Lords amendments considered.
Designation of alcohol disorder zones
Lords amendment: No. 27.
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
The Lords amendment inserts a new subsection into clause 13, which sets out the procedure for designation of an alcohol disorder zone or ADZ. It is worth briefly reminding the House of the nature of the ADZ process. In outline, designating an ADZ is a joint police and local authority decision. First, the local authority must propose an ADZ, followed by a 28-day consultation period involving licensees and the wider community. As soon as is reasonably practicable after the 28 day consultation period, the local authority and the local chief constable must publish an action plan setting out the steps that the police and licensees should take to avoid designation. The action plan will contain a number of preventive steps that licensees should take to help prevent alcohol-related crime and disorder, which will vary from one area to another. Typically, they might include premises-specific action such as introducing proof of age policies or using toughened glasses. The plan could also include financial contributions towards preventive schemes, such as the employment of a taxi marshal to avoid pinch points or putting on a late-night bus service. If licensees implement the plan, an ADZ is not designated, but if they do not comply with the steps in the action plan, the local authority may designate one.
Non-compliance criteria for designation are as follows: if, after eight weeks following publication of the action plan steps are not taken or are not sufficient to enable the local authority to consider designation unnecessary; or if the local authority, before or after the eight weeks, is satisfied that the plan will not be implemented, that steps required are no longer being taken or that any effect is no longer being given to arrangements made in accordance with the plan.
Having dealt with the context of ADZs, may I turn to the specifics of the Lords amendment, which covers local authority powers to designate an ADZ following publication of the action plan? The amendment reaffirms the belief that the local authority has no power to designate an ADZ if licensees have implemented the entire action plan. It imposes an additional check on local authorities, preventing them from designating an ADZ if the majority of steps set out in the action plan have been put into effect by licensees. The intention behind the amendment is not at issue. The action plan is the important objective, and we want to ensure that there is every opportunity to deliver it. However, we do not believe that the proposed subsection is needed or is workable. It is not needed, principally because the Bill does not give any powers to local authorities to designate an ADZ if an action plan has been implemented. As I have made clear to the House, local authorities can designate if licensees do not comply with the steps in the action plan.
The proposal is unworkable, because a one-size-fits-all check would hamstring local authorities, preventing them from designating an ADZ if the majority of steps have been taken. It may be the case that the 51 per cent. of actions taken are not the most critical actions in the action plan. However, as I said, we are sympathetic to the intention behind the Lords amendment. We strongly believe that it is not needed, and would be unworkable, but the Lords’ concerns can be dealt with in guidance. Clarification about the extent of local authorities’ powers and the flexibility that we want in relation to the action plan will be reflected in the guidance.
I draw the House’s attention in particular toclause 16, which provides that the Secretary of State must publish guidance on ADZs, which the police and local authorities have a duty to follow. Since the debate on ADZs in another place, we have developed that guidance. In particular, I am grateful for the help of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, with which we worked to produce a piece of guidance specifically addressing that matter and other issues discussed in another place. I can offer assurances to the House that the guidance includes clarification that local authorities’ powers to designate an ADZ focus on non-compliance with the action plan by licensees; local authorities cannot designate if the entire action plan has been implemented. Time is an important factor, and the action plan does not have to be implemented in full within weeks—the local authority must be satisfied that enough steps have been taken in the action plan to make the designation of an ADZ unnecessary.
The local authority should ensure that implementation of the action plan is appropriately monitored and that it actively engages with licensees over the eight-week period. Ample warning should be given to licensees if the local authority feels that designation is appropriate. Flexibility should be shown over action plans, based on local needs. Local authorities should waive the need for compliance with all the steps set out in the published action plan where it is considered that the overall objectives of the action plan can still be delivered. I have provided more detail on what the guidance covers in a letter to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). I leave the House with those assurances.
Alcohol disorder zones, which we support, are designed to deal with a serious and growing problem. Only this month, the British crime survey reported that the proportion of people saying that drunkenness was a very big or fairly big problem in their neighbourhood has risen to well over one in five. Of those who report experiencing antisocial behaviour in the previous year, nearly one in 10 say that they see drunkenness or rowdiness every day and more than a third say that they see it every week.
Of those people worried about drunkenness, most report difficulties with noise and littering by drinkers, but, worse, nearly a third have been troubled by drunks urinating in public or fighting. Indeed, 1.2 million violent incidents are alcohol related. That is half of all violent crime. The Cabinet Office has reported that 61 per cent. of the population perceive alcohol-related violence as worsening and one in five violent crimes takes place in or around pubs and clubs. Nearly 70 per cent. of those crimes occur at the weekend. Nearly half of all victims of violence describe their assailants as under the influence of alcohol at the time. In our major cities, but also in once peaceful towns throughout the country, decent people’s lives are being made a misery by wholly unacceptable behaviour that is too often fuelled by alcohol.
The measures proposed in the Bill in relation to alcohol disorder zones, under which the establishment from which these problems emanate should contribute towards the costs of dealing with the problem, are the right ones. The Cabinet Office estimated that alcohol-related crime costs the UK £7.3 billion a year in policing, preventive services, processing offenders through the criminal justice system and the human costs incurred by the victims of crime.
The Lords amendment, which was moved by Baroness Anelay, relates to our concern that the Bill appeared to allow local authorities to pre-empt completion of the action plans that precede alcohol disorder zones, even where progress was being made in dealing with the problem. Lords amendment No. 27 attempts to deal with that problem by preventing an ADZ from being designated if a majority of the steps in the action plan have been put into effect.
The Government have set out their concerns about the amendment and I agree that, for instance, it would not make sense to prevent a local authority from designating an ADZ simply because a numerical majority of steps, which may be the less important ones, in the action plan have been met. Since the amendment was agreed in the other place, the Government have explained—as the Minister has today—the guidance that they have developed in consultation with the industry, which should address those concerns. In particular, the guidance states that an action plan does not have to be implemented in full, that it should be carefully monitored, that ample warning should be given by local authorities over the eight-week period if they are dissatisfied with progress, and that flexibility should be shown to meet local needs. I understand that that guidance has been sufficient to allay industry concerns and, on that basis, we will not seek to oppose the Government in rejecting Lords amendment No. 27.
Over the past couple of years, the Liberal Democrats have called for a levy on big late-night venues to help pay for policing and the other costs of alcohol-related disorder. Therefore, we welcome the principle of alcohol disorder zones, because the scheme implements our “polluter pays” policy. We had some concerns about the issues in relation to the action zones and the tarring of the innocent along with the guilty. However, we welcome the extra safeguards that have been put into the guidelines because we were worried about the way in which local authorities might administer the scheme.
In Committee, we argued that there needed to be more of a causal link between behaviour and who was caught so that it could be established whether a premises or club had contributed to the alcohol-related disorder in a zone. If responsible establishments were caught in an alcohol disorder zone and forced to pay the charge—if they were effectively penalised by the irresponsibility of other establishments—it would be a disincentive for good licence holders to maintain good standards. That appears to be contrary to “Drinking Responsibly”, the Government’s consultation paper that is targeted at irresponsible premises.
We, like Conservative Members of the House of Lords, were worried that the intervention trigger that a local authority would use might be inappropriate or premature. Again, the measure is designed to make people behave responsibly, so if we were to penalise those exhibiting good behaviour, we would send the message that there was no point in being an exemplary landlord. Equally, establishments included under the action plan might be fulfilling their part of the bargain, so consideration would be needed not of the numbers, but of who was doing what was required and who was reneging on the agreement for the establishments caught in a proposed alcohol disorder zone.
The problem could be widespread because the threshold for triggering an alcohol disorder zone is extremely low. It would be difficult to find an area that has not experienced alcohol-related disorder, because it is prevalent in this country. We thus thought that it was important that councils were inhibited from moving too quickly or enthusiastically. I would have liked measurable criteria on what constituted a successful action plan. Lords amendment No. 27 would have gone some way towards alleviating concern that a local authority could act pre-emptively. Given the new safeguards in the Government’s guidance, however, which will make the industry accept the way forward, Liberal Democrats are happy with the Government’s proposal. If we can establish the Government’s proposals vis-à-vis the way in which ADZs and action plans will work through the guidelines, Liberal Democrats have no problem with that.
The introduction of alcohol disorder zones is an extremely good idea—one of the Government’s better ideas. In Cheshunt, which I represent, we have a particular problem around the Old Pond area, which, on Saturday nights, can be likened to a war zone. The situation is such that during World and European cup matches, we often have numerous cavalry stationed up at the town hall in case they are required to disperse troublemakers. Fortunately, that was not necessary this year because the publicans around the Old Pond held constructive talks with the police to work out how they could control their clients and customers. That was probably a direct result of the threat of the imposition of alcohol disorder zones.
Although this might go against some of the views held by those in another place, I do not have much sympathy with the drinks industry. It has done extremely well out of Government legislation over the past year or so. While it is doing well, it is important that it accepts that it has a responsibility to the wider community, which, by and large, does not use its establishments, yet deserves a decent night’s sleep and the ability to use the streets free from the fear of being abused, mugged and having to watch people urinate against brick walls. So I welcome the Government’s view. It is useful for my local council to have in its armoury the threat of designating an alcohol disorder zone. My message to Broxbourne council is that if in future it feels the need to apply such an order, it should not hesitate, as it will have my support.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). His advice on this matter, as on so much else, is compelling. Although I support ADZs generally, I have one concern.
The Minister will realise that the problem is getting the various authorities to follow the advice that he gives in his guidance. That does not always happen. Does he accept that the main way of tackling alcohol-driven street antisocial behaviour has been through the under-age drinking measure that was introduced in the first year of Labour’s power, the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997? That is one of the most used non-traffic laws in the country. That excellent Act could be even more effective and reduce the need for ADZs if police always followed Ministers’ advice and involved parents, as the Act intended. That would enhance prevention and parental control, which we all agree is the best way forward.
However, police do not always follow the guidance and they do not always apply that law in the way that was intended by involving the parents, so how will the Minister ensure that in the case of the Bill, the police listen to his advice and follow his guidance?
Lords amendment No. 27 disagreed to.
Drinking banning orders
Lords amendment: No. 1
In Committee in this place the Government gave a commitment to consider whether positive requirements to address alcohol misuse behaviour could be attached to a drinking banning order. On Second Reading in the other place we confirmed that we would table new clauses to that effect. That is the purpose of amendments Nos. 1, 2, 5 to 7 and 9 to 14. They enable individuals who are subject to a drinking banning order to undertake a course to address their alcohol misuse behaviour.
Amendments Nos. 3, 8, 20, 21 and 25 make minor and technical changes to the provisions on drinking banning orders by removing the concept of “relevant persons”. That removes an unintended fetter onthe courts’ ability to make a DBO on conviction. The matter was helpfully drawn to our attention bythe Crown Prosecution Service, so I am sure that the amendments will be welcomed.
Amendment No. 30 gives effect to a recommendation in the report on the Bill by the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. New section 147A(9) originally provided that the Secretary of State may make an order increasing the fine for the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children set out in new section 147A(1). The fine is currently set at a maximum of £10,000. By the effect of the Licensing Act 2003, the power could be exercised using negative resolution procedures, but in accordance with the Committee’s recommendation, the Bill was amended so that the fine could not be increased without the authority of both Houses of Parliament. However, the requirement to seek affirmative approval by each House is limited to increases which do not relate simply to inflation.
Amendments Nos. 31 and 72 simply correct an unforeseen consequence of section 21 of the Licensing Act 2003. They will ensure that where a premises licence issued under the 2003 Act requires persons to be at the premises to undertake security activities, those persons will not need to be licensed by the security industry authority, unless the Private Security Industry Act 2001 requires them to be so licensed.
Amendment No. 32 resolves an unintended problem, which was recently brought to our attention by a number of local authorities, associated with the licensing of public spaces under the Licensing Act 2003 and the use of designated public places orders under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. Where a local authority holds a premises licence, or occupies or has managed for it a premises that is subject to a premises licence, a DPPO will be excluded from applying to those premises only at times when alcohol is actually being sold or supplied and for another 30 minutes thereafter. At all other times, the premises will be the subject of a DPPO. In other words, if a local authority has introduced a DPPO, it will not apply while alcohol sales are taking place. As I have said, that is a minor technical change. I am sure that the House welcomes this group of Lords amendments, because it resolves concerns expressed by local authorities on introducing DPPOs.
I thank the hon. Gentleman—no doubt he will shortly be the right hon. Gentleman—for that whistle-stop Cook’s tour of the amendments. If I understood him correctly, he referred to a limited extension of the affirmative resolution procedure. Will he advise the House whether there is a new upper limit for the fine, which was £10,000, and, if so, what is it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the advance news—he knows more than me. He has made an entirely fair point. The recommendation from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was simply to move from the negative procedure to the positive procedure. Nothing else will change, so £10,000 is still the upper limit. The Committee was concerned that both Houses should have the chance to debate any increases above inflation, rather than introducing the increase by the negative procedure, which would lead to the laborious process of praying against the order.
To be generous to the hon. Gentleman, he is being pedantic rather than difficult—he has not created a difficulty for me. I do not know the answer off the top of my head, but if I get inspiration at some stage in the course of our deliberations, I will let him know; otherwise, I will write to him in due course.
The amendments will improve the efficacy of the Bill, and I commend them to the House.
Our concern about alcohol disorder zones was that retailers would be penalised for disorder caused by nearby pubs and clubs and that a blanket measure could be unfair. In the main, those concerns have been allayed during the Bill’s passage through Parliament. The Government have reassured us that alcohol disorder zones will be a last resort and will not become a routine intervention and that they will review the operation of alcohol disorder orders two years after implementation. We have also been reassured by amendments Nos. 28 and 29, which make it clear that draft regulations must be laid before and duly approved by this House and the other place. The other Lords amendments in this group are largely consequential and technical, and we are happy to support them.
I will not detain the House for long on this group of amendments. I very much welcome the amendments made in the other place.
With regard to drink banning orders, we repeatedly made the point in Committee that merely banning an activity cannot be the whole answer. If people are not to reoffend in the same manner, rehabilitation and education are necessary for them to learn the error of their ways constructively. Our ongoing concern is that the drink banning order is an instrument to deal with a social problem, which we recognise, but still does not address the causes of that problem, and inevitably fails to produce a long-term benefit. I am therefore glad to note that the Government have listened to my arguments in this instance, and have included a provision to address the underlying reasons for the behaviour that would cause a drink banning order to be made. By including an approved course with a drink banning order, we begin to tackle the heart of the matter.
The apparent British malaise of getting blind-drunk on a Friday or Saturday night is symptomatic of more than young people going out to enjoy themselves. That needs to be addressed. We welcome the addition to the Bill, which provides it with a great deal more balance. The provision of treatment to people who are subject to such orders cannot but benefit them. As the Minister said to the House previously, the Government have made a commitment to considering whether positive requirements to address alcohol misuse could be attached to a drink banning order. I therefore thank them for bringing forward the amendments.
I, too, thank the Government for bringing forward the amendments. I did not mean to be pedantic in asking the Minister when the threshold was raised to £10,000 for those caught selling alcohol to minors. In moving from the negative to the affirmative procedure, I hope that we have a debate in the House as soon as possible. In my constituency, off-licences and shops selling alcohol to under-age children is a huge problem, which destroys families. To act as a deterrent, the upper limit of £10,000 should be raised significantly.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 26 and 28 to 32 agreed to.
Using someone to mind a weapon
Lords amendment: No. 33
Although these amendments are gathered under the general heading of “Weapons etc.”, they have some important separate dimensions. I will therefore spend a little time discussing the distinct groups of amendments covered by the heading.
Amendments Nos. 33 to 38 relate to the new offence of using someone to mind a weapon. They extend the definition of a “dangerous weapon”, as stated in the Bill, to cover all specified offensive weapons. As currently drafted, the definition is more limited. We agreed to consider such an extension to the definition for the new offence, and subsequently amended the Bill in the other place to make the legislation as useful as possible. Amendment No. 37 confirms that the sentence for those aged under 21 for this offence is detention. Amendment No. 38 is a technical amendment to clarify the section to which the provision will refer.
The Minister knows full well that he has considerable support for this part of the Bill, with which I entirely agree. In dealing with amendments to clauses 32 to 34, will he let the House know what undertakings, if any, have been given to those representing airsoft activities that the Government will provide them with a defence to the manufacture, sale or transfer of imitation firearms under clause 32?
I will happily do so. Both I and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), have met those from the airsoft sector—if that is an appropriate phrase—and have assured them that any such exemptions, rather than being necessary in the Bill, would be provided in regulations. We said that we were minded to move in that direction, given that the activity was relatively harmless, but that the regulations would have to be laid in the proper fashion, consulted on and then agreed or otherwise with a range of stakeholders. That is the position as of now. I have also told those representatives—and, more generally, individuals and organisations affected by this part of the Bill—that I consider it to be in everyone’s broad interest for the regulations to be under way, and duly consulted on, at the earliest opportunity. If representatives of other organisations wish to meet me or my hon. Friend, or indeed both of us, we will certainly consider meeting them in due course as the regulations are consulted on.
I welcome the Minister’s reference to the draft regulations and to consultation on them at the earliest possible opportunity. May I take it from what he has said that he is at least minded to seek to ensure that the regulations are issued before the Bill’s final passage in the other place—a point on which I have focused in respect of several pieces of legislation? It seems to me that sight of such regulations in draft before the House is invited to give final approval to a Bill is of the essence.
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman in spirit and in principle. I have sought to ensure that Bills that are in my charge from start to finish deliver in that fashion, and that there is—for want of a better phrase—a road map showing what regulations and guidance are likely to follow, with as much information as possible provided during a Bill’s parliamentary passage. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this Bill has not been in my charge from start to finish, but whatever remains in dispute between us and the other place will be passed up to the other place for due consideration tomorrow. Try as I might, I fear that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he wants: I cannot ensure publication of and due consultation on the regulations by this time tomorrow.
Someone else once said in this place that when he and a colleague undertook a charm offensive, he was the charm and our colleague was the offensive. I should probably leave it at that, but I take the procedural point about the need to provide Committee members, and indeed Members of both Houses, with at least a framework or outline of any regulation, guidance and elements of legislation following Royal Assent as early as possible.
Lords amendments Nos. 39 to 47, 61 to 65 and 77 all deal with the issue of imitation firearms and air weapons. I am happy to support Lords amendments Nos. 39 to 47 and 62 to 65, which relate to controls on firearms. Let me briefly explain the most significant controls.
Lords amendment No. 40 removes a clause providing for controls on the sale of ammunition loading presses—devices that perform the full range of mechanical operations required to reload cartridges. The Government have accepted arguments that such operations can be carried out without specialist equipment through the use of simple tools that are available from any DIY shop. We have already included controls on the sale of primers, and given that it is not possible to reload ammunition without primers, we accept that clause 31 is no longer necessary.
Lords amendments Nos. 41 and 47 give Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs powers to seize imitation firearms imported in contravention of the controls in the Bill. Although clause 32 makes it an offence to bring a realistic imitation firearm into Great Britain, it does not specifically contain a prohibition against their importation. Amendments Nos. 41 and 47 address that situation by establishing that the goods are liable to forfeiture under the customs and excise Acts. A case in which that was appropriate might concern youngsters returning from a school trip abroad with banned items.
Amendments Nos. 42 to 44 relate to defences to the ban on sale, manufacture and importation of realistic imitation firearms. Defences are provided for museums and galleries, both public and private, in relation to sales and so on to Crown servants, and for businesses to import realistic imitations solely for the purpose of modifying them to make them non-realistic—for example, for race-starting or dog training.
Amendments Nos. 48 and 66 increase the maximum penalty for having a blade or a point in a public place or a school without good reason from two years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both, to four years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. That forms part of our wider package of measures to reduce knife crime, in line with our manifesto commitment
“to introduce tougher sentences for those involved in serious knife crime”.
Amendments Nos. 49 to 60, 75 and 76 amend in various ways the power to search individuals for weapons in schools, further education institutions and attendance centres. They prevent a head teacher from requiring a member of school staff to carry out such a search unless they are security staff and provide transparent definitions of school staff for the purposes of this Bill. They require that the other person present when a search is conducted is another member of staff of the school, FE college or attendance centre respectively. We propose that, because it is better for the second person present to be someone with a formal duty of care towards those being searched, which increases safeguards for both those being searched and the staff. They change the grounds for a search from “reasonable grounds for believing” to “reasonable grounds for suspecting”. That will enable the scope for searches to include a wider range of people. A head teacher who suspects a knife is in their school, but whose information is not strong enough for believing a particular pupil has it, will still be able to search. However, it is important to note that, before searching any pupil, they must always have a suspicion that the pupil may have a knife.
The amendments enable the National Assembly for Wales to order when powers for FE colleges in Wales come into force. They also reduce the threshold for a constable to exercise his or her powers of entry to a school and search for weapons in section 139B of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. By revising that threshold to one of reasonable grounds for suspecting, we ensure that the police power to search in schools is consistent with that of school staff. That will also apply in Northern Ireland.
I commend the amendments to the House, because by accepting them we will improve the Bill’s efficacy and effectiveness.
The amendments fall broadly into two parts: those that relate to the carrying of knives and those that relate to firearms. I shall start with those relating to knives, particularly amendment No. 48.
The Bill’s provisions on knives are undoubtedly necessary. Fatal stabbings are up by nearly a fifth under this Government. Last year, 236 people were recorded as having been killed by a sharp instrument—an increase of more than 17 per cent. on the figure for 1998-99. The most common method of killing last year, representing nearly a third of all offences recorded as “homicide”, related to fatal stabbings. Knives are used in 7 per cent. of violent crime. According to the British crime survey, that means that knives are used in 169,000 crimes a year, and there are three fatal stabbings for every fatal shooting.
Almost a third of pupils have carried a knife, according to a poll conducted in 2004 for the Youth Justice Board, which says that 28 per cent. of young people in mainstream schools had carried a knife in the past year. The problem is serious and growing. It was therefore right to say, from the beginning of the Bill’s passage, that the maximum penalty for carrying a knife in a public place, which is currently only two years, should be increased. We believed that it was important for Parliament to send a signal, especially to younger people, that carrying knives was unacceptable.
It is surprising that the Government opposed us for so long because our proposal featured in their election manifesto. Page 47 states that
“we will introduce tougher sentences for carrying replica guns”—
“for those involved in serious knife crimes”.
Why were the proposals to increase sentences for those involved in serious knife crimes or tougher sentences for carrying a knife not included in the Bill? It is extraordinary that, only six months after the election, the Government voted against the amendment tabled on Report by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) to increase the maximum penalty to five years. The current Home Secretary and the Minister voted against it.
The Home Secretary is fond of accusing his opponents of talking tough, voting soft and hoping that no one will notice. If the Government talk tough by promising tougher sentences for knife crime in their manifesto and then vote against that policy only months later, that looks like talking tough and voting soft to me. It is hardly surprising that people noticed.
Nevertheless, we welcome the change of Home Secretary and, manifestly, of heart. For whatever reason, the Government eventually conceded in another place that tougher sentences were necessary. Lords amendment No. 48 would achieve that, and we were happy to support it in the other place as we support it now. U-turns appear fashionable in the Home Office. They have happened on mergers, the control of immigrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria, the purchase of a prison ship, which was cancelled only a few months ago, and now—unnecessarily—on the important subject that we are discussing.
The story on firearms is similar and not happy for the Government. Gun crime has doubled since they came to power. In the year when they were first elected, there were nearly 5,000 recorded firearms offences involving firearms other than air weapons. In 2005-06, the figure more than doubled to 10,000 offences. Air weapons, which the Bill covers, account for more than 1,500 injuries a year and imitation firearms are used in more than 3,000 crimes a year. We were therefore happy to support the provisions that tackled carrying such weapons, especially clause 28, which increased from 17 to 18 the minimum age at which an individual can purchase or hire an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon.
Nevertheless, we set out several concerns. They revolved around legitimate use of such weapons, first through historical re-enactment. Secondly, the Minister mentioned airsoft. Many of us found in our constituencies that people enjoy a legitimate recreation through that, and there was concern that the Bill could have an impact on it. I am therefore grateful for the reassurances that the Minister offered today. I understand that representatives of the Association of British Airsoft are due to meet the Minister within the next couple of weeks to discuss the matter further and I hope that their concerns will be allayed.
Concerns were raised in this House and in the other place about pistol shooting and the potential impact on legislation of competitive target shooting and the wish to train in this country ahead of major competitions, particularly the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. I understand that the Government and various lobby groups are now in discussion on how best to use the Home Secretary’s powers under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968to authorise competitors and officials to possess competition pistols for the duration of the games and special warm-up events. I hope that a satisfactory solution can be found so that our competitive teams can participate in the Olympics. It is important for legislation to recognise the interests of legitimate users.
Lords amendments Nos. 33 to 38 are technical and we are happy to support them. Amendment No. 39 is also technical and will ensure that an entry in the table of punishments in the Firearms Act reflects the correct age limit for possessing an air weapon. We are happy to support that, too.
Amendment No. 40 strikes out clause 31, which restricted the sale and purchase of ammunition loading presses. It was deleted in Committee only to be further amended by the Government on Report. The Minister has explained some of the reasons behind the change on loading presses.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 47 were tabled in May in Committee on the advice of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which stated that the absence of a prohibition would leave it unable to seize a realistic imitation firearm if discovered while it was being brought into the country. The amendments establish that such goods are liable to forfeiture under customs and excise Acts and that a customs officer will be able to use his discretion in deciding whether it is necessary to seize particular goods. Those amendments seem entirely sensible.
Amendments Nos. 42 to 45 are aimed at clarifying the defence for museums and galleries using realistic imitation weapons as outlined in clause 33. As drafted, the exemption applies only to public museums and galleries that do not distribute any profits. Amendment No. 42 removes those words, ensuring that private museums can also benefit from the exemption, and amendment No. 43 aims to iron out further deficiencies in the drafting of specific defences in the clause. As drafted, anyone selling a realistic imitation firearm to a member of the police or the armed forces would be found guilty under clause 32. By extending the defences in clause 33, the amendment would ensure that that does not happen.
Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 deal with the problems faced by the airsoft industry and other users of imitation firearms such as dog trainers and race starters. Once again, we welcome them. Indeed, we are happy with all the amendments in the group and gladly support the Government on them.
I shall make only a short intervention in the debate. I earnestly ask the Minister to reflect on the path of an excellent Bill, for which the Government are responsible, as a result of long campaigning and long negotiation with those who have fought for control of the curse of imitation firearms. It is a good Bill containing some excellent parts.
One problem now manifest is the concern of many hon. Members that the Bill may be amended by regulation, bringing into play thousands of imitation firearms that accurately resemble real firearms that would otherwise be banned under the Act. I ask the Minister to reflect on the extreme difficulties stemming from a legitimisation of airsoft weapons that, in every way, resemble lethal firearms.
The Minister says that this is an unobjectionable and harmless activity. It might be so. Some of us might find a game that involves the tracking and “killing” of other people by adult men to be a strange pastime, but if they wish to do it and if it assists them—I see that it might assist Opposition Members—with whatever problems they have, let them do it. The problem is not what they do; the problem is what they use.
Sales of airsoft machines are predicated on the machines being exact replicas of deadly firearms. The website of the main organisation involved suggests that it now has 22,000 members. If exemptions are going to be made to allow a group of that size to trade in imitation firearms on the internet or otherwise, a huge part of this Bill will be wrecked before it is enacted. If that happens, hundreds of thousands of people—perhaps millions—who have campaigned or supported campaigns will have to return to the campaigning ground, and an enormous advantage for this Government, which they thoroughly deserve, will be lost. In congratulating the Minister and the Department on the Bill, I ask my hon. Friend to take on board, as I know he will, the real concerns that exist throughout the country about these potential exemptions.
The amendments on increasing the sentence for carrying a knife or a bladed article in a public place are extremely significant. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who is no longer in his place, pointed out that, while carrying a gun carries a tariff of seven years, carrying a knife carries a tariff of only two years, yet both items kill people. He asked the then Home Secretary to consider increasing the maximum sentence for carrying a knife. The former Home Secretary agreed to examine specific measures to do so, and I am glad, therefore, that such measures have been introduced at this stage of the Bill.
It would be strange if I did not mention in passing that the Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment on Report to test the Government on the issue of knives having parity with guns. As we heard, the Conservatives tabled an amendment, which was voted on, introducing a tariff of five years for carrying a knife in a public place. Sadly, the Government voted against it, but I am glad that their view has now changed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a longer sentence can be passed for stealing a bike than for being caught in possession of a knife in a public place, so there is something still fundamentally wrong with the Government’s priorities? Does she further agree that more needs to be done to ensure that our schools are a safe and secure place of learning for youngsters? Given recent evidence and the number of knife incidents since schools returned in September, far more still needs to be done.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I will come to later. It is a shame that the Government could not bring themselves to vote positively on Opposition amendments at an earlier stage, but I am glad that the strengthened sentence for such a serious and prevalent criminal offence is now being introduced. It is important not just to have an appropriate maximum sentence but to put an end to the notion that carrying a knife is less serious, or does not compare with carrying a gun. Now that the House is moving towards agreement on the issue, perhaps we can agree that it is not really about what is tough and what is soft—it is what is effective that is important.
The way in which the judiciary apply the maximum sentence will decide what is effective. Rehabilitation and education must be part of any prison sentence for carrying knives because the objective of the new measures must be to change behaviour. We must also understand the difference that a lengthened sentence will make.
In a parliamentary question in June this year, I asked the Secretary of State how many people had been found guilty of wounding someone with a knife in each of the past five years and how many had received a prison sentence. I received the answer:
“The specific information requested is not available as we are unable to differentiate between the weapon(s) used in the various offences of wounding when supplying data.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2006; Vol. 448, c. 272W.]
That answer was about the offence of actually using a knife, whereas we are discussing what will happen to those convicted of carrying a knife, but I argue that we need to understand and measure the effect of the new measures. I ask the Minister to ensure that we are able to track accurately who gets a prison sentence and what other punishments are meted out to those found guilty of carrying a bladed weapon in public, so that we can judge what difference the Bill makes to re-offending rates by individuals and the general incidence of the wider offence.
The increased length of sentence gives the offence of carrying a knife in a public place a more appropriate weight. We need to be concerned, above all, with the victims of knife crime and their families. Whenthe media move on, the families are left to deal with the aftermath of the death—often of a young person. I hope that the lengthening of sentences for the offence will send a clear message about how seriously we take the issue and will have some effect on the prevalence of carrying.
The longer sentence for the offence of carrying a knife is welcome in my constituency and others, but what will ultimately protect the public most is a reduction in the number of those carrying knives. The Minister referred to a wider package of measures, which I welcome, in the Labour manifesto that were aimed at reducing knife crime. I encourage the Government to pursue the wider agenda vigorously.
Every new tragedy brings a spate of concern and coverage, but it is clear that young people carry knives for three reasons. First, they are afraid that if they do not carry a knife they will be vulnerable to other young people who do so, especially when out of their territory. Secondly, some young people who carry knives have few life chances, but they feel that if they carry a knife at least they will not be “dissed”. Thirdly, and ludicrously, knives are fashion accessories. We need to address those causes through all the agencies—schools, youth work, police work and parents.
We need to do a lot of work listening to young people and learn what we have to do to make them feel safe enough not to carry a knife. We need to learn what will disabuse them of the idea that it is in any way cool to carry a knife. The answers include diversion, care and attention, aspiration, education and life chances. The amendments would add deterrence and punishment to that list. Change will not be quick or easy, and it certainly will not be cheap, if we are really committed to it. The Bill will help if it is administered, enforced, measured and followed through, but I am sure that hon. Members recognise the mountain that we still have to climb if we are to change the knife culture on our streets.
The Liberal Democrats are happy to support the amendments on weaponry, which further the intention of the Bill to address the dangers of imitation firearms, without stopping those who have legitimate reasons to use realistic firearms, for re-enactment or theatrical purposes.
During our proceedings on the Bill, we have all come to know and understand more about weaponry in general, and airsoft in particular, than we might ever have thought necessary. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), because I, too, see no compelling reason for airsoft guns to look realistic. As he said, there are dangers in the quantity of such guns that could be available. It is said that if the gun does not look realistic it spoils the airsoft experience, although that is not something with which I particularly empathise. However, whether or not the decision is for a realistic gun, I cannot imagine that the sport would not survive.
The real mischief is that imitation firearms prove deadly when converted, or even when mistaken for real. A police officer does not have the chance to make that distinction, so exact are the replicas—nor would the man in the street or a trader in a store—but I hope that the Bill will halt that mischief.
The Bill has achieved an appropriate balance and includes a range of exceptions and defences, which will not inhibit or ban unnecessarily but will curtail activities where necessary. I am glad that the Government have listened to representations and the Liberal Democrats are content to support them.
I want to say a few words about amendment No. 48, which relates to knives. As the Minister knows, I sit part-time as a Crown court recorder and as a district judge in courts across London. The single most prevalent crime, which is growing and growing and growing, is that of carrying a bladed article in a public place.
In Committee, just over a year ago, I quoted some horrifying statistics from a Youth Justice Board survey carried out in 2004, which showed that 1 per cent. of pupils in England and Wales aged between 11 and 16 had at some time in the last year carried a knife in school for offensive reasons, and 2 per cent. for “defensive” reasons. That means that 60,000 of our children had carried a knife in school at some stage during the previous 12 months, which is horrific.
If Members went to the courts where I sit they would realise the prevalence of the offence of carrying a bladed article in public. They should listen to the witness who says that he or she was so terrified by the glint of the steel thrust at them in the street late at night that they had nightmares for months on end, and dared not go out into the streets for fear of coming across a possible attacker.
The House has not got properly to grips with the issue of carrying knives. I say to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) that it is all very well to focus on help, guidance and education, but tell that to the person whose life has been ruined by being threatened in the street with a nasty looking knife.
Although the amendment, which would double the possible sentence for carrying a bladed article in a public place, is welcome, have the Government really got their eye on the ball? They are increasing the sentence from two to four years. Terrific. So shall we now be sending everybody to prison for more than two years? No. The number of people sent to prison for carrying a bladed article in public is extremely low. In the last year for which figures are available, of the 5,000 to 6,000 people convicted for that offence, a paltry10 per cent. went to prison. Almost 90 per cent. of people who carry knives in public know that, if they go to court, they will not lose their liberty. Furthermore, many of that paltry 10 per cent. probably received a sentence of about two, three or four months.
Why is changing the maximum sentence from two years to four years suddenly considered to be a piece of magic that is the answer to the problem? It is not the answer; the answer to the problem is to enforce the existing law much more thoroughly, and, respectfully, in my view this Government have failed to do that.
About a year ago in Committee, we talked about knives in schools, and nobody could deny my figure of 60,000 schoolchildren carrying knives, so I asked a parliamentary question: how many prosecutions had there been for carrying knives in schools? Does anyone know how many there were? Out of, perhaps, 60,000 a year, there were only about 12 prosecutions. Is that a sufficient proportion?
What about the power that the Government gave themselves in the Bill to give teachers the power to search pupils, as if that is a panacea? Teachers have already for many years had powers to bring in the police and say, “I suspect that pupil of carrying a knife, so please search them.” The fact is that that is another aspect of the law that was simply not enforced. Much of our criminal law would be improved if we in this House legislated and spoke less, and saw to it that the police enforced the current law more strictly and forcefully.
However, let us examine what happened when I suggested a year ago that we should harshen-up the penalties for carrying a bladed article in a public place. As it happened a year ago, I forget if it was me who did that, and I shall be corrected if I am wrong—although I know that I am right. It might have happened in Committee in October last year, or it might have happened on Report, when I was carrying my party’s response to the Bill. The Government absolutely rubbished my suggestion that there should be tougher penalties. Let me inform the House of what was the best answer that the Government could give to my suggestion at that time, by repeating a statement by a Minister on knife crime. The Government’s approach—and I gently suggest that this will not carry the day—was as follows:
“It is essential to educate young people about the dangers and consequences of becoming involved in criminality associated with weapon-carrying and the Home Office funds and operates a number of community-based initiatives aimed at encouraging good citizenship and turning vulnerable young people away from crime.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 301W.]
I would love to be able to say to some poor complainant in a court who has had a knife shown at them, “Don’t you worry, member of the public, because the Government are going to fund a few initiatives and a few training programmes.” No: that is not the answer to this problem. Why on earth did the Government rubbish my approach a year ago—especially as they are, of course, now coming back to it? That is a great shame.
I have one final message for the Minister. He is a man of the world and a reasonable man, and he knows about the world outside—I know that he does—so he understands that knife crime is a terrible threat. Therefore, he must also understand that we cannot cure this great evil by simply having a little education here, and a little help there, and a doubling of the sentence as well. He must understand that the real way to deal with this problem is to get the police and the schools to operate a zero-tolerance approach to knives. There must be a tough, harsh attitude. We must make it clear to people that knives are wrong, and that if knives are present, they will be punished. Anything less than that simply will not do.
I congratulate the Government on introducing the measures, particularly those concerning the carrying of knives, but like my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I suspect that we will have to revisit and increase the maximum sentence for carrying a knife in due course.
I want to make two points. First, would the Minister care to join me in congratulating those in this country who take part in the sport of target shooting, wish them well in international events, particularly the Olympics, and find ways to ensure that they can train and compete on at least equal terms with those in other countries who practise the sport? We have a great tradition in it, and great prospects.
Secondly, I agree with what the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said about airsoft. However, how can we ensure that innocent children with toy guns do not fall foul of clauses such as clause 35, which deals with the specification for imitation firearms? In other words, how can we ensure that the police, in applying these new laws, use a certain amount of common sense?
As one who was relieved of his walkman 25 years ago by someone claiming to have a knife, this issue is rather close to my heart. He did not actually show me the knife, but I was not going to hang around to see it, so I passed over my Sony Walkman and went home and had a good cry to my mum. However, it was a fairly frightening experience at the time.
We are told by politicians from all parts of the House that we must be more robust in challenging youths in hoodies when they are preying on our communities, but one reason why people are scared to do so is the fear that they will produce a knife. Given what I have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), we have every reason to fear that they will. Knives are a huge concern.
Is my hon. Friend aware of last week’s survey showing that people in this country are only half as willing as people in other European countries, such as Germany, to challenge those involved in antisocial behaviour? The reason for that is the stupidity of political correctness, which means that victims and people who challenge youths committing antisocial behaviour are more likely to be brought before the courts by the police than those youths themselves.
I certainly did see that survey, and much of the problem stems from the fear of what might happen if we intervene. There have been some well-publicised cases in the past few months of young men and others with a community-minded spirit challenging local youths and ending up dead. There is also the fear that if one gets into a shoving match with such youths, one might well be arrested by the police and carted off, so better to walk on the other side of the road. However, I welcome the Government’s willingness and desire to increase the maximum sentence for carrying a knife from two to four years. It is then up to judges to ensure that that maximum sentence is implemented.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking made some very important points about schools. If I heard the Minister correctly, a school can intervene if it has reason to believe that a young person is in the possession of a knife. I hope that that does not preclude initiatives such as that in my constituency, where the police have purchased a portable knife scanner. Funnily enough, they do not catch many people with knives going through the scanner, but they do catch a lot of people who see the scanner and leave very quickly in the opposite direction. I hope that, where there is a perceived problem in a school, the police can deploy such a scanner without having to give due warning, so that the school can identify the scale of the problem and ensure that young people carrying knives are identified and the errors of their ways pointed out.
On the question of people having the errors of their ways pointed out, I hope that the Minister can confirm that people caught carrying a knife or other blade will not be subject to conditional cautions, allowed to plead guilty and then receive a fine. These young people need to understand the severity of their actions, and that can be achieved only by their appearing in front of a county, district or magistrates court. We have got to send a clear message.
My hon. Friend mentions the subject of knives in school. He probably knows of the case in which Greenwich council was forced to pay £11,000 to a boy who was expelled for taking a knife to school. The council was ordered to pay his mother compensation because of the anxiety and uncertainty that she felt, and to pay £6,000 for home tuition. Is that not the world gone mad?
That decision was clearly nonsense, and I would expect everyone on either side of the Chamber to regard it as such. The law is brought into disrepute by such cases. I ask the Minister to ensure that, when people are caught carrying knives, they appear before a judge or magistrate, and that prison sentences are given, so that the public can be confident that the new law to double the length of sentences is being used as a deterrent to stop people carrying knives.
First, I thank the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for his full and generous welcome for the amendments. I shall try to ignore what were, in general, rather flaccid and petty attempts at making party political points. They were entirely unnecessary, given that the House broadly accepts all the measures before us.
I tell the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is a recorder, and the hon. Members for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), and for Castle Point (Bob Spink), that we are not talking about the demonisation of all our children and young people—and I do not say that to seem politically correct in any way. If the hon. Member for Woking assumes that any of the provisions are a panacea or silver bullet—I hope that that is not mixing metaphors—he is profoundly wrong, and no one on the Government Benches has said that they are. We simply say that although awareness, education and initiatives such as knife amnesties are important, they work alongside the existing law and the improvements being made to it by the Bill. Without wishing to be churlish, I suggest that he has a word with his brother judges, when such cases come before them, about the leniency, or otherwise, that he alleged. We can tackle the scourge of knives only if all those matters are considered duly.
As to the petty party political points, everyone in the Chamber knows that there has been significant public and other political debate on the subject in the period between the Bill leaving the Chamber and being considered in the other place. It is only right and proper that a responsible and reflective Government should take account of those—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) laughs, as though the matter were trivial. This is a serious matter, which should be dealt with accordingly—and it has been dealt with in that way.
I shall ignore some of the other points made, which could best be described as rambling sophistry, if that language is not unparliamentary, particularly those made by the hon. Member for Woking. These are serious matters that should be dealt with in a serious way. On the serious point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), regulations are not simply put before the House and rubber-stamped. I understand that there will be scope for both Chambers to discuss airsoft and other matters when the regulations come before the House. I do not share his overall doom-and-gloom position on the integrity of the Bill, in terms of what we do following consultation on airsoft. People will have a chance to return to that subject and others when those regulations come before the House—that will be sooner rather than later—once the Bill secures Royal Assent. With that, I commend the Lords amendments to the House.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 34 to 66 agreed to.
Sale and disposal of tickets by unauthorised persons
Lords amendment: No. 67.
As was the case with the last clutch of Lords amendments, although this grouping has the broad heading of “Miscellaneous and minor amendments”, some of the amendments in it deal with important matters. Lords amendments Nos. 67 to 68 and 105 to 110 simply close loopholes in the legislation on ticket touting that are apparently being exploited by touts. Lords amendments Nos. 69 and 79 are on the power to enter and search the homes of registered sex offenders. In both cases, we agree with the Lords in their amendments.
Proposed new section 96B(10), which would be inserted by Lords amendment No. 69, says:
“‘senior police officer’ means a constable of the rank of superintendent or above.”
Is there a reason for choosing superintendent, or could many police forces consider a chief inspector, or a detective chief inspector, a “senior police officer” for management reasons?
That is a fair point. My understanding is that the provision gives an appropriate definition of “senior police officer” that is readily accepted across the piece in policing matters, and in legislation. If there is any other specific reason for defining the term in that way, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on the point, but that is my understanding.
We urge the House to agree with the Lords in their amendments Nos. 71, 73 and 74, which deal with a range of issues concerning the Security Industry Authority and sports grounds. I assure the House that Lords amendments Nos. 80 to 104 and 111 to 118 are—I know that colleagues bristle when they hear a Minister say this—minor and technical amendments to the schedules, and they are necessary if we are to achieve the policies already discussed. Although the Lords amendments are grouped together under the heading “Miscellaneous and minor amendments”, they are important, and we freely agree to them, as they will improve the efficacy and effectiveness of the Bill—indeed, that is the thrust of our response to all the amendments today. I commend them to the House.
I agree with the Minister that the amendments are more than just technical, and some of them are on important issues. I shall highlight just four. First, I should mention Lords amendments Nos. 67 and 68 on ticket touting. It was anomalous that the ticket-touting legislation did not apply to football matches. That was a particularly serious lacuna in the law, because the authorities’ inability to deal with ticket touting could cause public order issues, as it can compromise arrangements for segregating rival supporters. It therefore makes sense to close that loophole in the law.
The second amendment that I think is significant is No. 69, which is on “Power of entry and search of relevant offender’s home address”. We should not allow the amendment to be agreed to without recognising that it gives police significant additional powers relating to the notification requirements for sex offenders, or those who are cautioned for sex offences. The concern is that offenders are seeking to frustrate the process of risk assessment that the police must undertake on them. It is entirely legitimate for us to consider ways of dealing with offenders’ attempts to get round the various notification requirements, although the Government resisted doing so for some time. They are dealing with the problem by giving the police a pre-emptive power to enter premises and search the homes of the sex offenders who are on the register, even in circumstances that fall short of suspecting that an offence of whatever kind has been committed. The House should be wary of giving the police such pre-emptive powers. However, safeguards have been built into the amendment.
First, the police should have a warrant issued by a magistrate to enter the offender’s home. Secondly, the application must be made by a senior police officer, whose rank does not fall below that of superintendent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley(Sir Paul Beresford) pointed out, that is a senior rank, and thus a significant safeguard. Thirdly, the constable must have sought entry to the premises in question and been denied access by the offender on at least two previous occasions. Subject to those safeguards, we accept that the wrong that the Lords amendment seeks to address is a serious one. It is extremely important that the authorities are able to monitor sex offenders properly, and it is important for public confidence, so we welcome the additional power.
Lords amendments Nos. 81 to 104 deal with what Lord Addington described in the other place as
“one of the cock-ups of history.”
The application of the Private Security IndustryAct 2001 was broader than was intended as, inadvertently, it covers stewards employed by the governing bodies of clubs at sporting grounds. Lord Pendry said in the other place:
“There is no evidence of criminality or poor standards in stewarding services at sporting events, yet the cost to licence them under the Security Industry Authority would be prohibitively high.”— [Official Report, House of Lords,16 October 2006; Vol. 685, c. 636, 634.]
The provision caused problems when important events were held at venues such as Twickenham, Lords and Wimbledon. We do not want to increase costs unnecessarily, as there is no evidence that those stewards should be accredited to the same standards as other individuals whom the Act was intended to cover. We therefore welcome the removal of their inclusion.
Finally, Lords amendments Nos. 105 to 110 amend schedule 2, which deals with football banning orders. Some individuals have attempted to make the application of the orders difficult, and have avoided compliance, whether intentionally or otherwise, by changing their name, address or passport details. People should not be able to act in that way, so we welcome the power provided by the amendments. The remaining Lords amendments are consequential and technical amendments, which we are happy to support.
I welcome Lords amendmentNo. 69, and I am slightly at odds with my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert).
The Lords amendment is familiar, because in many ways it resembles a private Member’s Bill that I introduced, as well as amendments that I tabled in Committee when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was proceeding through the House. The Minister knows this but, for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, I should say that a police requirement is required because a few predatory paedophiles are among the most devious, unco-operative, persistent reoffenders to appear before the courts. Many of them know that the loophole in the law offers them an opportunity. When the police knock on their door, and ask for admittance so that they can risk-assess them, they just close it. Superintendent Matt Sarti of the Met told me about a case involving an individual who owns a block of flats. Most of the flats are inhabited by single mothers with children, but that individual believes that his front door is the door at the front of the block. The police know from his history that it is extremely likely that he is engaged in skulduggery and paedophile activities, but they cannot enter his flat. They have no reason to issue a warrant, so the Lords amendment is a necessity, because it provides another arm to protect children.
May I ask the Minister a few questions? First, I am sorry that it has taken so long to introduce the provision, as Conservative Front and Back Benchers have pressed for it for a considerable time. I am relieved that it has been introduced, but I would be grateful if the Minister explained why it has taken so long. Secondly, I have touched on the rank of the police officer involved. The Met is probably the only force with a child protection unit headed by a superintendent. Other child protection units are smaller and, at best, are headed by a detective chief inspector. It is too late now, but if there was an opportunity for second thoughts, it would be desirable to lower that rank from superintendent to chief inspector to provide flexibility, good management and reduced bureaucracy.
Thirdly, alternatives were discussed with the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) and his officials. There was a simple alternative to the approach that we have taken—it should be a requirement for the risk-assessed individual to show a duty to co-operate, for example, by allowing the police to enter their accommodation and by co-operating in the risk assessment. Lords amendment No. 69 permits the police to enter, but a problem arises, as co-operation could cease. If the individual is difficult and does not allow them to enter, their failure to co-operate with the risk assessment is guaranteed. The Minister’s predecessors and some officials accepted that there was a sensible alternative, so the provision is a missed opportunity. I believe—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that the Lords amendment was worded to match legislation that is either pending or has been introduced north of Hadrian’s wall.
All in all, I welcome the provision more strongly than my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs. It is overdue, and it is a necessity. Those individuals are progressively learning that they can buck the law and stop the risk assessment. Now, the police will be able to get in.
First, on the broad issue of football banning orders, it would be remiss not to put on record the fact that they have been hugely successful, not least in managing the behaviour of English fans at the World cup in Germany in the summer. It is therefore appropriate to tweak them to make them even more effective. Secondly, I accept the broad thrust of the points made by the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), but the measure is broadly in alignment with Scottish measures, and provides another method for tackling the problem. None the less, I welcome his welcome, which was stronger than the welcome from his hon. Friend the Memberfor Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). Surprisingly or otherwise, the point that I made about the rank of superintendent rather than chief inspector was right without any assistance from the officials in the Box. [Interruption.] Indeed, I was shocked, but it was an acceptable legal definition of a senior officer.
Beyond those simple points, the Lords amendments deal with matters of substance—they are not a catch-all series of technical amendments—that have received ample debate in both the Lords and the Commons. Once again, the Bill will be better for the inclusion of the Lords amendments, which I commend to the House.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 68 to 118 agreed to.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment No. 27: Mr. Alan Campbell, Michael Fabricant; Lynne Featherstone; Siobhain Mcdonagh and Mr. Tony McNulty; Mr. Tony McNulty to be Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
To withdraw immediately.
Reasons for disagreeing to the Lords amendment reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.