste another Parliament and further damage will be done to our society.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, this has been a remarkable Second Reading debate with a good input from all speakers. I do not think that I can disagree with much of what has been said.
This Bill comes before us at a time when there is no certainty that it will become law. Even if the date of the general election were to drag on until June, it is unlikely that the Bill would go through all its stages. Of course, the last thing we want to do is to delay some of the measures in the Bill. We certainly welcome some of them. However, there are other contentious issues on which compromise is not possible unless there are some fundamental changes, which we should have preferred to negotiate. As has quite rightly been pointed out, the Commons did not have enough time to consider the Bill. We should spend sufficient time to put that right, even if it means that we may run out of time.
Like many criminal justice Bills, the Bill before the House is a mixed bag with a range of provisions ranging from the desirable to the counter-productive. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and my noble friend Lord McNally that the Bill lacks any philosophical thread. It is rather a hotchpotch of measures to solve problems. It also gives the impression that there is an insatiable appetite on the part of the Home Office to enact legislation without seriously considering its impact. I shall identify issues of serious concern to back up the comments of many noble Lords.
The Bill smacks of political one-upmanship by Labour over the Tories. It throws an additional burden on our police forces whose capacity to meet the public expectations of policing is fairly limited. I trust that the Minister will prove me wrong, but I simply have to look at the number of laws enacted by the Home Office to prove my point. I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond and of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, both of whom speak from direct experience of the police service.
One of the most welcome measures contained in the Bill is the establishment of the police training and development authority, including a requirement on the new authority to submit an annual report at the end of each financial year, detailing how it has carried out its functions during the previous year. The establishment of the authority is a welcome response
698 by the Government to the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and to reports on police training by the Home Affairs Committee, both of which demonstrated the inadequacy of many aspects of police training, including training in community and race relations. The establishment of the new authority should help to achieve an improvement and greater consistency in the provision of training for members of the police service. The Bill also contains some useful measures to combat alcohol-related disorder and to protect witnesses in civil proceedings.
Many noble Lords have spoken about fixed penalty notices. I have today received a letter from the Minister about the first 11 clauses of the Bill, which introduce fixed penalties for disorder offences. Unfortunately, he failed to enclose the draft text of a note which gave an indication of the guidance that might be issued to the police on the operation of the new scheme. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if some of my comments have already been dealt with in his draft notes. But if the document was available since the Bill's passage through the Commons, why was it sent to Members of this House only today?
I do not dispute that the measures will allow the police to issue penalty notices on the spot or at a police station for a range of offences. The police will have to consider whether there is reasonable cause to think that an offence has been committed. The police will also have to consider where a penalty notice appears to be an appropriate response. We are also told that the scheme is a discretionary one. This discretion leads the policeman to decide whether the matter should be dealt with by the courts and, if that is the case, he will have the usual power to arrest and charge the offender.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has already pointed out—he is right—that we must question the Minister on some points. Is there not a danger that the provisions contained in Clauses 1 to 6 will lead to a mix of criminal and civil law procedures? Where do we stand in relation to the principles of presumption of innocence and the burden of proof? I believe that Liberty is rightly concerned because even if a criminal conviction is not envisaged, the relevant behaviour can be by definition criminal and lead to a criminal conviction if a penalty is not accepted. The blurring of the boundary between criminal and civil law is to be regretted. People issued with fixed penalty notices will have the right to go to court if they argue that they have not committed the offence for which they have received the notice. Unlike the fixed penalties for speeding, which can be confirmed by modern gadgets including traffic cameras, the discretion not only puts the police in an invidious position but also adds to the workload of our overstretched courts.
However, there are some important caveats. First, the Government have talked a great deal about the use of fixed penalties for drunken offenders who are causing a nuisance. However, that is probably one of the least useful areas for fixed penalty notices, not least because people who are drunk and disorderly are very likely to discard or lose the notices.
699 On a general point, and while on the subject of discretion, will the Minister give an assurance that the use of new powers is ethnically monitored to ensure that they are not used in a discriminatory manner? Will such information be published under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991? We expect far too much of our police officers. We are asking them to have "reason to believe" rather than establishing beyond all "reasonable doubt" that the person committed the offence.
The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, mentioned half a million people often being in the centre of Manchester on a Friday evening. I know that he is right. In company with police officers, I visited Manchester when I was a member of the Police Complaints Authority. I would not wish to be a policeman issuing a fixed penalty notice to a crowd at that stage.
I turn to child curfew orders. We were right to oppose the imposition of the original child curfew orders for those up to 10 years-old. We were told how important this measure was in dealing with offending behaviour by children under 10 years of age. I do not believe that either the police or the local authorities like this provision. I am not aware of any occasions when such orders have been used. We are now asked to approve the extension of local child curfew schemes to children up to the age of 16. This is a misguided and highly illiberal measure. It will impose serious restrictions on the overwhelming majority of law-abiding young people and their families. A single mother with three teenage children will not be able to let them to go out to youth activities or football training which would involve them getting home after 9 p.m. unless she could collect each of them herself—something that is frequently not practical. As participation in constructive activity is associated with a reduced likelihood of delinquency, those restrictions on legitimate activity by young people could well increase the level of crime rather than reduce it.
It is significant that the evidence from the United States of America indicates that the fall in youth crime in recent years has been no greater in states which operate curfews than in areas which do not. Is not there a lesson for us here? What is the evidence that such draconian measures are required? Can the Minister cite any past examples where such a restriction could be adequately policed? It is fundamentally wrong to stigmatise many of our young people by a blanket curfew. It is impracticable and we do not have enough police officers to ensure that such a proposal could work effectively.
There is another danger in that we are not targeting individuals but whole geographical areas, with blanket bans on the activities of young people. That penalises the innocent as well as the alleged troublemakers. It is possible to stray into a curfew area unknowingly. Quite simply, we could not put "no entry" signs at every access road in a specific location.
No one can dispute that we need strategies to allow the police and local authorities to deal with the individual young people who cause a problem. However, we have got the equation wrong. We are, in 700 effect, saying that the way to stop mugging is to lock up all the old ladies. The Minister may wish to think again about this provision.
I turn to the third aspect of the Bill which is contentious. I refer to the restriction on the use and destruction of fingerprints and samples. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate which organisations he had consulted before deciding to introduce such a measure. We all acknowledge that DNA now plays a significant part in a wide range of criminal cases. It perhaps supersedes all forms of identification which have been used in the past. It is there to prove innocence as well as guilt. Our police forces are more effective in fighting crime when they have DNA evidence which cannot be disputed. The present law provides for the DNA and fingerprints to be destroyed if a conviction does not follow from the taking of the samples. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, rightly pointed that out. Of course, the Minister could cite cases where DNA evidence could not be used because the defendants were either acquitted of another crime or a decision was taken not to proceed with the offences for which the DNA was obtained.
These are matters of individual rights and liberties which we must uphold. Someone going through a due process of law who is found not guilty of the offence, or someone who has never been through the process, must have a right to demand that his privacy and liberty be respected. There is no question but that those who are found not guilty must be presumed innocent. Of course, the Government concede the point that people who are innocent and who have not broken any law or gone through any police procedures should not lose their right to resist having their DNA, fingerprints or other samples held without their authority. But then a different laws applies to others although they may be found to be not guilty.
I have another matter of concern. How reliable is police information? I quote from a press cutting sent to me about a police computer. It states:The Police National Computer holds 50 million files on criminal intelligence. Punch has found that not only is the entire system not registered under the Data Protection Act but that huge amounts of its incriminating data are inaccurate".A Liberty spokeswoman says:It is tempting to dismiss this as a comedy of errors, but we must not. It highlights just how much information is held on individuals in this country, and how vital it is to have powerful and properly enforced safeguards to ensure this information is not misused and the public's right to privacy is not undermined by the creeping advance of a know all surveillance state".It is a dangerous step to go down on the road to denying innocent people their freedom and liberty. I am surprised that the Labour Party, which so frequently in the past has guarded the liberty of the individual, should sacrifice its principles in this Bill. We shall oppose this measure at the appropriate time.
A further area of concern is the Bill's provision that the codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act will be modified by negative resolution rather than by debate in each House of Parliament. The codes of practice cover such areas as stop and 701 search, searching of premises, detention and treatment, identification procedures and the tape recording of interviews with suspects. It is important that those areas should be fully debated rather than be subject to the more limited safeguards of the negative resolution procedure.
If the Bill needs our co-operation this side of the general election, the Minister will have to negotiate with us. It is not what he wants, but what is appropriate between the needs of the state as against the rights and liberties of the individual.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, in winding up this important and high quality debate on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I shall endeavour to reflect briefly on some of the aspects of the Bill and upon what noble Lords have said today.
This is, as my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley said, a rag-bag Bill, albeit it carries with it far-reaching consequences. It erodes the burden of proof generally required for evidence of a criminal offence; it allows an individual to commit offences repeatedly without incurring a criminal record; and it raises substantial civil liberty issues relating, for example, to DNA testing and the disclosure of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise records. It also carries with it considerable expectations in terms of police presence if its measures are to be effective. However, it does not tackle the significant rise in violent crime, as we had been told that the Government would do.
Moreover, I remind the Minister of the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Elton, who addressed the reality of the lives of young people today—those in the fringe who are insecure. disturbed and excluded, or those who are starved of love and brought up without hope. We need to encourage those children that life is worth living outside the world of crime. The Bill does not tackle the root cause of crime—what I call the bigger picture.
As my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley said, the Bill received scant scrutiny in another place. Indeed, much of its latter parts were not scrutinised at all. Perhaps it would make sense for our Committee to begin its scrutiny with Part 7 and work backwards. That way, with the uncertainties and indecisions of the Government's timetable, each part and clause would have at least one chance for consideration in one House.
Part 1 contains three chapters and relates to penalty notices. We accept that in principle it provides a swift way of dealing with someone believed to be guilty of certain prescribed offences. It should be noted that 10 of those 12 offences are already arrestable, and not all of them are clear-cut. For example, it should be fairly straightforward for a police officer to judge—because he or she will effectively become judge and jury—whether a person is trespassing on a railway. However, it may be very difficult to assess the disorderly behaviour of someone who is drunk. In addition, how does one serve a penalty notice on someone who is 702 drunk and disorderly? How drunk and disorderly could a person be and how many times before they attracted a criminal record? How destructive could a person be without lawful excuse before attracting a criminal record.
It is awfully tempting to make a pun with the byline, "Crime pays", when all that one will have to do to make up for one's misdemeanours is pay up. What about victims of criminal damage? Will they receive compensation following the use of fixed penalty_ notices?
As my noble friend Lord Windlesham so eloquently said, the Bill is an attempt by the draftsman to rescue a headline-grabbing initiative by wrestling with the need to reconcile the rule of law. The Home Secretary said on Second Reading in another place:The Bill has a simple aim: it is to aid the police and the courts in further reducing crime and the fear of crime".—[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/01: col. 34.]That is laudable stuff, but in reality this part of the Bill is being introduced as an alternative to properly resourcing an overstretched and understaffed police force—a force that has 2,500 fewer officers than it had when this Government came to power in 1997.
In addition to the offences listed in Clause 1(1), I should like the Minister to respond to two other categories already referred to by my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, which we believe should be in the Bill. We have received correspondence from Westminster City Council, which is looking to us for support on the growing and extremely unpleasant incidence of fouling of the streets and the placing of prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes.
Street fouling is not currently an offence unless a bylaw is in place. Your Lordships will know that enforcing bylaws involves the arrest and lengthy processing of any offenders. Westminster City Council informs us that street fouling is now perhaps the single aspect of antisocial behaviour that most undermines the quality of life for those who live and work in parts of the city. Under the Bill, an individual could be given a penalty on the spot if he or she was urinating or defecating in a public place while drunk and disorderly, but not if he or she was sober. It is strange, too, that a pet owner is legally responsible for his pet's toilet habits, but not his own.
The second issue is placing prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes. We believe that the placing of a card advertising a prostitute's services should be an arrestable offence. It is another growing problem in London and other cities across the country. It significantly affects the quality of life for those who live and work in the areas concerned and it is an awful advertisement for our tourists to endure. I am particularly concerned about children and young people. There is evidence that these cards are being swapped like Pokemon cards in some London school playgrounds. A consultation document on the subject was published in 1999. The period for consultation and response is long over. Will the Minister tell us why nothing has been done? Will he consider adding those two offences to the Bill?
703 I turn to Chapter 2 of Part 1 concerning alcohol-related disorder. I want to concentrate my comments on the proposed power of local authorities effectively to create at will and with ease designated public places, more commonly known as "alcohol-free zones". I shall use a live example. In North Cornwall, the local authority has introduced a by-law to make the town and beaches of Rock an alcohol-free zone. It has done so in response to residents' concerns regarding extensive under-age drinking, together with noisy and anti-social behaviour in the town, which happens to be extremely popular among young people.
That is all very well. However, the residents of the nearby village of Trebetherick are now concerned that the problem will simply move to their area. They are responding by asking local residents—I declare an interest as I shall be resident there with my family for part of this summer, general election permitting—to pay for extra policing to the tune of £5,000 in order to combat the potential problem.
There are two important points in relation to this matter. First, the creation of alcohol-free zones does not cure the problem; it simply moves it on. Secondly, residents know that they cannot rely on the local force to combat the problem because there are just not enough police officers to cope. Can the Minister tell us how that problem will be resolved by this Bill?
Further, we must expect to see local authorities all over the country introduce such zones in an effort to deflect drunk and disorderly behaviour. Unfortunately, that will mean that those of us who might like to consume a glass of wine or a beer while enjoying the countryside or the beach will be breaking the law. It will be akin to parking on a double yellow line—wrong and uncomfortable. Does the Minister really intend that?
I turn to Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Bill relating to child curfew orders. Again, in principle it sounds like a good idea. However, given that no such orders have been made in the 28 months since they became available, the reality is that the Home Secretary is clearly seeking to save face following a failed child curfew scheme by raising the age limit from 10 to 16. I listened with care to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady David, who said that curfews lead to further marginalisation of some already disadvantaged children.
I turn to the speech of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, who referred to Huntingdon Life Sciences and the harrowing report of the experiences that have been suffered there. I support what my noble friend said, and I repeat the important question that he posed to the Minister. Will Clause 43—a welcome measure—catch those who plan and organise collective harassment? I refer not only to those who attend and play their part at the event but also to those who organise such acts of terrorism. Will they be ensnared by this clause?
704 In relation to Part 2 and disclosure of information, I repeat the question put by the shadow Home Secretary in another place. Will the Minister reassure us that the police will require disclosure only when it is manifestly required in connection with a serious investigation? In particular, I listened with care to the points made in relation to the disclosure of information by tax authorities and the implications of this Bill, addressed with clarity by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I hope that the Minister also listened with care.
In response to Part 3, some noble Lords—in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan—expressed considerable concerns with regard to the proposed power of seizure and other police powers. In addition, the Law Society of Scotland has expressed concern regarding the erosion of the doctrine of legal professional privilege.
I move on to Part 4 of the Bill concerning proposals in relation to DNA. I believe that we must be cautious. Can we be sure that those who provide a DNA sample for whatever reason will be informed that their sample will be retained and by whom? We must take care to ensure that we do not deter those who willingly provide a DNA sample on a voluntary basis. Again, I listened with care to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who referred to the major human rights issues and also the important relationship between state and citizens. Perhaps real consideration should be given in Committee to age and the level of crime in relation to the retention of samples. I noticed that the noble Baroness singled out juveniles and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, singled out murder and sex crimes.
I turn to Part 5 concerning the setting up of a central police training authority. I urge caution. As my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley said, we want to be sure that this is worthwhile and not simply a rearranging of the chairs. That said, I listened with interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and I heed what she said, given her knowledge and experience in this area.
In addition, I listened to the words of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. He said that, to be effective, policing depends upon the consent of the community that it serves. I urge the Minister to consider what the noble Earl said. I first met the noble Earl in a very different environment to your Lordships' House and in a very different guise, when I was a parliamentary candidate for Slough and the noble Earl was chief superintendent of police in Slough. I well remember the enormous respect that the noble Lord commanded among those who served under him. He knows and understands how to achieve successful policing.
I turn to Part 6 and other matters relating to police organisation. As with every Bill that the Government have introduced, I am afraid that one does not have to look far to find a compromising controlling element that includes the refrain, "The Government know best". Let me quote the Association of Police Authorities, which has significant concerns about this part of the Bill, which will provide for more direct 705 government influence over the operation of the two national policing squads. The Association of Police Authorities believes that the proposals,challenge the constitutional basis of policing and the checks and balances which maintain public consent for policing; and perhaps more importantly weaken the independence, skills and expertise of the service authorities established just three years ago to oversee and maintain high standards of integrity in the operation of these two national squads".It has additional concerns, which were expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. It has been stated that the provisions were not considered in another place. We must ensure that we consider them properly in Committee.
In conclusion, there is much to be discussed during the Bill's later stages. Can the Minister give an indication now about whether we, unlike another place, will have sufficient opportunity to scrutinise with care this mixed bag of a Bill? Perhaps most importantly, we should consider the practicalities of implementing its many provisions. The Minister should bear in mind the Bill's many potential consequences. It will in one way or another impinge on the lives of all of us.
In his opening speech, the Minister said that he would welcome debate in the House in order to ensure that the measures would be brought into effect to "full capacity". We have now begun that debate and already noble Lords have demonstrated that that full capacity may sometimes mean over-capacity. I look forward to the further consideration of what is thus far, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, an ill-considered piece of legislation.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, our long debate this afternoon and this evening has demonstrated that the House is not going to be a pushover with regard to the Bill and that if ever the word "scrutiny" was designed to fit a purpose, it fits that relating to the Bill.
There have been many notable contributions during our three-and-a-half hours of debate and it is invidious to have to select any contributions for particular comment. There have been some high points. We have had a wide-ranging discussion, which I shall try to summarise. I shall also try to pick up some of the points of concern that have been raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, called the Bill a hotchpotch and, to mix metaphors, something of a crazy-paving Bill with no theme. I refute that suggestion—the Bill does have a theme and it contains a variety measures, which will help the police in the conduct of their duty, strengthen the criminal justice system and provide better protection for the victims of crime. It contains elements of modernisation in so far as it concerns some of the national police agencies and the measures relating to police authorities have been welcomed. I therefore reject the noble Lord's attack on the Bill.
706 As ever, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made a spirited contribution. He was right to say that the House should exercise its duty and resist being bounced in relation to provisions. In general terms, there can be no argument about that, and it underlines the point that we need to give any measures which come before your Lordships' House active and full scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, touched on issues which he regularly raises in your Lordships' House with great distinction concerning the family and young people. He observed that this Bill did not deal necessarily with the underlying causes of youth criminality. That is right; this Bill is not specifically concerned with those matters. But the whole of Labour's programme in government is in a sense directed towards reducing social dislocation, alienation, and the unfortunate consequences of division in our society which are most manifest in criminal activity and in particular the criminal activity of young people.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws touched on the importance that we attach to curfews. She disagreed with our approach but, more importantly, she focused on her experience in relation to DNA and some of the legal implications of the proposals that we are bringing forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, spent most of his time looking in detail at fixed penalty notices. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, praised the Bill in some respects and criticised it in others. But she brought her important and valid experience of involvement in policing matters both nationally and locally to bear on her contribution.
I listened with particular interest to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, with his three notes of congratulation and one of caution. I welcomed in particular his observations on DNA and his remarks as to the practical way in which we, as a government, are approaching matters of criminality. His observations on fixed penalty notices I shall read with care.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for his observations in relation to the problems confronting Huntingdon Life Sciences. I welcomed his support for our measures, though I noted some of his concerns. I shall of course address some of them tonight.
I thank my noble friend Lady David for her observations on curfews. That will obviously be a major issue when we go through Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, touched effectively on some of the issues relating to taxation and the collection of evidence. I shall deal with those points in as much detail as I have time for.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, for his welcome and support for the parts of the Bill which address national policing agencies and the development of NCIS. I listened with interest to the warnings of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who twice had to take through the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. That was a ground-breaking piece of legislation, 707 often criticised at the time for being illiberal, ill-considered and a fetter on our civil rights. I was one of those who put forward some of those arguments; I now believe I was wrong. But that is probably the product of becoming a Minister in the Home Office.
I shall pay particular attention to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. In working through some of the questions raised—there were many—perhaps I can say at the outset that I have a massive sheaf of notes here and some of the replies will be by correspondence rather than over the Dispatch Box. However, I shall work through as many questions as I can in the time available to us.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked whether fixed penalty notices would be recorded. It is likely that they will be recorded for enforcement purposes in a similar way to existing fixed penalties. We shall be discussing the operation of the scheme with fixed penalty officers to ensure that it works efficiently. We have also said that we intend, subject to the agreement of the Information Commissioner, to use the data on the administrative system to enable the police to check whether an offender has other disorder penalty notices made against him in recent times to aid them in deciding whether or not to issue a further notice.
The recording of penalty notices has a "naming and shaming" aspect to it. Offenders who pay the penalties will not have their names made public; that is true. But part of the purpose of the new scheme is to provide a simple and immediate response to minor offending which will save court and police time, though there will have to be some bureaucracy.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, asked whether new penalty offences would cover things like urinating on the street and prostitutes' cards. That was as point on which in a sense the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, touched. if the experience of the scheme shows that other offences should be penalty offences, they can be added to the list at a later stage. The procedure will be subject to the affirmative resolution process.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also asked why no criminal record exists on the issue of a fixed penalty notice. We say that they should not because they formally involve neither an admission nor a judicial finding of guilt. The recipient of a penalty notice would be very likely to choose to go to court if he or she were to receive a conviction as well as the penalty. That would undermine a primary purpose of the scheme, which is to enable the police to dispose of and deal with such matters more swiftly. The noble Lord wondered whether it might finish as an essay written on the notice. I can tell the noble Lord that that is not our intention. The Bill requires only sufficient information to given to provide reasonable information about the offence to the offender. He also asked why should it be made available only to those aged 18 years and over.
The explanation here is longer. Currently, juveniles are subject to a rigid and tailor-made hierarchy of reprimands and final warnings. For minor criminal behaviour under Sections 65 and 66 of the Crime and 708 Disorder Act 1998, crudely put, for the first offence it is a reprimand; for the second offence a final warning and for the third offence, prosecution. Adding the possibility of fixed penalties as another element could undermine a scheme which in our experience is working very well and provides a youngster with a youth offending team intervention, which is often very positive. In any event, financial penalties are usually met by parents and they are not well suited to dealing with children. Our figures for 1999 show that most instances of the type of offending described in Clause 1 relate to perpetrators aged 18 years and over, so there is reason for having that age cut-off.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, along with other noble Lords, raised the issue of protection of directors from animal rights activists. In raising it, he made the point that the legislation would not be retrospective in the sense that existing records would not be expunged. However, directors may apply for and gain the protection of a confidentiality order. But it is the case that all subsequent filings will refer to the service address for the public record. I think the noble Lord raised specifically the question of shareholders. They are not required by law to file their home address. They can give a service address, an accommodation address or the name and address of a nominee; for example, their solicitor or accountant. I hope that goes some way towards answering that particular point.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also raised questions about DNA fingerprinting and made the point that the keeping of samples from intelligence screens might discourage the public from coming forward. We will keep the samples only if the volunteer—and this is the key point—gives his or her consent entirely voluntarily. We do not wish to discourage anyone from participating in a DNA intelligence screen or from giving fingerprints or samples for any other elimination purposes. It is made clear that if consent is given the individual is consenting to the fingerprints, or to the information derived from the sample, being speculatively searched. But consent will have to be given in writing so that those matters are matters of record.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also raised an interesting question about video conferencing facilities for custody decisions. It is the intention of the proposals that where custody decisions are made via video link the officer concerned, the detained person and any legal representative will all be able to see and hear each other. The officer will be able to speak to both the detainee and the lawyer. They will he able to make representations to him. The provisions will harness available technology to make the most effective use of police resources. I say on that point in particular that when I visited the North Yorkshire police, with whom the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, is very familiar from her role as chair there, that force welcomed these proposals forming part of the legislation not least because one inspector told me of a 120-mile round journey to authorise a further period of time in custody for someone who had been detained. In forces with remote stations and where 709 someone is well away from where an arrest and custody has been arranged, that is a valuable tool that would create considerable savings of police time.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, made a point that is worth picking up in relation to the need to draft legislation to be brought forward so that it can be given additional scrutiny. I happen to believe that that is an excellent initiative. We have had some good experience of that with the Freedom of Information Act and with some local government legislation on which I sat on a Joint Committee. We believe that that is an innovation within the lifetime of this Government and something on which we shall draw in the future.
I turn to the age limit in relation to child curfews. I believe both the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, raised that point. The allegation was that it was a quick populist fix to the lack of use of the existing provisions and was without a philosophical base. The Government's approach is determined by something that is often described as "what works". I believe that what works within the criminal justice system is a good and guiding philosophical point. Clearly, child curfews, as currently described in legislation, have not been effective. We try to pilot innovative new measures. From time to time we may not get it exactly right, and that can be said to be the case with child curfews as they are currently. We need to learn from the mistakes and to improve on the legislation that we have put in place over time. Local child curfew schemes are one example of that.
Experience suggested that the practical value of such schemes is likely to be in the context of slightly older children than is provided for in the 1998 legislation. Hence, the provision in Clause 45 for new curfew schemes is potentially to cover, subject to local need, those aged up to 15 years old.
The philosophy behind child curfew schemes is set out in the Home Office evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In short, child curfew schemes allow a mechanism for keeping children away from certain trouble spots during night-time hours. Such trouble spots are often areas where children and those who prey on them have been congregating to engage in criminal and, perhaps more particularly, anti-social behaviour. In those circumstances, I am sure that all noble Lords know of situations where everyone suffers: local residents, the children's families and the children themselves.
I believe that we have a duty to try to use those measures innovatively and proportionately. It is a proportionate response to a particular local problem. Crucially, no criminal sanction for a child found in breach of a curfew exists and he or she is simply taken home to his or her family, save where there are profound concerns as to the safety of that home. That is an important point and one that was raised validly by the noble Baroness, Lady David.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, raised the key issue relating to DNA samples. Why keep samples from those who have been acquitted? The Government 710 do not claim that those acquitted necessarily have a propensity for crime or that they are, in reality, guilty. I believe that that was her assertion. Keeping samples and fingerprints does not mean that those people are under suspicion. Just as the police keep witness statements and records of interviews as a historical record of an investigation of an offence, the Government believe that the police should be able to retain fingerprints and samples. That information can only be used in the investigation of other crimes; it cannot be used for medical or any other sinister purposes. The innocent have absolutely nothing to fear. I suggest to noble Lords that if DNA samples conclusively prove involvement of crimes such as rape and murder, as in the cases of Weir and B to which I referred earlier, I do not believe that the police should be obliged to throw them away. It would be hampering their investigations.
The comments made by my noble friend Lord Brennan on particular issues relating to crimes of violence were most welcome. The public would think it most odd if we did not have access to that potentially important evidence. DNA is an objective form of evidence. The DNA database is not a list of suspects and the database will show only a hit of the DNA profile of an individual which matches that from DNA recovered from a crime scene.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy raised the issue of consultation. I have asked the question a couple of times and it is my understanding that the Human Genetics Commission was consulted on earlier measures as regards the retention of volunteer DNA samples from intelligence screens. But I concede that we were unable to find time to consult on the retention of DNA from suspects. That was because it arose specifically in the two criminal cases to which I have already referred. I am sorry that we did not have sufficient time to carry out that stage of the consultation, but we shall continue to consult on all these matters, believing that it is extremely important.
I turn to some of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, about fixed penalty notices. They will be available for criminal behaviour as set out in Clause 1. In our view, there is no blurring between civil and criminal conduct or process in the way in which we have set out the legislation. Fixed penalty notices for criminal behaviour are not new. A similar scheme exists under the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. Crucially, the fixed penalty scheme in Part 1 preserves all the criminal and due process rights of the accused. It merely grants the accused the option of paying a fixed sum and avoiding any criminal liability.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, asked about consultation on fixed penalties. A consultation paper was published in September 2000 and we received many responses from criminal justice practitioners. They informed the way in which the provision has been introduced. The noble Lord suggested that there might be a lower standard of proof where a penalty notice is issued. Penalty notices will be issued where the constable believes that a criminal offence has been committed. There must be sufficient evidence to prove the offence to the criminal standard in case the 711 offender chooses to take that route and to have the matter raised in court. I hope that that reply deals with the points raised by the noble Lord in respect of fixed penalty notices.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, during her welcome speech. raised the issue of the Humberside judgment and I ought to cover some of the points she raised. She pointed out that it in some way restricted access to police authority membership for those with an independent point of view. I and the Government generally do not believe that the judgment will prevent police authorities discharging their responsibilities effectively. That is an important point. Non-party political input to the business of police authorities will continue to be provided by magistrates and the appointment of independent members. We are well aware of the concerns of the Association of Police Authorities and I note that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has written to the chair of the APA making it clear that although we do not think it appropriate to use this Bill to address the particular issue, we are prepared to consider other opportunities for addressing the APA's concerns. Therefore, we have certainly taken careful note of the issue that has been raised.
The noble Baroness referred to the reduced membership of the NCIS and NCS service authorities. We believe that police membership should be reduced with the removal of the levy on police authorities, but there will still be appointees from both the APA and ACPO on both service authorities, with greater numbers on the NCS authority, which is predominantly a policing organisation. That is our rationale for those changes.
Changes to the service authority membership provide the opportunity to include members from agencies that work closely with NCIS and NCS and thereby improve partnership working and better reflect the multi-agency nature of much of the work of those organisations. The NCIS service authority already includes a member from HMCE. The Bill provides for an HMCE core member to sit on both service authorities so that the NCS authority will include HMCE, and for a member of the security service to sit on the NCIS authority.
We believe that we can ensure the maintenance of accountability, which was the key point raised by the noble Baroness. We do not believe that central funding means the loss of APA and ACPO presence on the service authorities, although there will be a reduction in the number of their members. The presence of both APA and ACPO is essential because of the services that are provided by NCIS and NCS through different forces.
My noble friend Lord Brennan raised a concern about racial motivation in relation to public order offences which he saw as perhaps one of the downsides of fixed penalty notices. I believe that my noble friend raises a very valid point. We have considered this matter. We believe that that is a matter which is appropriately covered in guidance to the police. We should like to suggest to the police that fixed penalties 712 are not appropriate when clearly the offences have a racial motivation. We fully recognise that point, and that is a matter which we must take carefully into consideration when drawing up the guidance.
My noble friend also raised a very important point about legally privileged material. He expressed concern about new powers to seize and retain such material. At the outset, we fully appreciate the difficulties raised by legally privileged material and the concerns that have been expressed in this area. Part 3 is concerned with two matters: the power to seize and the power to retain such material. However, it gives the power to seize such material only if it is not reasonably practicable to determine on the premises that it is legally privileged and cannot be separated from other material that is capable of being seized. It is necessary to have such a provision; otherwise, the new powers would be fundamentally undermined by any claim that legally privileged material was found within the bulk of material to be seized and, therefore, that none of the material, be it on computer or otherwise, should be seized. That matter was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. We understand the point, and no doubt it is one to which we shall return in detail in Committee.
My noble friend Lady David raised the question of local child curfews and human rights. In our response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights we made clear that we believed that the legislation conformed with Article 37B of the CRC and Article 9 of the ICCPR. The curfew scheme and the limited police powers thereunder are clearly prescribed by way of the 1998 Act. To return to a point that I made earlier, a child will be taken home against his or her will only as a last resort. By definition, any deprivation of liberty will be for the shortest appropriate period because no incarceration will be permitted.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, raised key issues in regard to aiding and abetting where there was a series of incidents of harassment. As I have said in the past in your Lordships' House when questioned, I believe that this package of measures will deal with most of the instances of criminality and extreme activity which the noble Lord described very eloquently and as set out in the Home Office consultation document. Anyone who incites the commission of an offence or conspires with others to commit an offence or aids and abets the commission of offences by others will be caught by the existing law. In the example given by the noble Lord, where a group encourages others to commit acts of violence, vandalism, criminal damage and so on, those who encourage as well as those who carry out these appalling acts will be guilty of a criminal offence.
The purpose of Clause 43 is rather different. It amends the Protection from Harassment Act. That Act makes a course of conduct directed against an individual an offence even though the individual acts making up that course of conduct are not in themselves necessarily criminal. That sounds rather complex but I am sure that the noble Lord will understand It when he studies Hansard. Clause 43 makes those who aid, abet, counsel or procure such acts criminally liable for them in the same way as those who actually carry out 713 the acts. I hope that that is sufficient reassurance to the noble Lord. It is certainly intended to be so. We want the legislation to be as effective as possible.
The noble Lord also asked how much more can be done. The consultation paper shows how much is already being done. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for her observations in support of the Government. We have committed extra resources and extra support to Cambridgeshire and we will happily continue to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, asked a series of stunning questions that could have come only from an experienced person in the world of accountancy and, more particularly, KPMG. Flattery! I shall try to pick up some of those observations. The noble Baroness asked whether the provisions will wreck the willingness of people to be frank with tax authorities. We do not think that they will. That is certainly not our intention. Revenue departments already disclose information in a carefully regulated way through an increasing number of existing information gateways to other public authorities and bodies. For example, the Inland Revenue already discloses information in police investigations on receipt of an order from a judge.
The noble Baroness asked whether disclosure under Clause 49 will be prohibited to a country that does not comply with the standards as set out in the ECHR. The Inland Revenue and Customs are public authorities within the meaning of the Human Rights Act. That means that they will have to exercise their disclosure powers in a way that is compatible with the ECHR. That means that a balancing act has to be carried out and that the disclosure should be made only where the circumstances make the disclosure necessary and—my favourite word—proportionate.
The noble Baroness also asked whether disclosure should be limited to cases where an investigation is ongoing. The disclosure provisions are designed to permit disclosures in cases where an information holder has evidence of an offence. In such cases, the information itself may be the trigger for bringing an investigation in the first place.
The final point raised by the noble Baroness on disclosure related to overseas matters. She said that disclosure overseas should be permitted under Clause 49 only if it is in relation to conduct which is a criminal offence in the UK. If that were to be the case, it would prevent government bodies from making a disclosure overseas in cases where the United Kingdom had decided not to criminalise the behaviour. That would prevent disclosure in cases where we have made a policy choice to provide civil penalties because of the desirability of avoiding the higher burden of proof rather than because the activities were considered to be less serious. If I have missed any of the noble Baroness's points on disclosure, I shall pick them up in correspondence. The noble Baroness made some very important points.
I come to the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The noble Lord asked whether the fixed penalty notice scheme will be monitored to 714 ensure that it is not being operated in a discriminatory manner. In a sense that picks up part of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. As I said to the noble Lord, that issue will be dealt with in guidance. It would certainly not be our intention that it should be abused in that way. It is an important issue.
I hope that I dealt with the issues raised by the noble Lord on DNA when I addressed some of my comments to questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. It is worth pointing out—because the noble Lord raised this issue in particular—that these matters were put out for general consultation as far back as July 1999 when we published our proposals to revise legislative measures covering fingerprints, footprints and DNA samples. That consultation document formed the basis of many of the measures included in the Bill, but since then we have added the measure covering the retention of all fingerprints, footprints and DNA samples for reasons which I explained earlier.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made a number of useful points on fixed penalty notices. She referred to criminal damages and whether the victim might lose the possibility of winning court-awarded compensation. We do not intend that individuals should lose their opportunity to be awarded compensation for damage that they have suffered. The police will retain the right to charge in all cases where they feel that that is appropriate. Guidance will be issued to reinforce the importance of keeping in mind the expectations of the victim that a court might consider compensation when deciding the case. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness also referred to issuing fixed penalty notices to people who might be drunk. The police will not issue such notices on the street to people who are drunk or incapable of understanding what they have been given. That would be a worthless action. Guidance will suggest that the officer should arrest the individual and take that individual to a police station where a decision on how best to deal with the case will be taken when the individual is sober.
The noble Baroness also asked whether the legislation on drinking in public places prevent her having a drink with her family. I am alive to this issue. The answer to that is no. On hearing that the noble Baroness loves Rock as much as I do for my family holidays, I promise to buy her a drink in a very public place should we bump into each other down there. I can also confirm to the noble Baroness that the Bill does not create a blanket offence of drinking in designated areas, but it does give the police a discretionary power to direct someone to stop drinking in those areas and to confiscate the alcohol. The noble Baroness would not be committing an offence simply by drinking a glass of wine in a designated area. I believe that this power will be very valuable and one which, if used properly and proportionately, could serve to relieve many areas where appalling scenes take place related to the abuse of alcohol. Certainly the experience of my home city 715 suggests that the measure will be extremely welcome. The authorities have been pressing for the introduction of such measures for a long time.
My responses have taken some time. I know that I shall not have satisfied the questions put by all noble Lords, but I have tried to be thorough—in the best Home Office tradition.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, on a point of order. Not wishing to be discourteous and not being at all ungrateful for the generosity shown by the Minister as regards the time he has taken, the Companion suggests that Members opening or winding up from either side are expected to keep within 20 minutes. Perhaps on the next occasion when we examine a Bill from the Home Office, we shall, God willing, have a slightly shorter reply.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I apologise for the length of my remarks, but noble Lords put so many interesting questions to me that I thought it 716 would be remiss if I did not cover as many points as possible, in particular so as to lighten the burden of correspondence for noble Lords.
We have had an interesting and constructive debate in which I have covered as many points as I could. On the next occasion, I shall pay closer attention to the instructions in the Companion.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, can the Minister say whether the initial case study of the Bill by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights will be available in time for the later stages of our deliberations?
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I cannot give an absolute response to that. My understanding is that it should be available around the time that noble Lords begin their detailed consideration in Committee, On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at ten o'clock.