I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill builds on an unrivalled record that, since 1997, has seen the first sustained fall in crime for more than 100 years. Overall crime is down by 36 per cent., violent crime by 41 per cent., burglary by 54 per cent. and vehicle crime by 57 per cent. Since 2000, the reoffending rate for both adults and juveniles has fallen by more than 20 per cent. That is a tremendous achievement by our police forces and other agencies across the country. The Bill will build on those achievements by strengthening our efforts to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour among young people. It will bring greater protection to the victims of domestic violence, cut police bureaucracy and establish a new framework for the retention of DNA records.
The DNA database has actually been a contributory factor to the astonishing reductions in crime achieved in this country, but I give the hon. Gentleman full notice that he will have plenty of chances to intervene when I get to that part of my speech.
The Bill will make it an offence not to take reasonable precautions to prevent an air weapon from coming into the hands of children, thus sending a strong message about the need to improve safety.
Because of tragic circumstances, we have campaigned on that issue in Stoke-on-Trent. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that clause 42, which requires reasonable safeguards, can ensure that there is safe storage of airguns, to prevent further tragic accidents?
I do think that we can do that through the Bill, although it is not concerned only with guns in storage. We aim for greater safety as they are being transported and used as well, and of course the definition of “reasonable precautions” will vary in accordance with the circumstances involved. We can ensure that air weapons are properly locked away, which is an important point that my hon. Friend has raised for many years.
The Home Secretary will know of the many tragic incidents that we have had in Scotland as a result of airguns, and the repeated calls from the Scottish Government to have the issue devolved so that we can put in place the licensing of airguns to help address the problem. The Labour party agreed, through the Calman commission, that that should happen. Can we not devolve the responsibility for airguns, so that we can deal with the problem in Scotland?
We have agreed to devolve this issue, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland reported recently. The mechanics of doing that are a subject for the usual channels, but we very much agree on the matter.
By introducing a compulsory licensing scheme for wheel-clamping businesses, which will allow us to set limits on the fines that they can impose, the Bill will outlaw rogue operators who extort vast sums from drivers and bring the entire sector into disrepute. It will also make it an offence to possess a mobile phone within a prison without authorisation.
I do give that assurance, although as my hon. Friend will be aware, it seems from the amendments that you did not select, Mr. Speaker, that both Opposition parties intend to vote against Second Reading. We have to get the Bill through to enable those measures to come into force.
I wish also to announce a new provision that we intend to introduce in Committee. The House will be aware of the long-standing arrangements under the criminal injuries compensation scheme to compensate victims of violent crime, including terrorism. However, that scheme offers compensation only to victims of crimes committed in Great Britain. Although a number of other countries have their own compensation schemes, there are many parts of the world where, should a British citizen become a victim of terrorism, they would have no access to compensation. Sadly, many recent British victims of terrorist attacks abroad have been injured or killed because they are westerners, and there has been a particular increase in such attacks since 9/11. Whether those attacks are targeted at individuals or are more indiscriminate, terrorism is intended as a political statement and an attack on society as a whole and, as such, it has ramifications far beyond those who are directly affected. We will therefore introduce a new victims of overseas terrorism compensation scheme, which will broadly mirror the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme. In accordance with the long-standing general principle that the Government and Parliament do not legislate retrospectively, the new scheme will apply only to designated terrorist incidents that take place from today. However, we recognise that victims of overseas attacks in recent years continue to face hardship because of disabilities arising from the injuries they sustained.
I am now going to get a bit noisier. On another overseas matter, it has been suggested by Government spokesmen that they may use this Bill as an opportunity to adjust the law on universal jurisdiction—I refer to the case of Tzipi Livni, the former Foreign Minister of Israel. Do the Government intend to use the Bill to adjust the law on universal jurisdiction or will they use some other means to do so? If it is the latter, what other means will they use?
I cannot answer that question at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others are looking into the situation—the unacceptable situation in respect of Tzipi Livni—and will come to the House with proposals in due course.
As I said, in accordance with the long-standing general principle, we will not apply the measure retrospectively, but we recognise that we need something for past victims of terrorism. Subject to the passage of the Bill, we will provide assistance to eligible victims of overseas terrorist attacks since 2002 and will announce further details in due course.
Prior to the introduction of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, police and local authorities could do very little about behaviour that stopped short of being criminal but that was profoundly disruptive and the cause of intense distress. Following that groundbreaking piece of legislation and the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the police and local authorities have the powers they need to tackle antisocial behaviour. Problem behaviour usually ceases after one intervention, whether that is an acceptable behaviour contract or a simple letter from the police, and 93 per cent. of such behaviour ends after three interventions. However, the police alone cannot tackle the root causes of antisocial behaviour, and police powers, although necessary, are insufficient.
We now need to consider what further action to take to tackle the very small number of persistent young offenders. Although young people are far more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, those who are persistently involved in antisocial behaviour often graduate to petty crime or gang activity. Their disruptive behaviour is usually indicative of more deep-rooted problems, such as instability at home or chronic disaffection at school.
Family intervention projects have proved phenomenally successful in addressing the problems of the most chaotic and dysfunctional families involved in persistent antisocial behaviour. An independent study of the first 700 families to take part in a family intervention project shows dramatic reductions not only in antisocial behaviour, but in drug and alcohol problems, domestic violence and mental health problems. There have also been better educational outcomes for the children involved.
As the Prime Minister announced in September, we will roll out that project to cover 56,000 families by 2015. Parenting orders have also been of immense importance for parents who are either struggling to stop their child’s problem behaviour or who are adamant in their refusal to take any responsibility for their child’s actions.
The Home Secretary will recall the case in Leicestershire, when he criticised the lack of speed with which the police dealt with a complaint of antisocial behaviour. Is he satisfied that once such matters are brought to the attention of the police, there is sufficient contact between them and the local authority, at a high enough level, to ensure that they act swiftly to deal with any outstanding issues of that kind?
My right hon. Friend raises the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her children. It is clear that in the two and half years since that happened, dramatic improvements have been made by Leicestershire police, but the coroner pointed out the failures at the time.
On the second point, I am not yet confident that all police forces in all police authority areas are giving the necessary priority to this issue. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I have asked the crime reduction partnerships to ensure that by March we have a version of the policing pledge applicable to antisocial behaviour, so that people—wherever they live—can depend on a minimum standard of response and diligence on this issue. That is the right way to ensure that we have consistent standards across the country.
Although local authorities and youth offending teams have been able to issue parenting orders since 2004, they have not been used widely enough, despite their proven effectiveness. Under the proposals set out in this Bill, when the courts issue an antisocial behaviour order against a young person, they will be required to consider that child’s parenting needs. If that antisocial behaviour order is breached, a parenting order will be automatically triggered. The requirements imposed on parents by the courts will vary, from requiring them to address their drug or alcohol problems, or attend intensive parenting classes, to supervising their child at certain times of the day or night.
In addition, this Bill will address gang violence among young people. Although the numbers involved in violent gangs are very small, the damage they do to their communities, not to mention their own lives, is immense. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 gives police and local authorities new powers to issue injunctions to prevent gang violence. In bringing forward that legislation, we considered carefully whether such injunctions should also be extended to under-18s. Our conclusion at the time was that we needed to explore in more detail, along with the Youth Justice Board and other key partners, how such legislation would address the issues that were specific to children and young people. In particular, we needed to ensure that as well as offering greater protection to communities, such injunctions would also divert young people from long-term involvement in crime.
The Crime and Security Bill will therefore set out how gang injunctions can be applied to 14 to 17-year-olds. As with such injunctions for over-18s, they can be used to prevent the young person from going to a particular place, from meeting with other gang members or from using dogs as weapons to intimidate their community. But critically, they will direct young people towards targeted support that will help to address any underlying issues—problems at home or school, drug or alcohol abuse—that may be contributing to their unacceptable behaviour.
One of the most important elements of this Bill is the greater protection it will give to victims of domestic violence. Although incidents of domestic violence have fallen by 64 per cent. since 1997, and the conviction rate is rising, it still accounts for 14 per cent. of all violent crime and its impact continues to ruin the lives of women and children. Having been apprehended by the police, but released, a perpetrator of domestic violence has little to stop him returning to the family home. The victim then faces a stark choice between enduring further abuse or leaving their home altogether, which is why domestic violence remains a significant cause of homelessness among women. Domestic violence protection orders will give the police powers to ban the attacker from the home of their victim for up to 28 days, providing vital respite for victims to consider their options. Thus it will not be the victim who is forced to leave her home—as is too often the case at the moment—but the perpetrator.
Breaching a domestic violence protection order would be like breaching an injunction—we used to use injunctions for those purposes until a Court of Appeal ruling a few years ago—and we envisage that the punishments would be the same. The similarity with an injunction should guide the committee.
I am not equipped to go into the fine detail about that—unlike my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, who will be equipped to do just that in Committee—but as hon. Members from both sides of the House will realise, we thought that there were effective tools to use in those cases, but they were found to be ineffective because of those Court of Appeal rulings. Since those rulings were made three or four years ago, we have been looking seriously at replacing those tools with domestic violence protection orders.
I have given way once. Let us move on.
Over the past few years, we have made huge efforts to cut police bureaucracy. Thirty-six data collection requirements have been either removed or significantly reduced. Scrapping activity-based costing alone has saved around 260,000 hours of police time. The foot-long stop-and-account form has gone, saving another 690,000 hours. The Bill will advance that agenda by significantly reducing the length of the stop-and-search form. Under current legislation, when the police stop and search a suspect, they have to record the person’s name—or a description, if the person refuses to give their name—the details of any vehicle stopped and whether any injury or damage to property has been caused, even though the question is not applicable in the vast majority of cases. Under the proposals outlined in the Bill, the police will still be required to record the date, time and place of the stop. Officers will also continue to record the ethnicity of the person involved. It will still be possible to monitor the police’s use of stop-and-search both locally and nationally, and to hold them to account accordingly, but without the added burden of the unnecessary and time-consuming requirements of the current form.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. Of course we welcome the proposals to reduce bureaucracy and the work that has been done by Jan Berry on behalf of the Home Office. However, I wonder whether he recalls that I wrote to both him and his predecessor about the Staffordshire example, whereby the local police force reduced the bureaucracy involved in the recording of information, and asked that that good practice be transmitted to other police authorities. We do not have to wait for legislation to make a move on that, do we?
So says an MP from Staffordshire. The Staffordshire example is a good example that is being rolled out across the country. However, my right hon. Friend will know that it sometimes takes an interminable amount of time to get best practice spread out among 43 different police forces. However, even despite the best practice in Staffordshire, I still think that we should use this opportunity to reduce bureaucracy through legislation, as we did with those two other over-long forms.
Can the Home Secretary clarify one point? My understanding is that under the current rules if a vehicle with a number of occupants is stopped and searched, the police officer has to fill in a separate form for each occupant and a separate form for the motor vehicle. What will the situation be now?
If a motor vehicle is involved, a separate form for that vehicle will have to be filled out by the officer. The problem at the moment is that even if a vehicle is not involved, the police officer has to fill out a form that is applicable to one being involved. Whether we are talking about doing all four occupants in the car at one hit is another matter, but we must seek to reduce the bureaucracy to a bare minimum.
One major feature of the Bill is the proposed new framework for the retention of DNA records. No one in the House can doubt that the development of DNA profiling has had a profound impact on the police’s ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of some of the most horrific crimes. That was underlined yet again when Paul Hutchinson was convicted just before Christmas of the 1983 murder of 16-year-old Colette Aram, the subject of the first ever appeal on the television programme “Crimewatch”. Hutchinson was traced only because DNA had been taken from one of his relatives, who had been convicted of a minor offence in 2008.
In my constituency, where a young woman was brutally murdered more than a decade ago, the DNA record allowed a person who probably would have gone free to be brought to justice and put inside. I know that my right hon. Friend is only just beginning, but we have not heard any data in the House for the past two years about the number of crimes cleared up due to such records. The number for the first 10 years was well over 250,000. Does he have more up-to-date figures?
I do, and I will give my right hon. Friend exact figures. I believe that it is about 400,000 now, but I will update the House and ensure that— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) says from a sedentary position that it is going down. Crime is going down. The total number of detected crimes in which DNA match was available decreased by 11 per cent. between 2003-04 and 2008-09. Over the same five-year period, police-recorded crime fell by 17.1 per cent. That is why the number of DNA matches is going down.
But is the number not also going down for an even more obvious reason? There was a stock of crime that was not cleared up. When the DNA of people who commit further crime is related back to the stock, it clears up those crimes. Under normal procedures, one would expect that, over time, the number of crimes cleared up due to the keeping of historical data in the data bank would decline. It seems obvious.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are now discussing something on which I thought all parties in the House agreed: the benefits of DNA. DNA was a British discovery, by the way. We have not even got to discussing how long information is kept, and already we are seeing signs of opposition from those on the Conservative Benches.
No one in the House disputes the importance of keeping the DNA of guilty people; it is the indefinite keeping of innocent people’s DNA that is at issue. However, I wanted to make a particular point. Much of the unhappiness about keeping the DNA of innocent people would be avoided if there were a clearer, consistent national system for the removal of innocent people’s DNA from the database. At present, it varies from one police authority to another, and the unfairness breeds discontent.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the Bill contains provisions, which I will discuss in a moment, to deal with that. She is also right that the issue at the moment is the benefit of DNA to the police and other authorities in detecting and deterring crime.
The Home Secretary knows that nobody disputes the value of DNA in solving cold cases as well as current crimes, but there is one figure that I would like him to confirm or deny. It relates to the holding of the DNA of innocent people—people who have not been found guilty and were released after arrest. Just over a year ago, the Prime Minister attributed the clearing up of 114 murders to such DNA. In other words, as a result of holding the DNA of previously innocent people, the police cleared up 114 murders. Is that correct, and if so, will the Home Secretary provide a list of them?
The right hon. Gentleman says—this is the third time that I have heard it—that no one is disputing the advantage of DNA. I am stuck at this part of my speech because so many people have disputed it. We hear from a sedentary position that the numbers are coming down. The combination of the right hon. Gentleman’s question and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) means that I should provide some statistics to the House, because the statistics are interesting. I do not happen to have in my speech the one for which the right hon. Gentleman asked, but I have some others that he will find of interest.
I mentioned Paul Hutchinson. We can also take the case of Matthew Fagan. In 2006, he was sacked from a London company. In January 2007, he returned to the offices at the weekend to steal computers and was disturbed by a former colleague, Cathy Marlow, whom he brutally murdered. A significant factor in Matthew Fagan’s conviction was that DNA retrieved from under Cathy Marlow’s fingernails matched his profile, which was on the database because he had previously been arrested but not convicted for a disorder offence.
There was also the case of Abdirahman Ali Gudaal, arrested in July 2006 for robbery, but not convicted. His DNA was sampled and his record retained. In June this year, he was found guilty of the brutal rape and kidnap of a woman in Coventry, his DNA having matched samples found at the crime scene. Those are two examples of people who had been arrested but not convicted, and who subsequently committed brutal crimes, who would not have been brought to book without the DNA database.
In a recent debate, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on this issue, described such cases, including the tragic case of Sally Anne Bowman, as “anecdotal”. They are, of course, the personal tragedies that make this legislation necessary, and the response of the hon. Gentleman’s party is woefully inadequate.
In developing this framework, we have sought to balance several important issues: first, human rights considerations. The House will be aware of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.
I am afraid that the Home Secretary did not answer my question. Of course the individual cases that he mentions are incredibly important; indeed, I shall refer to some of them if I am lucky enough to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, and deal with them—[Interruption.] I shall do so despite the heckling from the Home Secretary’s colleague. The simple fact is that the Home Secretary has not answered my question about the Prime Minister’s assertion that 114 murders were solved as a result of previously innocent people’s DNA being checked. Is that figure right or wrong? If it is right, may we have a list of those cases?
I told the right hon. Gentleman that I would provide the House with statistics, and I have given two examples. Actually, even if there were only one example of a vicious murderer or rapist being brought to book in this way, I know that many Conservative Members would believe that this was worth doing—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are asking me to give names. I will provide the information that the right hon. Gentleman wants, but I have already given the House two very dramatic cases that would not have been solved under the policy being put forward by the Liberal Democrats, which we now know means that no one who is innocent and not convicted could remain on the DNA database.
The position of the Conservatives, as set out in the amendment that you quite rightly did not select, Mr. Speaker, is:
“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Crime and Security Bill because the retention of the DNA of innocent citizens, which is the centrepiece of the Bill, is unacceptable.”
Yet their policy is to retain the DNA of innocent people. At least the Lib Dems, whose policy on this was overturned at their conference, say that we should not keep anyone’s records. At least their policy is clear. The Conservatives’ policy is actually contrary to their own amendment. They think that people who have been arrested for, but not convicted of, less serious charges should not remain on the DNA database, but that those who have been arrested for, but not convicted of, serious offences should remain on it. The most recent research shows that there is no difference between the two in regard to what is known as the hazard curve, and to the propensity of those people to be arrested again.
So far as I am aware, only one country is currently looking at that possibility: the United Arab Emirates. For reasons of sheer practicality, no Government of any persuasion in this country would introduce such a scheme. That does not in any way suggest that the Opposition are right to—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) can chatter away on the Front Bench, but the simple fact is that their policy is to have innocent people on the DNA database, despite declaring that it is wrong to do so. Their problem is that there is absolutely no research to show that those people are more or less likely to be re-arrested than those who are arrested but not convicted on less serious charges.
I am slightly mystified by the position that the Home Secretary has taken. He just told the House that he thought it was crucial for the clearing up of crimes that this innocent DNA should be held on the DNA database. Will he kindly explain to us, then, why he does not have a consistent policy—it probably would get through the ECHR—of having every single person in the country giving their DNA?
First, I do not think that that would be proportionate. Secondly, we do not have compulsory vaccinations in this country for similar reasons. The thought of having to hold someone down to take a swab from the inside of their cheek because they were reluctant to give one is something that no serious politician could suggest. However—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashford says from a sedentary position that we do that all the time. I do not know which policies he has been looking at, but we do not hold anyone down to take human material from them. We would not do that, just as other countries would not propose having a compulsory system.
What Conservative Members have to explain is the huge disparity and contradiction in their argument. Either there should be a DNA database that has people who are arrested but not convicted on it for a period of time; or, the logic is followed of the argument that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has made—that people are innocent until proven guilty. If that is the case, the Conservatives’ policy—God forbid—should be the same as that of the Liberal Democrats, not the halfway house they are in at the moment.
And anything further I can take up on the train later, no doubt. The right hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way and I have two points for him. First, the policy he is mocking is, of course, the policy introduced by the Labour Government in Scotland at the time, so he should take that up with them. Secondly, I would not want him to mislead the House, inadvertently or otherwise, so will he return to his earlier point about the hazard curve, which he says is effectively flat? He says that there is no difference in respect of the likelihood of committing a crime in the future between someone who is innocent of any crime and someone who has committed a crime, yet the Home Office itself has published paper after paper after paper showing that that is not true.
I accept that there is not a great wealth of research in this area, but it will grow in all parts of the world. The latest research we have is being independently peer-reviewed as we speak. It suggests that the Jill Dando Institute research on which we based our original proposals—which showed a difference in the hazard curve, or the propensity to be re-arrested, between those arrested but not convicted for serious offences and those arrested but not convicted for less serious offences—is wrong. In fact, the Jill Dando Institute itself said—unfortunately, nine months after it produced the research—that it was flawed. The latest research shows that there is absolutely no difference between the two, which is a very important factor. As to the Scottish scheme, I shall come on to that in a few moments.
Let me return to what I was saying about human rights considerations. This House is, of course, aware of the judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights on 8 December 2008, which ruled that although holding DNA records of those who had no conviction could well be proportionate in some cases, it was unlawful to hold those records indefinitely. This Bill responds to that judgment.
Secondly, we must consider what the most recent evidence in this developing field of research tells us. The research we published, along with our proposals in November 2009, shows that there is a link between previous arrests and future arrests. It also shows that, as time passes, that link diminishes so that after six years—not two, three or four, but six—the probability of re-arrest is no higher than for the rest of the population.
Thirdly, we must consider concerns about privacy. Many people find the idea of someone retaining their genetic material disturbing, which is why, although not required to do so by the European Court judgment, this Bill will require all DNA samples—the actual genetic material—to be destroyed after six months. What is retained by the database is the unique 20-digit code that forms the DNA profile.
Fourthly, we must be mindful of the public’s very reasonable expectation that the police will harness this enormous scientific advance to protect them from the most horrific crimes, and ensure justice for victims and their families. Under the framework proposed by the Bill, the DNA profiles of all those convicted of crimes, and all juveniles convicted of serious offences, will be held indefinitely, and the police will be given the powers to take DNA samples from people who were convicted of serious violent and sexual offences in the past, before DNA was routinely taken, and from those who have committed such offences and are returning from overseas. The DNA profiles of those who are arrested but not convicted will be retained for six years, in line with the findings of the best available research. I will talk more about that soon.
There is one important exception to the six-year rule. As national security investigations, including counter-terrorism cases, can go on for many years, setting a six-year time frame would potentially be damaging in these circumstances. We therefore propose to allow the retention of DNA profiles beyond the six-year point in these exceptional cases, which have been known to be live for as long as 25 years.
Under the framework set out in the Bill, the records of under-18s convicted of serious crimes will be held indefinitely. However, for those convicted of minor offences, if it is a first conviction, the record will be kept for five years, and only if it is a second conviction will that record be held indefinitely. We make this distinction because it is right that the criminal justice system distinguish between adults and children. For under-18s who are arrested for, but not convicted of, both serious crimes and minor offences, their records will be retained for three years. The records of 16 to 17-year-olds—those entering the peak offending years—will, however, be retained for six years where they have been arrested for, but not convicted of, a serious offence.
My point is that we should hold it for longer for 16 to 17-year-olds, who, as the hon. Gentleman recognises, are entering the peak offending years.
Currently, those seeking to have their DNA profile removed from the database may apply to the chief constable, who is, however, under no obligation to fulfil this request. The Bill will place a legal duty on the chief constable to remove the DNA records in circumstances where the arrest was unlawful, the taking of the biometric data was unlawful, the arrest was based on mistaken identity, or where there were other circumstances relating to the arrest or the alleged offender that would make it appropriate to destroy the material.
What I am saying is that the current arrangements—which are as my hon. Friend describes, whereby the power is completely with the chief constable, even in cases involving mistaken identity or unlawful action—will change, in that we will set out in law the circumstances in which DNA must not be retained. In those circumstances, it will be removed if the individual requests that—some individuals may want their DNA to be kept on the database—but not in other circumstances, perhaps, because we cannot be absolutely prescriptive here, and we will need to define this. The matter will be discussed further in Committee, no doubt. As the Bill proceeds through the House, we will also need to pay attention to the question of whether there should be another authority to go to on appeal.
The Home Secretary said earlier that the DNA of an innocent person investigated for a possible terrorist offence could be held for a much longer period—up to 25 years, I think he said. On whose authority will such decisions be taken?
That system will be set out in the Bill; there will be no discretion for chief constables on that. What I am saying is that we need to keep the DNA records of those arrested but not convicted for terrorist charges for longer.
The Conservative Party has made unfavourable comparisons between the retention framework that we are proposing in this Bill and the model that has been adopted in Scotland. The Conservatives believe that that system should be enshrined in this Bill, but they are profoundly wrong. The Scottish model, like our proposals, accepts that those who are arrested for an offence, even if they are not convicted, are more likely to be convicted of an offence on a future occasion, but it differs on three significant points. First, it only retains DNA records of those who are arrested for but not convicted of serious crimes. It does not take into account the most recent research—I mentioned it in response to an intervention—which shows that the seriousness of the offence for which someone is initially arrested but not convicted has no bearing on the likelihood of re-arrest. Indeed, the Scottish model was based on no research whatsoever.
In 2008-09 alone, 79 matches were drawn from the DNA database for cases of rape, murder or manslaughter from people who had been arrested but not convicted of an offence. This is an important point. In 36 of those cases—nearly half of them—the DNA match was vital in securing a conviction. In respect of those 36 cases, 13 of the perpetrators were on the database because they had been arrested for but not convicted of a serious crime. That means that 23 perpetrators were on the database because they had been arrested for but not convicted of a minor offence. So if we were to apply the Scottish model, as the Conservative party urges us to do, it is highly likely that in this year alone these 23 victims of the most serious crimes and their families would have been denied justice—23 killers and rapists would have remained free to kill and rape again. It is unlikely that the cases I referred to earlier of Cathy Marlow’s killer, Matthew Fagan, or the rapist Abdirahman Ali Gudaal would have been detected through DNA evidence, because both were arrested but not convicted for less serious crimes. This is at the heart of this debate.
The Home Secretary will of course recall that it was the Labour Executive, in conjunction with the Liberals, who got this Scottish system through the Scottish Parliament. Is he saying today that the Scottish Parliament should simply copy and introduce his proposals just because he feels that this is the right thing to do?
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s plea of not guilty, which I accept. I am not trying to impose our system on Scotland; I am saying that the argument being made by the Conservatives, which is that the Scottish model is the one we should adopt, is profoundly wrong.
May I ask the Home Secretary to respond to a letter written by his colleague, Lord Bach, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, on 5 July 2009? He said the following in relation to research carried out on the Scottish system by Professor James Fraser:
“He did not uncover any evidence to suggest that this approach to retention has caused any detriment to the detection of serious crime in Scotland”.
Is the Ministry of Justice wrong?
I am not going to respond to a quote taken out of context from a letter. We are all trying to find reasons why the Scottish model should not be considered sacrosanct, so here are the facts. Twenty-three rapists and murderers would be free if this country adopted what the Conservative party is asking us to adopt. Conservative Members can shake their heads as much as they want, but those are the facts.
The second issue relating to the comparison with the Scottish model is that that model also proposes that the records of those not convicted should be initially retained for three years, as opposed to six. However, at the end of that period the Scottish courts have the power to extend the retention period for successive increments of two years at a time. Those, like the Conservative Opposition, who have argued for the Scottish model to be adopted here have done so on the basis that they oppose the indefinite retention of DNA records of those who have committed no crime—the “innocent”, to cite their amendment. However, in advocating this model, they are in fact arguing in favour of a system that can retain the DNA records of innocent people indefinitely.
Finally, under Scottish legislation, it is not just the DNA profile that is retained, but the DNA sample—the actual genetic material. For all those convicted, it is retained for at least 20 years. For those arrested but not convicted of serious offences, it is retained initially for three years, but potentially for longer should the courts exercise their power to extend the retention period. Under our proposals, as I have mentioned, this material must be destroyed within six months.
I make no criticism of the model adopted in Scotland—[Laughter.] I have made only mild criticisms of it. We have separate legal systems and, on this sensitive issue, I shall not proselytise on what is in the best interests of the Scottish people. I am here to talk about what is in the best interests of England and Wales. I believe that the framework we propose is proportionate, led by the best available evidence and guided by public opinion and the professional judgment of the police.
I know that my right hon. Friend is trying to be fair to the present Government of Scotland, which is now an SNP minority Government. A plea of mitigation from some of us in Scotland is that we would rather see the system he is introducing. For example, the murder of a dear and close cousin of mine has been, as yet, unsolved for 20 years. I would like to see a system where criminals can be screened, so that we might find the perpetrator. I ask my right hon. Friend please to consider giving advice to our colleagues in Scotland to think again and to bring in a system like the one that he is proposing.
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland makes the same point, as do many people in Scotland. My point is that the Government at the time was a Labour-Lib Dem coalition and there was no research to go on. The introduction of the three-year limit was not based on any research, because the research did not exist. The research now suggests that the hazard curve does not run out in three years—people do not become as likely as the rest of the population to be arrested again if they are arrested but not convicted—but after six years, and we believe that that is a conservative estimate.
I also think that it is wrong to keep the genetic material. For that reason, and for all the other reasons I have mentioned, the Opposition are absolutely wrong to seek to adopt the Scottish model under this Bill.
Why is it, then, that we have received a briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which will be aware of the research to which my friend has alluded, advising us that if my friend’s proposals go through,
“the Government is likely to be in breach of Article 8 of the Convention and be acting unlawfully”?
How come the commission has got it wrong?
Do not ask me why the commission has sent letters to Members suggesting that. Of course, there are profound misunderstandings on this point. There are profound misunderstandings among those who sit on the Opposition Benches. Let me give one example of such a misunderstanding from the hon. Member for Ashford, who stated a while ago—he has not repeated it since, so perhaps he now understands—that Scotland had a better success rate than England. He said that he had read the statistics from the 2006 national DNA database annual report, which showed that the Scottish DNA database had a 68 per cent. success rate while that in England and Wales had only a 52 per cent. success rate. I trust that he has since found out that he was not comparing like with like. In Scotland at that time, they were able to compare the matches with the crime scene and the crime scene with the individuals. In England, we had only half the story in 2005. Now we have the whole story. The annual report for 2009 will show that the success rate in England and Wales is 13 per cent. higher than that in Scotland.
There are an awful lot of misperceptions about this, and all I know is that this Parliament must make up its own mind. It will be bombarded with evidence from all sides and with evidence and pleas from the victims of crime. I believe that on the basis of the evidence and research that is now available, we should certainly not adopt the Scottish model, and should adopt the measures set out in this Bill.
May I come to the defence of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)? A few weeks ago he produced some interesting research about the postcode lottery. Depending on where people lived, they had their DNA removed from the database or they did not. Surely the proposal alluded to by Peter Neyroud—that one body should look at the issue of retention, rather than 43 chief constables—may well be more attractive. He would still be able to produce his guidelines, but there would be one set of certain facts and criteria, rather than 43 chief constables’.
No, I am not giving way again. [Interruption.] The peroration is over. This can hardly be called a peroration.
Along with measures to curb antisocial behaviour and gang involvement among young people, and to cut police bureaucracy and grant greater protection to victims of domestic violence, the Bill will bring greater protection and peace of mind to the public and make our streets safer. I commend the Bill to the House.
As a typical Bill at the tail-end of a Parliament, this had all the potential to be a doggy-bag of a Bill, with a combination of leftovers from what the Government have been doing right across the Parliament, a last-gasp attempt to win support from some frustrated groups ahead of the general election—the kind of Bill that should be relatively uncontroversial and which, given the Government’s record, would probably turn out to be pretty meaningless as well. But as always, the Government have left one big sting in the tail. For that reason, we will not stand by and allow the Bill to pass through Parliament before the election.
It is nice to have a debate on a real point of principle. That is what we will debate this afternoon. Unless the Home Secretary finally accepts that his proposals on the DNA database are opposed across the House and unless he accepts that things will have to be different, we cannot support what he is doing. His remarks, if anything, have further confused rather than clarified both his position and the debate.
Not only is it a last-gasp Bill, but the Home Secretary could not bring himself to brief the House on some of its provisions. There was not a word on wheel-clamping, and when I intervened kindly to assist the Home Secretary to comment on wheel-clamping, I was uncharacteristically and uncharitably slapped down.
I do not understand why the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) says that nothing was said about wheel-clamping. I recall intervening on the Home Secretary to ask when proposals on wheel-clamping would be introduced. He did exactly what the hon. Gentleman says he did not do.
That will be an interesting subject for debate in the Tea Room later. We were so confused by some of the Home Secretary’s remarks that I am not entirely surprised that my hon. Friend may have overlooked a comment slipped in. I leave it to him and the hon. Lady to discuss what really happened.
The Government’s track record of running the Home Office has been a chapter of disasters. Successive Ministers have struggled to get to grips with the challenges that we face and the briefs that they have had. Time and again they have failed to do so. They even tried splitting the Department in half to make things easier, and still it did not work. We have had fiasco after fiasco—the foreign prisoner releases, yobs to be marched to cash points, illegal immigrants working in the Home Office canteen, and the abortive attempt to merge police forces, yet under the Government’s stewardship we have seen Britain become a more violent society.
Last year more than a million violent crimes were recorded by the police. We have seen antisocial behaviour become more and more endemic in communities throughout the country. We have seen our police spending more and more time on process rather than policing. All that has happened while the principles on which our criminal justice system is founded have been steadily eroded. This is a Government who do not believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, who do not understand how much damage is done to the principles of democracy when traditional freedoms are curtailed in the name of security, and who knowingly allow their tough new anti-terror powers to be used for routine policing. In many ways it is not surprising that the Bill is a collection of odds and sods, combined with yet another failure to understand the importance of civil liberties. There is no vision and no strategy—more evidence of a Government who are out of ideas and out of time.
The Bill has aspects on which we can agree, however. The measures on stop and search are a step in the right direction, and they come after years of pressure from Conservative Members on the scale of police bureaucracies. We do not actually believe that our police officers like spending time in police stations in the warm; we think that they want to get out on to the streets and do the job, but that the bureaucracy that this Government impose keeps them in police stations.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, made a valuable point: a number of changes could be made without primary legislation. The Government have a habit of introducing laws in this House to create a headline—to create a sense that they are doing something—but what that does is create more and more laws. There is then more and more confusion, and, actually, we add to the bureaucracy that our front-line professionals end up dealing with.
Even the proposals on stop and search do not go far enough, though, because the Bill will only reduce the procedure’s reporting requirements. The Home Secretary struggled with, and was unclear about, the issue of four people in a car who are subject to a stop-and-search procedure; in fact, he even appeared to suggest that if there was no car, the form for a car would still have to be filled in. The reality is that the current process is much too complex.
I do not know whether the Home Secretary has ever stood on the street with a police officer who is trying to grapple with current stop-and-search procedures. Why does not the Home Secretary adopt our proposals to scrap the form altogether? Officers could radio in the basic search details, creating a taped or transcribed police log at the centre without the need to fill in official forms. The Bill simplifies an extremely complex situation; it does not make the scale of change that we could genuinely make.
Does the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that we introduced stop-and-search recording because the procedure was being used indiscriminately against ethnic minority communities throughout the country, especially in London, and that we still need to monitor how that procedure is being used?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. It is one reason why we have been so concerned about the indiscriminate use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which the courts have now ruled illegal. That section included anti-terror powers that had been used for purposes not related to terrorism, and that has happened too many times under this Government. We are not arguing for the lack of any record at all; we are arguing that it is possible to go further than the Government. Our work should be about simplifying the job for our professionals on the street. We put them in a difficult position when we leave them filling out forms on the streets, and we could go further. It is a shame that the Government remain unambitious in that respect.
The Home Secretary himself admitted recently that the
“bureaucracy dragon had yet to be slain”,
and the Bill would barely do anything to change that. Worryingly, there is evidence that things are getting worse, not better. Asked whether officers were spending more time on patrol now than two years ago, Jan Berry, whom the Government brought in as their reducing bureaucracy advocate, said:
“If you talk to police officers they would say it has remained the same or got slightly worse”,
which is worrying. She said also that “progress had been slow” on reducing red tape. We already have a clear sense that the Government’s efforts are half-hearted, and the Bill will not do much to change that.
We have only to look at the Government’s damp squib of a policing White Paper to see the extent to which they have run out of ideas and direction. After all, they do not really believe in the existence of excessive police bureaucracy. Has the Home Secretary, unlike the Justice Secretary, ever been into a police station and gone through their filing cabinets, which are full of the forms that officers have to fill in to deal with cases? Information is duplicated, and they have to write down the same things time and again. If the Home Secretary has not, I suggest that he does, because he will be genuinely shocked at the burden that we place on our police officers. That really needs to change, and he certainly needs to tell his friend the Justice Secretary before he makes comments that, frankly, I found insulting to our police officers.
The Bill contains a provision requiring a court to impose a parenting order when a young person is found to have breached their antisocial behaviour order. When will the Government realise that more of those top-down solutions is simply not good enough. The courts can already impose a parenting order on the breach of an ASBO. The problem is that ASBOs themselves do not work. The process of getting an ASBO is so complicated. They take months to introduce, a huge amount of time is spent by local officials, there are multi-agency meetings, and, for many persistent offenders, they end up being a badge of honour. Almost two thirds of under-16s breach their ASBOs. What we need in this country is a fresh approach to tackling antisocial behaviour—
I shall be delighted to. I hope that the Minister’s Government will call the election soon, that there will be a change of Government and that we can get on with the job of making the changes that Britain needs. What we need are instant responses to antisocial behaviour; we do not need to let offenders get away with it again and again. [Interruption.]
Order. I say to Members on both Front Benches, particularly the Government Front Bench, that interjections from a sedentary position are not allowed. If Ministers want to intervene, they should get to the Dispatch Box and do so in the normal way, so that we can have a sensible debate. I think that the Secretary of State was about to intervene.
I suggest that at some time the Home Secretary go and look at the detailed statistics behind offending. He will know that the peak age for antisocial behaviour is 15; the age of onset for antisocial behaviour is 12. The right hon. Gentleman’s Government came up with an option to march yobs to cash points. Most of us who are parents know that 15-year-olds do not have cash cards.
The Government might get their policies right if they did the detailed work and did not come up with ideas utterly unrelated to the lifestyles of the young people who commit these acts of antisocial behaviour. When we publish our detailed proposals, the Home Secretary will see that our approach will make a difference, unlike the record of the Government in the past 12 years. Their approach has made very little difference to communities up and down this country. In some cases, it has led to a shocking abuse of the lives of innocent people.
The Bill also seeks to create a new offence of possession without authorisation of a mobile phone, or parts of one, in a prison. We support that measure, but why has it taken so long for the Government to realise that they need to address the problem? Yes, phones are banned from prisons, but thousands have been found in the past year, hundreds in high-security prisons. The number of phones found in prisons has more than tripled; in 2008, more than 8,000 mobile phones and SIM cards were confiscated in prisons in England and Wales, compared with just over 2,000 in 2007.
In 2007, a convicted al-Qaeda supporter was caught using a mobile phone to build a website from inside a high-security prison. A report by the counter-extremism Quilliam foundation wrote that in 2007 Tariq al-Dour, jailed for running jihadist websites from London, was caught accessing the internet from Belmarsh prison using his laptop, provided by the Prison Service, and a smuggled mobile phone. Furthermore, the extremist cleric Abu Hamza is thought to have got an audio message out of Belmarsh that may have been recorded on a mobile phone and passed to supporters outside. [Interruption.] Government Ministers—[Interruption.]
Order. Perhaps Government Front Benchers did not hear what I said a moment ago. They listened to the Secretary of State with respect, and they should do the same for the Opposition spokesman.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration is very excited this afternoon. He is particularly excited to find out what we will do to tackle those problems, and I hope to give him the opportunity to ask questions from the Opposition Benches after 6 May, or whenever it is. At that point, we will be delighted to set out our policies. For now, however, we are scrutinising his Department’s record, which is lamentable in this area. If he thinks that these cases are isolated, he should talk to some of the families involved in some of the highest-profile criminal acts in this country in recent times, including brutal murders. Those families have been at the raw end of bullying from within prisons, on Facebook and other networking sites, and have been extremely distressed as a result. There are things happening in our prisons that are not acceptable, and it is for the Ministry of Justice, to which I hope they will be making representations, to take stronger measures to prevent prisoners from gaining access to electronic equipment in prison to perpetrate activities of a different sort.
I am sure that most people in the House agree that the measure is a very good idea. However, is not the real problem the fact that at the moment prisoners carry out assaults on prison officers and are very rarely prosecuted for it? If they are, the amount added to their sentences is so minimal that it makes no real difference in overall terms. What on earth is the point in passing this legislation if no real sanction is to be applied? Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that sanctions must be heavily applied to those who are caught?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. He will know that I have also expressed the view that how we treat assaults on our police officers is shamefully lax. In many cases, such assaults are dealt with using virtually no penalty at all. That sends out all the wrong messages. It is not acceptable not to protect our criminal justice professionals against the actions of those who would attack them.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in the past two years, when I was prisons Minister at the Ministry of Justice, we signed with the Prison Officers Association an agreement on zero tolerance on attacks on prison officers? I will not take lessons on that, because there has been co-operation on the issue. The Government will not tolerate attacks on prison officers. Furthermore, they have put massive investment into the mobile phone problem, with body orifice security scanner—BOSS—chairs and extra security measures. They have looked at blocking measures and security with police forces at a local level.
There are only two points to make in response to that. First, will the Minister then explain why the Government have not taken steps to provide greater protection to our police officers? Secondly, if the Government have such a good record, why do they need to introduce measures in this Bill at all? Why have they not already succeeded in dealing with the problem?
On the first point, attacks on police officers are intolerable. On the latter point, we have acknowledged that there is a loophole. Having looked at blocking measures and considered investment in BOSS chairs in prisons, and having taken security measures, including with the police, this is another measure to help to tighten up a difficult situation. I cannot guarantee that no mobile phone will ever be smuggled into prison, but there will be an extra penalty for people who are found in possession of one.
The point that the Minister misses is that we are 12 years into a Labour Government. They have had year after year to deal with this problem, and now they are trying to do so in a last-minute Bill in the last hurrah of their third term. Nobody will take them seriously when they say that this is a big priority, given that they have missed all the opportunities they have had over the years to do something about it before now.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that mobile phone technology changes year on year, and that the mobile phone that he used in 1997 is slightly different from the one that he uses today and will be slightly different from the one that he uses next year? The technology changes and we have to keep on top of it; this offence will help to support that initiative.
The reality remains that this Government have been in power for 12 years. Year after year, the number of mobile phone seizures in our prisons has risen rather than fallen. It is all well and good the Government saying, as a last hurrah three years after some of these things happened, that they are introducing these measures. That does not create the sense that they have sought to stamp out something that has been a problem for many years.
We will have to look carefully at how the proposed domestic violence protection notices and domestic violence protection orders will work in practice. Concerns have been raised about the proposed breadth and scope of those civil measures. It is important that they are not used as inappropriate substitutes for pursuing proper sanctions in the courts against perpetrators of domestic violence. None the less, there is agreement across this House that domestic violence remains an issue of very great importance, and it is right and proper that we should take measures to try to deal with it.
We welcome measures to clamp down on wheel-clampers. I am not usually one to argue for greater regulation of business, but this business deserves everything that is coming to it. While no industry is ever all bad, the wheel-clamping sector has acted with little regard for the public and often in a way that is not far short of the tradition of the highwayman. It is time that those who impose swingeing charges on the public, with little or no accountability in doing so, face tough restraints on their activities. Not all companies involved in the sector are bad, but there are enough to have brought it discredit and for there to be a genuine need for tougher regulation.
Those are measures that we would happily see passed into law, but none of them is of sufficient significance to get us to back away from the key point of principle that divides us from the Government—the DNA database. The current system is all wrong. I am seldom a fan of the European Court, but on this matter it has clearly got things right. We have, for years, been storing the DNA of innocent people on our national DNA database. People who go into a police station voluntarily to help with an inquiry, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), find themselves on the list. People who are briefly questioned in a police station about a crime that they did not commit find themselves giving DNA to be stored for the future. People who are arrested on one of those occasions when the police hugely overreact, as in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), find their DNA being taken, and few succeed, as he did, in having their DNA removed.
Indeed, data that we recently obtained revealed that innocent people trying to have their DNA removed from the database face a postcode lottery. Some police forces refuse to remove any records at all once a case is closed and the person declared innocent, while others comply with 80 per cent. of requests for deletion. On average, only 22 per cent. of requests to have DNA removed are granted.
The shadow Home Secretary is probably aware that tomorrow the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) is giving evidence to the Select Committee on this very issue. Whatever system is proposed, it is better that one authority, rather than 43 chief constables, should deal with applications for removal. There is a lack of clarity at the moment, and that is part of the problem. However, does the shadow Home Secretary agree, and will he confirm whether this is Conservative party policy, that instead of leaving it to local discretion, there should be national guidelines, with one authority, not 43?
I am sympathetic to what the right hon. Gentleman says, although I would like to wait to see the recommendations that his Committee makes at the conclusion of its investigation. Some decisions should certainly be taken nationally rather than locally. I am open to considering what he says, and I look forward to reading his Committee’s report and the transcripts of its proceedings.
Although the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee made an important point, he did not mention the fact that this is not just a question of one authority, but of an independent quasi-judicial authority. One of our difficulties is that the motivation of police chiefs and chief constables is to minimise crime at almost any cost. In my area—it is also the Home Secretary’s area—of Humberside, we have a good chief constable who is very determined, but data are almost never handed back. The person who takes such decisions must have a more balanced view of the security regarding individuals and their rights.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. If we were to adopt the Scottish system, some concerns might be allayed, as a number of decisions to remove would be taken automatically.
There is a postcode lottery. Some people find it very difficult to get their DNA removed from the database although, interestingly, some convicted offenders, such as the Leader of the House, seem to get away without having their DNA taken at all.
The Government have been completely cavalier with the traditional rights and liberties of this country and, on the DNA database, they have got things plain wrong. This is not just about what is right and wrong for civil liberties. The DNA database has grown rapidly in recent years. Nearly 250,000 subject profiles were loaded on to the database in 1998-99, but that figure has now more than doubled. By October 2009, there were 5.9 million individuals’ DNA samples on the database, making it the largest in the world per head of population. One would have expected the number of detections and convictions using DNA to have increased at the same time, but the opposite has been the case, both in overall terms and proportionately. As the number of DNA records has increased, the number of detections has fallen from a peak of 41,148 in 2006-07 to 31,915 in 2008-09—a drop of 22 per cent. There is no evidence that building a bigger and bigger database will help to solve more and more crimes.
Grudgingly, the Government have accepted over the past few months that they cannot win the argument on DNA. After the European Court ruling that a system that keeps innocent people’s DNA indefinitely is illegal, Ministers first proposed to keep records for up to 12 years. When that was resisted, they introduced their current proposals for a six-year limit. More importantly, however, they still want to keep a DNA record of everyone arrested by the police, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted, and regardless of the severity of the offence under investigation. We will not accept that.
We have argued consistently for the approach that is in use in Scotland, under which DNA from people who are neither charged nor convicted for minor offences is not retained. The only exceptions arise when the offences are of a serious sexual or violent nature, in which case records may be kept for up to three years, and for a further two years with the agreement of the Scottish equivalent of a magistrate. Such a system might provide the independence of judgment that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) wants.
We think that that system strikes the right balance, so a Conservative Government would adopt the Scottish system for England and Wales. We will not accept the measures set out by the Government in the Bill, which are illiberal, inconsistent with the values of our judicial system and our nation, and opposed by the majority of the public.
The Home Secretary attacked the Scottish system, although he then said that he would not criticise it. He cited unpublished statistics to defend his view, but totally ignored my intervention about independent research. Such research was carried out for the Scottish Executive by Professor James Fraser, the director of Strathclyde university’s centre for forensic science. It was reported in July 2008, and Lord Bach, a Justice Minister—the Home Secretary’s Labour ministerial college—said last summer of Professor Fraser’s report:
“He did not uncover any evidence to suggest that this approach to retention has caused any detriment to the detection of serious crime in Scotland.”
I am afraid that I would rather take my views from independent research provided to the Scottish Executive than from the Home Secretary himself.
Of course that approach would not have led to any such detriment, and I presume that that research was done two years after it was introduced. That is not the question. If we believe that those who are arrested but not convicted have a greater propensity to be re-arrested, as the hon. Gentleman obviously does given that the Conservative policy is to retain data on the DNA database for those accused of committing serious offences, the question is whether their data should be retained for three years or six years. The quote that he gave does not relate to that matter at all. Other independent, peer-reviewed evidence and research that has come along since suggests the need for a six-year period, and he simply cannot ignore it.
The Government have set great store by the evidence of the Jill Dando Institute, which the Ministry of Justice has again quoted. It stated that
“the seriousness of the initial offence cannot predict the seriousness of any potential future offending”.
The Home Secretary bases his argument on an intellectually reasonable position, but the logic of what he says is that we should have a national DNA database. We must accept either one side of the argument or the other. We happen to believe that we should protect civil liberties in this country, that there is a balance to be found and that the Scottish system reflects that balance. Of course we need to be robust in the fight against crime, but we also need to be robust in defending the liberties and values that underpin our society. We are not willing to stand idly by while the Government make yet another attempt to force through a scheme that we believe to be wrong for this country.
When I debated the Queen’s Speech with the Home Secretary in the House back in November, I warned him that our position had not changed and that we would not accept what the Government had proposed. There are things in the Bill that we would otherwise welcome. A Conservative Government would certainly take steps against rogue clampers and seek to do more to combat domestic violence. There are things in the Bill that are meant well. Given the usual Labour baggage that comes with them I am sceptical about whether they will actually make a difference, but they are superficially innocuous. However, the DNA issue is a real point of principle. We will not back the Bill as long as the DNA proposals remain in it. In Committee, on Report and in the other place we will again seek to table amendments that would implement the Scottish system in England and Wales.
The hon. Gentleman believes that the issue of principle and civil liberties is important. Does he believe, therefore, that it was wrong to convict 23 killers and rapists on the basis of evidence that he believes should not have remained on the DNA database? Does he believe that that was a breach of their civil liberties?
In reality we do not know the evidence behind the Home Secretary’s comments, and there is no such thing as a perfect system. The jury system will not always get it right, but we do not argue that we should not have a jury system. We believe that we should stand by the principles of our democracy and the traditions of our criminal justice system, and we do not accept the Government’s view.
The Home Secretary really must not be allowed to get away with his last intervention. The Association of Chief Police Officers statistics that he refers to are for 2008-09 database matches, and they refer not to any criminal convictions but only to matches with a “direct and specific value” to the investigation. In the absence of a conviction, there is no way of knowing whether the matches between the database and the cases concerned were ultimately innocent or whether they provided evidence of guilt. The Home Secretary is eliding two issues and talking about arrests leading to evidence that there should be re-arrests, not to convictions. A re-arrest is not evidence of a conviction.
The hon. Gentleman makes extremely valuable points. The Government have become utterly confused on this issue, and Labour Members will find their position hard to justify. There are Members on the Labour Benches who have campaigned over the years in defence of civil liberties and for the traditions of this country’s legal system. Ironically, they have looked on Conservative Members as the ones who are unduly authoritarian. The worm has clearly turned.
The DNA issue is a real point of principle, and we will not back the Bill as long as the DNA proposals remain in place. We will table amendments in this House and the other place to seek to implement the Scottish system, and we will challenge Ministers again to accept a proposal that we believe is fair and proportionate. We will seek to win that argument this time and persuade them that we are right and they are wrong. I hope that we will find support on all Benches in both Houses, but in the end, if the Government will not concede and Ministers will not accept what we propose, we will not accept the Bill. In the final days before a general election, there will be no deals to be done. If we have our way, the Bill will not pass, and then it will be for a Conservative Government to make rapid reforms to how our DNA database works and to ensure that its use is proportionate and that we do not continue to store the DNA of people accused of minor infractions who, in reality, have done nothing wrong.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—the shadow Home Secretary—and the Home Secretary agree that there are important points of principle in the Bill, and therefore it is right that Parliament has a full and frank discussion of the issues contained within it, especially with regard to the DNA database, which I will address at the end of my speech.
Like the shadow Home Secretary, I welcome a number of the measures that the Home Secretary has put before the House. First, the Government’s decision to allow compensation for the victims of terrorist outrages abroad and bring provisions into line with the criminal injuries compensation legislation for victims in this country is most welcome. I pay tribute to the work of so many Members, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), in convincing the Government of the need to introduce such measures. All I ask is that the new system be as transparent and efficient as possible. I receive many complaints from those who apply for compensation under the current criminal injuries compensation scheme that it takes too long for them to get compensation, so I hope the bureaucracy that will inevitably go with the expenditure of public money will be as simple as possible, because of course we are talking not about ordinary criminal injuries but about very serious injuries.
Secondly, I welcome what has been said about wheel-clamping. Again, the measures are in line with a number of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Home Affairs over a number of years. Wheel-clampers have felt able to move in and cause innocent people great difficulty. I admit that I was wheel-clamped once, many years ago—I declare that interest—but it is important that we try to regularise the situation.
I hope that when we get to Committee, we will look at the situation—I will come on to this when I talk about the database—of those who have found that information about them that has been stored on a Government computer has ended up not necessarily with wheel-clampers, but with those who are able to issue parking tickets to those who are following Government advice. I am referring in particular to the case of a member of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who is not in the Chamber—no doubt he is busy in his constituency.
Taking Department for Transport advice on travelling on our motorway system, the hon. Gentleman pulled over because he was feeling tired, and parked in the car park of a Welcome Break service station. He was advised by the Department to rest, so he parked and went to sleep for a while. When he woke up, he drove on to his next engagement. A few days later, he received notice of a fine for parking in the car park for more than two hours. He found out, through his own investigations, that the company concerned obtained his vehicle registration number from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. It passed the information to a private company, which then issued a fine.
Those who know the hon. Gentleman will know that he would not keep matters to himself. He challenged the decision, and the parking ticket has now been quashed. The Committee has agreed to investigate the matter, but I draw it the Home Secretary’s attention because it is another example of the private sector being involved but not responsible.
I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman says, but the difficulty is that clauses 39 and 40 simply put companies on the same basis as individuals regarding wheel-clamping licensing. Last year, the Home Office issued a number of press releases saying that it was going to cap the fines and introduce an appeals system, and that there would be no double-dip—in other words, fines for both parking and towing away—but none of those measures is in the Bill. Does he agree that we need to ensure that Ministers give some very firm undertakings in Committee that they introduce a code of conduct to impose such regulations on wheel-clampers? Otherwise, we have a headline but no substance to those clauses.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s Whip, the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), has noted that bid to serve on the Committee, which would be the best way to ensure that those matters are raised there.
The third aspect of the Bill that I am pleased with are the provisions on antisocial behaviour. The Home Secretary has made this a priority for the Home Office. It is useful for politicians to say that they are against antisocial behaviour, but the Home Secretary has gone out of his way to ensure that his Department has treated this issue sensibly and given it priority. I liked what he said about the Fiona Pilkington case, because it is easy to accept that the relationships between various agencies are going well, but in that case there was clearly a breakdown in communication between the police and other agencies, which meant that the reports made by the Pilkington family were not acted on as quickly as they should have been. Every hon. Member will have had constituents coming to their surgeries and complaining about antisocial behaviour, and we write to the police and local authority asking for something to be done urgently. Our wish is to ensure that the system works. Legislation is fine, and new orders will be great, but we need to ensure—I think that the Home Secretary “gets this”— that all the agencies act together quickly so that if people complain to the police they feel that something positive is being done quickly.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the need for agencies to work together. In my part of the world, the police have been praised by many people for that. The problem has been getting the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue cases. The police and other agencies—and I as a Member of Parliament—have been frustrated that we cannot seem to get the CPS to take these matters seriously. It appears to want to deal with bigger matters, as though it thinks antisocial behaviour is beneath it. That is wrong, and we need to ensure that cases are followed through.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and the victims also need to be kept informed. The decisions are taken by the agencies, but no one bothers to tell the people who complain. The best way to build confidence in the system is to ensure that complaints are investigated and, if sufficient evidence is found, a prosecution is brought, justice is done and the victims are informed in good time to attend court and make their views heard. We need to ensure that the CPS does its job effectively.
I am concerned about two areas—stop and search, and the DNA database. As far as stop and search is concerned, it is right that we take every opportunity to reduce the amount of bureaucracy with which the police have to battle. I am sure that senior police officers have been telling the Home Secretary that since the very moment he took office. Probably every Home Secretary in the 23 years that I have been in this House has talked about the need to reduce police bureaucracy and release officers to the front line to deal with the issues that concern members of the public—our constituents. I am sure the Home Secretary will find, on reflection, that some of the requirements imposed by this Government will need to be removed—so we have added to the bureaucracy of the police, although we have also provided more resources for the police than any other Government in history.
The Home Secretary is right to use this Bill to reduce police bureaucracy, because that is in line with what Sir Ronnie Flanagan said in his important report two years ago, and with what the Home Affairs Committee said in our report “Policing in the 21st Century”. It also takes on board the comments made by the very robust and clever Jan Berry when she presented her report to the Home Secretary. There is no need for the Home Secretary to be embarrassed by the fact that someone like Jan Berry is prepared to make radical proposals, because they are in line with what Ronnie Flanagan said, with what the Committee said and with what the Home Secretary in fact believes.
I felt a little concerned about the fact that the Home Secretary said, “Well, it takes a long time to get things rolling.” Why does it take so long? I wrote to the previous Home Secretary following a visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) and I made to Staffordshire police headquarters. We were told about a form, which the force expects its police officers to fill in, that will reduce from 24 pages to one. I thought that that was excellent, so I wrote to the previous Home Secretary and said, “This is a great idea. It’s best practice, so don’t let’s just circulate it; let’s have it adopted. Let’s just say to chief constables, ‘This is a wonderful way of saving paper’—it reduces 24 sheets of paper down to one—‘and saving time, which means less bureaucracy and more police officers out on the beat, rather than filling in forms.’”
The Home Secretary gave me a Home Secretary’s response today—that it takes time to get things done—and I regret that. If a good idea is being used by one police authority to save time and reduce bureaucracy, it ought to be used all over the country. I still do not know whether the Staffordshire example has been followed. I raised the matter with the Home Secretary when he gave evidence to the Select Committee—the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) was there when we had those discussions—and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith). If it has been adopted across all 43—
Let me add a word of caution: there are a number of things which are supposed to have been abolished, but which, when one goes out with police officers, one finds have not been. For example, the foot-long stop-and-search form and the full stop-and-account form are still being used in plenty of places around the country. I would therefore advise the right hon. Gentleman to be cautious about accepting absolute guarantees from his Front-Bench colleagues that the 24-page form has gone.
I can assure the shadow Home Secretary that I will be writing to the Home Secretary to confirm that what I have described is the case. Of course I accept the assurances of Front Benchers—they are right hon. and hon. Members, and we cannot possibly not do so—but just to be on the safe side, I will write and confirm that point, and perhaps even get the date on which all that happened.
We give the Government full marks for their intention to try to reduce bureaucracy, but let me say this to the Home Secretary. I know that we are near a general election, but both Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Jan Berry, as well as the Select Committee, in a unanimous report, have suggested that there is a need to invest in new technology and give every police officer a hand-held computer, whether that be a BlackBerry, a blueberry, an iPod or whatever—I am 53 and I do not know what the technology is; I just know whether it works when I switch it on and I can communicate. We should give the police what they need so they do not have to run back and take statements, but can take them from witnesses at the scene. We should save time and reduce bureaucracy by investing in technology. That is not in the Bill, because it does not need to be—it can be done by the Home Secretary in his settlement or in his frequent meetings with the Association of Chief Police Officers—but let us get on with it.
That leads me to my last point, which is about the DNA database and the reason why, although I support much of what the Government propose in the Bill—for example, on compensation and the reduction in police bureaucracy—and do not feel that I can vote against Second Reading, I none the less cannot support them with a positive vote. I shall be abstaining, unless I can be convinced by the Minister when he winds up that I am doing the wrong thing, over the issue of the DNA database. I appreciate what the Home Secretary is doing today—he is allowing us to have a debate on this issue—but I cannot possibly support a measure that will keep the inadequacies of the DNA database for six years when I was not satisfied that they should be kept for 12 years.
I am not satisfied that the Government have dealt with the ruling of the European Court on the issue. I regret that, because there has been a long gap between the end of last year, when the ruling was made, and now, when we ought to have had a debate on the matter in Government time, rather than tying it to a piece of legislation that has so many good things in it. I want to pay tribute to the many hon. Members who have campaigned on the issue for so long—for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) recently secured a debate in Westminster Hall that was answered by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell).
The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who is not in his place at the moment, went through what I regard as the trauma of having to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for some very simple pieces of information, including how many applications for removal from the DNA database had been made in each area. Why he had to go through all that palaver to get such simple information from the Home Office is beyond me. That is the kind of information that the Home Secretary should feel happy to publish, because he did not make the decisions; they were made by 43 different chief constables.
The Home Secretary is going in the right direction, but he has not arrived at the position in which I would like to see him and the Government. He is right to reduce the period for which such data are held, for a start; in my view, it should be reduced further, in line with the principle that innocent people’s DNA should not be on the database. That is why, in our inquiry tomorrow, the Committee is taking evidence from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who was totally innocent of all allegations against him, as he will tell the Committee. I do not want to pre-empt his evidence, but a remote family situation was the reason why his DNA was taken in the first place.
We asked the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham to give evidence not because of the family circumstances that he went through but because it took him so long to get a reply from the chief constable of the West Midlands police. In the end, he had to table a parliamentary question. Members of the public cannot table parliamentary questions to find out whether they are on the database.
The Chairman of the Select Committee has raised a fundamental and central point—although it will look elliptical to the public—about the reticence of the Government and police authorities to put in the public domain much of the information necessary to make this decision. When Chief Constable Sims appeared before the Committee, he gave a series of comments that GeneWatch subsequently took to pieces forensically because he had conflated so many data.
A huge amount of information is involved. It is computerised, so it is by definition on a database. It ought to be available to the Select Committee and to other, academic authorities to enable us to make rational decisions both about the kinds of issue that the Home Secretary mentioned, such as hazard curves, and different strategies for minimising impingement on people’s liberty while maximising effectiveness.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The information ought to be available. When the Home Secretary and Ministers come before our Committee, as they have done whenever we have asked, they have been absolutely transparent and provided huge amounts of information, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that that information should be made available in the first place.
We will hear from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham. We will also hear from a gentleman from Oxford whose DNA was taken after he simply threw a bottle of water up to a protester in a tree in order to give him refreshment. His DNA was taken as a result, and he has been unable to get it removed from the database.
The Home Secretary is right: he knows that there is a problem with the current system. If there were a transparent, easy-to-understand system for applying for and getting a reply on DNA retention, people would probably be satisfied, but he has not gone far enough. That is why I am attracted by the evidence given by Chief Constable Peter Neyroud of the National Policing Improvement Agency, which was set up by this Government to be—it is a perfect function for the agency—a central authority to examine applications consistently, so that the balance is right, as the shadow Home Secretary said, and it is not just a question of what a local chief constable says.
What is interesting about what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) just said is that the chief constable of the West Midlands police—I do not know whether anyone spotted this—kept referring in his evidence to the database held by each chief constable as “theirs”, as though it belonged to them. Quite frankly, it does not, in my view. The best way to make things consistent is to have one authority to handle them.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, and does he agree, that measures such as the ones that we are discussing will only add to the distrust of police in many inner-city constituencies such as mine, where it is greater, although decreasing? Many young people in inner-city areas are arrested frequently, often when they have not done anything, and keeping their records will only add to the existing distrust.
I am happy to accept that from my hon. Friend. She represents Brixton in the House. As I mentioned earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington stated in her debate that 77 per cent. of young black men were on the DNA database. That is a serious matter. I know that the Home Secretary had a lot to cover today, but he did not address that. The disproportionate nature of those statistics cannot be dealt with by putting everyone on the database. Who says that that would be a bad idea? None other than the father of DNA, Sir Alex Jeffreys. He thinks it is wrong to keep the DNA of innocent people on the database. He, too, will give evidence to the Select Committee. If the person who discovered this process and is renowned as something of a genius on these issues says that to the Government, I am surprised that they have not accepted his views.
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee will also know that four fifths of the people on the DNA database are male. Does this suggest that there is some kind of anti-misogynistic view among the police and the judicial system that makes them single out men, arrest them and take their DNA? Of course not. Is not the reality that the whole process is colour-blind—indeed, blind to sex and colour? Those who get arrested get their DNA taken, whether they are black, male, Asian or anything else.
The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member of the Select Committee, and his questions are always incisive. I have to take issue with him on this point, however. The figure of 77 per cent. represents a huge and disproportionate number of young black people. I understand his point, but if the process is having a disproportionate effect on a section of the community, we need to be careful. This is another argument that we are putting forward.
On the point about disproportion, my right hon. Friend will be as aware as I am that the number of black youths on the DNA database is disproportionate to the amount of convictions. That is the key correlation. Regarding the Home Secretary’s proposals for removing innocent people from the DNA database, I have run clinics with Liberty in Hackney to help young people to get their DNA off the database. The criterion of unlawful arrest that the Home Secretary has put forward would not help most of the people I deal with. Some of them were bystanders when they were arrested; others had simply gone into shops to return jumpers when they were arrested. Although the principle of having criteria is good, the criteria that he is outlining are completely inadequate for dealing with the sporadic hoovering up of innocent people’s DNA that is going on.
I agree. My hon. Friend was not here when I paid tribute to her work in this area.
I will abstain in the vote on Second Reading today because the Home Secretary has not convinced me on the DNA issue. A Select Committee inquiry is also ongoing, and it would be quite wrong for me to pre-empt the conclusions in its report. I promise to place that report before the House as soon as possible—subject to members of the Committee agreeing with it, of course, because we like our reports to be unanimous. That has been the case with all but one of our reports over the past two and a half years.
I hope that the Home Secretary will have a chance to go away and do further work on the Bill before it reaches its Committee stage. There are many good points in it, and it would be a tragedy if it were lost because of this issue. I hope that it will reach its Committee stage and come back to us for its Third Reading as soon as possible, because I reckon that there are only 35 working parliamentary days between now and 31 March. Time is therefore pressing if he wants to get it on the statute book, and I hope that that can be done as quickly as possible.
I am always delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who speaks a lot of wise words on this subject, and on many others. He has certainly elucidated matters of evidence for the House this afternoon. I cannot say that about the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), however, or about the Home Secretary. Earlier, we heard a slightly unedifying spat on whether crime figures had been falling or not. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell knows perfectly well that the figures that Conservative Home Secretaries were pleased to use when the Conservatives were last in government were those of the British crime survey. Those figures show incontrovertibly that there has indeed been a fall in crime. Before the Home Secretary thinks that I am sidling up to him on this issue and before he decides to take credit for this development, however, let me point out that crime has fallen in every single western European country except Belgium. I am not quite sure what the Belgians are doing wrong, but this fall is certainly not something that the Labour Government can realistically claim credit for. If the Home Office had not ended its research on model building—I am delighted to see that the Justice Department is now doing this again—it would have known that all sorts of other factors, including technology, technological development and, of course, demographic factors, play a part in the crime trends.
This is an omnibus Bill. As such, it is a random cross-section of measures that have been thrown together for no greater reason than the fact that they happened to be hanging around at the bus stop at the time when the Bill was going past. There are some pleasant-looking passengers dotted around the bus, but the overall impression is, I fear, tainted by the leering ogre picking its teeth on the front seat on the top deck—namely the Government’s proposals for the DNA database. Although a comb has been raked through this beast’s tangle since the White Paper, the effect is scarcely pleasing.
It is the dominance of those proposals that will determine the fate of the Bill, at least as far as Liberal Democrat Members are concerned. If the Government do not accept dramatic amendments in Committee, we will be entitled to draw the conclusion that they are merely cocking a snook at the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the S and Marper case. That would be entirely unacceptable, and we would not only oppose the Bill on Third Reading, but would do our utmost to beach it like a whale during wash-up.
I have spoken before about the ministerial tendency to overdose on legislative laxatives. This is the 69th home affairs Bill since 1997 and the 60th criminal justice Bill. The Government are the proud father and mother of more than 3,600 new criminal offences. Even those in favour of law, as I am, recognise that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. This legislative diarrhoea is, frankly, a conspiracy between Ministers who want to leave their footprints in the legislative sand and civil servants who recognise that the fast track to promotion is to spend time with Ministers discussing their pet legislative proposals.
Even for this Government, this Bill breaks new ground. It amends the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which received Royal Assent just 13 days before the current Bill was announced. The Home Office Bill team have really outdone themselves on this occasion, and I think we can be sure that there is at least one part of the public sector where there can be no doubt about productivity performance, even if there remains some doubt—if I read what is happening across the House—about the quality of the product.
I am glad that the hon. Lady has pointed that out; there certainly seemed to be more commotion in the Box than is usually the case.
Before moving on to the DNA proposals, let me deal with some of the less controversial passengers on this particular bus. We welcome a reduction in police red tape, but in reducing the length and number of forms that the police are required to complete, we must ensure that we also monitor fair dealing. Stops and searches of all kinds, but particularly those carried out under terrorism legislation, disproportionately affect ethnic minorities. Since 1997-98, black people have been almost eight times more likely to be stopped and Asian people twice as likely to be stopped as white people. I accept that the requirement in primary legislation to record the person’s ethnicity is a welcome move, but this must be kept under constant management review. Stop and search must be seen to be proportional to the threat if the police are to retain the confidence of minority communities, which is so crucial in terms of gathering intelligence and ensuring that witnesses come forward to secure convictions.
The Bill fails, however, to consider the problems of stops and searches under sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act 2000, whereby they can be undertaken without the need for any suspicion at all. Just last week, the Government again found themselves on the wrong side of a European Court of Human Rights ruling on this very legislation. There have long been concerns about the massive overuse of section 44 powers, particularly by the Metropolitan police. Only 0.6 per cent. of people stopped under these powers in the second quarter of 2008 went on to be arrested, and the Government’s own terrorism adviser, Lord Carlile, pointed out last year that searches were being carried out to provide “racial balance”. Yet in this Bill the Government have made no moves to tighten up on their use. I hope that in Committee Ministers will table amendments that address the issues that the European Court of Human Rights has raised about sections 44 and 45, and will ensure that these stop-and-search powers are used in a proportionate manner by more tightly drawing the conditions in which they can be deployed.
Is not the reason why so few people are arrested as a result of section 44 precisely because these searches are meant to be random and thereby send out a message? Because of their randomness, all sorts of people are stopped and searched who would not normally expect to be so. Also, if the searches were not random, but instead were targeted at certain groups of people by age, ethnicity or anything else, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain.
Apart from anything else, I disagree that this is a sensible use of police time. In order to see that, we need only look at the success rate and the potential for alienating minority communities, whom we need to have on board if we are to tackle terrorism. This power needs to be revisited, as the ECHR has made very clear.
Part 5 of the Bill introduces measures to tackle domestic violence further, and to protect the victims of it in the immediate aftermath of a suspected offence. We welcome these so-called “go” orders as a useful way to giving victims of domestic violence the time and safety to make decisions about their future. However, it is imperative that these orders are coupled with support and counselling for victims, and temporary housing for the perpetrators, as is the case in the other countries upon whose provisions they appear to be modelled.
The hon. Gentleman has considerable professional experience of the law, and he makes a very good point, which I take seriously. He is certainly right to raise this issue given how many offences have been introduced since 1997—and, indeed, some even before then—when it was already perfectly possible to prosecute under existing legislation. I am happy to look at this in Committee if what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting is indeed the case, although I am absolutely convinced that we need to do more to tackle domestic violence. I suspect that we will achieve a lot in that regard by persuading more police forces to adopt the best practice of some, which is to go ahead with prosecutions even when the victim is unwilling to give evidence, such as by using circumstantial or medical evidence about what has happened. That appears to be an effective way of tackling domestic violence. However, having been out with my local police force and seen cases of domestic violence, I really do think we need to deal with this as forcefully as we possibly can.
Part 6 concerns gang injunctions for under-18s. We are less happy about this area of the Bill, since it appears to be another case of legislating on the hoof. These clauses amend the recent Policing and Crime Act 2009, and they are baffling since the Minister told the Joint Committee on Human Rights in March last year that the Government had no intention of covering children and young people explicitly. My party has long argued that antisocial behaviour orders, or ASBOs, should be a last resort. If overused—there are parallels here with the so-called “gangbos”—they become ineffective and costly and potentially criminalise a generation of young people.
These gang injunctions seem to me to repeat many of the same mistakes. They again blur the line between criminal and civil law. They criminalise young people without any thought as to how or why they find themselves caught up in the dark world of gang-related violence, and they simply mimic many powers that are already on the statute book. Furthermore, they give the courts powers to impose draconian orders on young people who breach these injunctions. As Liberty has so aptly put it, we are, in essence, talking about
“a mixture of control orders and ASBOs”.
It is staggering that the Government are intent on expanding these types of orders for children, and we shall certainly seek to amend these provisions in Committee.
Part 7 makes the issuing of a parenting order mandatory upon the breach by a child of an ASBO. Parenting orders, in themselves, are often beneficial, but we are concerned that these provisions may result in such orders being used as a last resort, at the point when a child has already been criminalised by breaching a discredited and overused ASBO; ideally, parenting orders should be used well ahead in this process. These measures do nothing to address the root causes of antisocial behaviour before they get out of hand. We need to catch children early, create schemes that divert them away from crime and antisocial behaviour, and get them to take responsibility for their actions when they stray, particularly through restorative justice schemes and neighbourhood justice panels.
On part 8, we thoroughly dislike the licensing regime for wheel-clamping businesses operating on private land. I see no justification for yet another licensing regime, so let us instead opt for a simple Scottish-style solution and declare such clamping illegal entirely, as it is tantamount to extortion. We should not be attempting to clean up this industry’s act by providing a licensing regime.
Finally, I turn to parts 2 to 4, which concern the DNA database. To say that the Government’s proposals are a disappointment is an understatement—they are a scandal. They have roundly failed to address any of the concerns outlined in the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of S and Marper about the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the database. The UK has the largest DNA database in the world; it is far larger than its American counterpart, despite the population of the United States being so much bigger. Our database contains records from more than 5.5 million people, almost 1 million of whom are innocent—they have no record on the police national computer—and almost one in two of all black men are on the database. This is little more than a random accretion of profiles from anybody who happens to run into the police. We have heard in great detail, particularly from the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, how difficult it can be, depending on where one lives in the country, to get one’s details removed from this database, even when one wants to do so.
As I briefly mentioned, in December 2008 the ECHR ruled that the retention of the DNA samples of two men who had not been convicted of any crime—S and Marper—was illegal and violated their right to a private life. The Court ruled that
“the retention in question constituted a disproportionate interference with the applicants’ right to respect for private life and could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society”.
Its ruling is a staggering criticism of the UK Government, who have collected the most personal information from innocent people on a database that is not fit for a democratic society. Yet, rather than be humbled or chastened by that, the Government are presenting proposals that fly in the face of the ruling. It seems that they would rather continue their dangerous obsession with creating massive and illegal databases of any information they can get their hands on than accept that they were wrong and that they have gone beyond the law.
The effectiveness of the DNA database for innocents as a tool for fighting crime is itself highly questionable. Figures have shown that despite the huge increase in the number of profiles on the database, from 2.1 million in 2002 to 5.6 million at the last count, the number of detected crimes for which a DNA match was available—we are not even talking about it being crucial to the conviction—has fallen from 21,098 to 17,614 last year. That does not surprise me because, as I said, the database is random. It includes 1 million innocents and excludes more than 2 million people who were convicted before the database began. One sensible aspect of these proposals is to collect the DNA of such convicts. We will support that. There seems to be an absolutely clear basis for ensuring that that goes ahead.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the way in which Ministers, when they advance their arguments about the super-database, seem to have difficulty holding in their heads the difference between being guilty and being innocent? I had an Adjournment debate on this question, and a Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and talked about “allegedly innocent” people. Do not Ministers need reminding that under British law a person is either guilty or innocent? Although we do not say that there are no circumstances in which we should keep the DNA of innocent people, Ministers need to be reminded of some of the principles of English law.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is a crucial principle. Ministers surreptitiously begin to talk not about how a previous arrest is a good indicator of some future conviction, but about how a previous arrest is a good indicator of another future arrest. Just because somebody is arrested twice, that does not make them any more guilty than they were when they were arrested the first time, when that was followed by no successful prosecution. I fear that Ministers are being naive in their approach. The issue of principle is exactly as the hon. Lady says.
The hon. Gentleman is being very fair. Will he or the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) take the opportunity to tell us whether they agree that the five people named by the Daily Mail as the murderers of Stephen Lawrence killed him? I believe that they did and so do most people who have considered the case. I believe that it is right that their DNA should be collected and I would never describe them as “wholly innocent people”. Would the hon. Gentleman describe them as completely innocent?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the special constabulary, and that he will therefore have had a certain amount of legal training, and he is aware that there is a difference between the standard of proof in a civil case and that in a criminal case. The standard of proof in a criminal case is that somebody has to be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. As a former journalist, I know that the standard of proof in a civil case, when it comes to libel, is on the balance of probabilities. I salute the campaign that the Daily Mail has run on this issue, but I merely point out to the hon. Gentleman that it is slightly more difficult to bring a successful prosecution on a criminal basis than it is to defend oneself in the libel courts.
Let me return to the DNA database. The evidence provided by the Government to support the retention of the DNA of all innocent people for six years is a shambles. The so-called evidence in the consultation paper was based on an extremely small sample of research carried out by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which its own director later noted was incomplete and based on data to which the institute was not given direct access. The director stated that it
“was probably a mistake with hindsight, we should have just said ‘you might as well just stick your finger in the air and think of a number’”.
Further criticism came from Professor Sheila Bird, a vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, who said that the consultation’s
“use of statistical science does not enhance public trust”
“misleading statistical arguments in public consultations should be regarded as a statistical felony”—
the statistical equivalent of “lying to the House”.
All the Home Office has done is halve the period proposed in the consultation document, as if splitting the difference were a substitute for evidence. The Home Secretary said today at the Dispatch Box that there was tremendously important evidence that would support his evidence and that, as we speak, it is in the process of being peer-reviewed. I have news for him—there is a difference between something appearing in a learned journal once it has been peer-reviewed and something that is going through the process of peer review.
If research is going through the process of peer review, it has not yet been accepted for publication in a learned journal. That process can involve a substantial amount of revision on the part of the authors. If, after getting its fingers burned in the case of the consultation paper and the Jill Dando Institute, the Home Office has not learned not to present to the House a load of half-baked evidence, it damn well ought to have done so. The Home Secretary ought to know that he should come here with evidence that is incontrovertible and based on research that is published in a learned journal, not something that he hopes will support his point of view at some time in the future.
Our preferred alternative is a strict split between innocence and guilt. If a person is found guilty of a crime, their DNA is retained on the database. If they are not convicted of a crime, their DNA is removed from the database at the end of the investigation. It is as simple as that. The principle of being innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. I have seen nothing in any of the so-called evidence provided by the Government today to convince me that we should abandon that principle now.
The inadequate DNA proposals loom so large over the entire Bill that although there are positive elements elsewhere, it is well overdue for the Government to take seriously their obligations towards the European convention on human rights not just in this matter, but in the matter of sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act. They should start with the Bill. The DNA proposals fail to respect the right to private life. They sacrifice the presumption of innocence over guilt on the basis of a cooked consultation. They are an affront to British traditions of hard-won liberty and justice. I am sad to say that for that reason, despite some of the positive provisions in the Bill, we will not support it this evening.
I support my right hon. and hon. Friends and when the time comes, I will vote in favour of the Bill being given a Second Reading. I go further and suggest that so far this evening we have heard from the Liberal Democrats a victory of pomposity over intellectual rigour, and from the Conservatives, a rant. One would have thought that as we are so close to the election, they would give us some insight into the alternative positions they take on the Bill.
The spokesmen of both parties failed to respond at all to the Government’s announced improvements to the legislation on compensation for British citizens who are victims of terrorism overseas. I do not make a partisan point. For more than five years my noble Friend Lord Brennan and I have worked with victims groups on a non-partisan basis, day in and day out, to resolve the issues arising when the lives of innocent British citizens and their families are blighted for ever as a consequence of attacks on them simply because they were British citizens.
An announcement has been made of a scheme for the future, which I warmly welcome, along with recognition of something I asked the Government to consider last autumn—that any new compensation scheme should not overlook victims who have already suffered and will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives. I would have expected at least 30 seconds’ acknowledgement from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and an indication that they would support the proposals in the House tonight.
Victims’ families throughout Britain may feel concerned that, for other partisan political reasons, the proposed schemes may not be implemented before the general election. That would be scandalous, particularly for the families who have been waiting since Bali for financial support and recognition of the consequences of such terrorist attacks.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I have made my criticism, so I will allow him to respond. I say so because it is important to guarantee that, by the end of the debate, all Opposition Members concerned have clearly stated, whatever their view of the whole Bill, that they will grant fair weather and support to the Government to ensure that those two aspects of the Bill—the future scheme and the scheme for current victims—get through the House and are implemented, so that the victims and their families can start to rebuild their lives.
I am sure that, when we have had a chance to look at those measures, they are likely to command a great deal of support from all parts of the House, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman—particularly because the measures are likely to get so much support—not to try to use the issue as a camouflage for much more controversial proposals on the DNA database. I assure him that, if the Government accept in Committee our amendments on the DNA database or, indeed, the expected Conservative amendments, the Bill is likely to go through with the measures that he cares so much about.
Having spent 15 years as a Front Bencher in government and in opposition, I must say that I am not using the issue as a camouflage. I raise it in this way simply because I fear the responses from the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), on the Conservative Front Bench. They made it absolutely clear that they were prepared in another place and here tactically to stop the Bill going through.
The issue is so important, however, that I plead with the hon. Gentlemen—whatever their views on other matters and whether they can be resolved—not to use their tactics to the point where, as a result, their fellow citizens and their families, who have waited since 2002, do not receive any recognition of what went wrong or any financial support for the ongoing physical and mental damage that has been inflicted on them and their loved ones.
My right hon. Friend speaks with great passion on that issue, which is very important to him. However, he cannot say that it is being used as a camouflage by those who oppose the database proposals. We support him on the issue, but if he is, rightly, so keen on it, the Government could make time in the House and a Bill—just on that issue—could go through with the support of all Members. No one is trying to stop his proposals.
My right hon. Friend knows very well that I never suggested that hon. Members were using my issue as a camouflage. I asked them, as I do my hon. Friends, to make a simple commitment. What I am saying to Members is absolutely clear: I am not playing footsie and asking people to make a trade-off. We cannot trade off the lives of fellow British citizens; we cannot trade off the consequences of Bali, Mumbai and all the other instances of terrorism, where British citizens have suffered grievously. My point is that this issue goes beyond the other aspects of the Bill. Its status as a vehicle for this issue is important, however, because the Government have for the past five years had to consider evidence from me and others and from the families concerned; and, in a very difficult situation, they have now responded positively.
Once again, I suggest that we establish a transparent scheme for the future with clear rules of engagement, if, sadly, British citizens again become victims of terrorist attacks in a far-off land; and, I suggest that those who have already suffered and continue to suffer—those who have been grievously injured, physically and mentally —be given the opportunity to receive compensation. The issue is about justice denied for 10 years. We should not allow people in the few weeks of the Bill’s consideration to reach the point whereby, in their desire to amend it, they miscalculate the situation and allow the injustice to continue. That is my plea to all hon. Members.
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate, I was pleased to hear him recognise two points. He recognised that an act of terrorism is an attack on the nation state and, therefore, an entirely different crime from normal criminal activities—as dangerous and as difficult as they may be. As a consequence of that recognition, I believe that in all circumstances from now on the state has an overwhelming duty—a first duty—to protect, look after and defend its citizens, whatever the reason why they are not within the shores of the United Kingdom when that attack takes place. It could not have been right then, and would not be right now or in future, for the nation not to look after the interests of someone simply because they had a toenail over the white cliffs of Dover when they were attacked by a terrorist. That surely should never have been the case. Thankfully, following my right hon. Friend’s statement today, it will not be the case in future.
My right hon. Friend also recognised something else, for which some of us have been arguing for some time. Many of the British citizens attacked in such incidents in the past decade have been attacked for one sole reason: they are British citizens. That became even more true in Mumbai, where British citizens were killed and maimed simply because they were British. Sadly, attacks—small or large—will take place in future, and I believe that those who carry them out will seek out citizens from particular nations, including ours, and will afflict and damage those citizens. Given those circumstances, it is so important to recognise that it is unacceptable for there to be a legal loophole through which victims of attacks overseas are treated differently from those who are attacked within our own borders. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend is putting that right.
My right hon. Friend also said that he would broadly mirror the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, in Committee if not tonight, give a clear indication of what exactly that means? I ask the question seriously. On 15 January, Ned Temko, a journalist who has followed with great knowledge and commitment the cause of victims of terrorism overseas, wrote this in The Guardian:
“Planned amendments going before the Commons on Monday will include a more generous scheme for future victims, along the lines of the settlement for victims of the 7/7 terror bombings in London.”
The second part of the scheme relates to two other Departments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice, so I shall not press my right hon. Friend to answer about it today. It is about how we will introduce a non-statutory scheme for those who have been damaged since 2002. I understand that there will be hardship payments, that the scheme will be limited to a certain period and that it will be ex gratia and non-statutory; it will not be a retrospective scheme according to the legal definition.
It will be interesting if we find out in Committee how different—or broadly similar—that part of the scheme will be from the scheme announced today for future victims. Will the eligibility for hardship payments be the same as that in the prospective scheme the Home Secretary announced today? I do not ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to respond in detail today; I am giving him pointers for the Committee, to ensure that, in the days and weeks to come, victims and their families have a clearer understanding of what the scheme will look like and what they can expect.
I understand that hardship payments could be calculated according to the tariff of injuries in the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme and that no payments would be made to the families of those killed or for injuries that did not lead to an ongoing disability. Equally, no payments would be made for loss of earnings. That is in line with what the current criminal injuries compensation scheme delivers in the UK. However, it would help those concerned if they knew whether in future there would be consideration in respect of compensation for those who had lost their lives.
I understand that the Foreign Secretary will be responsible for designating who will be eligible for the hardship payments. So that things will not be held up, will the Foreign Secretary and appropriate Ministers meet representatives of the various groups to talk the issue through with them? In that way, victims’ organisations would clearly understand precisely how applications can be made for injuries incurred in certain incidents and how they can refer cases to the Foreign Secretary for designation.
I am certain that in making the announcements today, the Government will have found resources from the appropriate legislation. I welcome that and thank them for it. I also thank the Home Secretary for the work that he has done to bring together a complex issue to ensure that justice is at last won for victims. He has done so in a way that ensures that every part of Whitehall accepts that the state has an obligation to look after its citizens who are attacked abroad, and that the state recognises the ongoing needs of victims who have survived with horrific illnesses.
One thing about those who have survived is for sure: their ongoing daily courage and that of their families. It is a humbling experience to stand here and speak on behalf of people who do not have a voice to speak here—those who have lost their children, grandchildren, wives or husbands. It is difficult to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves in this Chamber, and who are now limbless or who suffer from mental illnesses.
A constituent of mine survived the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks, having gone back into the hotel time and again to help rescue survivors, not knowing whether there would be another bomb in a few moments. He has to live with the consequences of that for the rest of his life. He protected a young child who, only minutes before, had been talking with friends who moments later no longer existed. That is a humbling experience. Until today, it has been hard to put into words what those families have felt at the fact that no one would recognise—just recognise—the consequence of those terrorist attacks on them and how devastated their lives had been. For many of their loved ones, there was no life at all.
I am certain that there will be disappointments about some of the restrictions in the scheme. Overall, however, I think people will accept that at last the House has the opportunity to recognise that our fellow citizens require protection. When that protection does not work and they become the victims of terror attacks, the one thing that should not concern them is an unwillingness or lack of ability on the part of their state to look after them and their families.
I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for this announcement today. A lot of hard work, effort, tears and sweat have gone into getting where we have reached. However, all that pales into insignificance when we consider what has happened to the families I have been discussing. Whatever else the House does with the rest of the Bill, I ask it not to jump off the cliff, as it were, by using tactics that leave those families devastated again.
I commend the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) on his speech; he clearly put a lot of passion, time, energy and work into delivering this change for his constituents and others. However, he should not take opposition to elements of the Bill as tactics. The House is big enough not to deliver justice for some at the price of injustice for others.
I was serving on the Front Bench when the issue of the database first came up, and I do not pretend that it was easy to resolve in our minds. After all, it involves balancing an incredibly powerful anti-crime tool—one that will deliver convictions to deal with criminals, which is what we want—against the imposition of a presumption of guilt, perhaps a lifetime presumption in some respects, to people who are seen as innocent by the state and who are, in most cases, innocent. There will, of course, be exceptions when the judicial system fails, but mostly such people will be innocent. I shall give some examples in a moment. I do not pretend that the issue is easy.
Some of the Government’s proposals on the DNA database are very welcome. When we considered this before, Conservative Members, and I think the Liberals too, took the view that one way of improving the effectiveness of the scheme was to bring in the 2 million extra guilty people who had been overlooked by the original legislation. It was, frankly, governmental or corporate laziness to go for the ones that it was easy to take the samples from, not those who were likely to be committing crimes today and in future—namely, those who were convicted before the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 went through, let alone the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I approve of that suggestion. It impinges only on guilty people, and it will greatly improve conviction rates for cold cases, for current cases, and for future cases. Two million guilty people will have committed many more crimes than 1 million innocent people, virtually by definition.
That is why we came to the conclusion that the Scottish system was the best compromise. I know that we differ with the Liberals on this, although it was their brothers and sisters in Scotland who put that system through; indeed, I think it was a Liberal justice spokesman who did it. I understand, however, that the compromise was, as the Home Secretary said, based on “no data at the time”, not “no data today”, because the Scottish Government have had the sense—I am not often heard speaking well of an Scottish National party Government —to review the policy, as did the Labour-Liberal Government before them. Their review showed that the outcome in Scotland was at least as good as, if not better than, that achieved under the system that we have in England and Wales, despite the Home Secretary’s new statistics; I shall talk about the presentation of new evidence at the Dispatch Box in a moment.
There will be those in the House who think, “My constituents worry about being hurt, murdered, assaulted or burgled. They’re not worried about these technical, civil libertarian concerns.” I should therefore like to take a moment or two to explain how this is, in practical terms, very real to those who suffer in this way. The case that I am going to cite is in the public domain, on the BBC website; I will summarise so that people can check the extended details themselves. The man involved is called David Sweeney. He says that in 2004 he was on his way home and was assaulted by two other men. He was about 28 years old at the time of writing, and he is a white and—I think, from the language he uses—middle-class male. That is an important point to remember: he was a white, probably middle-class male. In the course of what happened following that attack, he was arrested on a charge of affray, which was then dropped because it was clear that he was not at fault. He was not the aggressor—he was simply defending himself, and those two men were guilty of attacking him.
So far, so good—an unpleasant incident, but it was over. Then, two months ago—I take up the story in his words:
“I dropped a friend off at Manchester Airport and double parked. A foolish mistake and on returning to my car the police had arrived and given me a ticket. They asked if I was ‘known to the police’ and I said no, having no criminal record. I was already apologetic and admitted my mistake and had accepted the parking fine.
But when they then heard over the radio that I was on the DNA database, they treated me with total contempt—as if I were a serious criminal. ‘You lied to us’, they said. ‘You're on the database. So you’ve obviously done something wrong’”—
an interesting assumption—
“‘What are you trying to conceal now?’…There was no separation between my DNA records and those of a violent criminal.
This characterises my main problem with the database. Anyone who is on it, I think the police will have an inclination to see them as a criminal. All they heard over the radio was ‘he’s on the database’. Did they know I had committed no crime? I don’t think so.”
That case is not unusual. However, we have been talking about other categories of people on the database. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee pointed out that 77 per cent. of young black males—defined as 15 to 34-year-olds—are on the database; the Liberal spokesman said that the proportion is just under half, at 30-something per cent. It is one thing if this happens to someone once, and they are angry enough to write to the BBC about it, but what if it happens to them and their friends all the time? What does that do to their presumption of justice? What does it do to their perception of the police? What does it do to their belief in law and order in their community? This is not a theoretical issue, or some namby-pamby, civil liberties piece of high-flown rhetoric: it affects ordinary citizens in our country day by day, and it drives a stake through the presumption of innocence in our society.
I thank my namesake for giving way; I am intervening at my peril. There may be some genuine confusion in such situations. When the police take somebody’s details, they conduct a police national computer check that will often come back saying, “No, not wanted.” The police may have assumed that the person was known to them, but they would not have known that he was on the DNA database and may well have been referring to the fact that his name came up on the computer records as being known, but not wanted.
I thank my hon. Friend for his explanation; he is expert in this, as he serves as a special constable. However, I am afraid that in all truth—please do not take this wrongly—I do not care about that: what I care about is the impact on an ordinary citizen, who could be one of my constituents. In fact, I do not have any immigrant minorities in my constituency, but it could be one of my constituents in another context. My point is this: if these things happen to a whole community on a regular basis, just think what that does.
Incidentally, there is nothing in the Bill about the PNC database, as far as I can see—perhaps I have misread it and the Minister can intervene to tell me so. The Government talk about taking off a person’s DNA details after six years, but their entry on the PNC database showing that they were arrested will stay for life. Even if somebody is successful under this scheme and gets their DNA details taken off, the fact that they were arrested stays on the record.
I do not know how many of those in the House have tried to get a visa to enter the United States and have seen the form that is filled in and the record check that is done, but it is clear that someone who has been arrested is very unlikely to get that visa. Indeed, the principal concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) after the disgraceful piece of neo-totalitarian treatment that he experienced was that he would never be able to go on holiday to America again, let alone go on political trips and whatever else he does there. This Bill affects that, as well as a person’s ability to get a job. This is for life, remember. Under these provisions, a person is declared a suspect for life—again, a stake through the heart of civil liberties.
It is not uncommon for total innocents to be caught up. My constituency is the 10th richest constituency in the country, as hon. Members who went there during the by-election probably know. It is not all dark satanic mills—it is very pretty, like Surrey in the north. It is very well-off and very orderly; indeed, it has the lowest crime rate in the country. When I was shadow Home Secretary, my local paper rang up and said, “You’ve got the lowest crime rate in the country,” and I said, “I should bloody well hope so.” The simple truth is that that is the nature of the constituency. Yet I have there three people on the DNA database who are clearly, to my mind, innocent; two of them are children arrested on the basis of malicious allegations from other children. My police authority is one of those where people are never taken off the database. Perhaps that is not surprising, as it was involved in the Soham episode; I think that if I were the chief constable in Humberside I would be very chary about taking that decision. However, that means that the youngsters will be on it pretty much until they are adult—at the time of their first application for a job, if they do not go off to university. The third person is a man who works in the care sector—or at least he did until last year. These are innocent people who are having their lives destroyed, damaged or in some way harmed by this situation.
What is the basis of this? The Home Secretary is actually a rather close friend of mine. We travel back to our consistencies on the train together, we are next-door neighbours and we co-operate on all sorts of things—I am probably doing him great harm by saying all this, but never mind.
That does not matter—I am past it.
The simple truth, therefore, is that I do not believe that the Home Secretary is making an evil, point-scoring, electoral point. I presume that he and other Ministers believe in this approach. The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, who will serve on the Committee, is a capable man, and I think that the Under-Secretary the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), is too, so where does it come from?
I cannot remember whether Disraeli or Mark Twain originated the phrase “lies, damn lies and statistics”, but heavens above it applies here, because the conflation of statistics and so-called facts that has taken place throughout this debate has been astonishing, which was why the quote from the leading statistician cited by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) was apposite. That was why I asked the Home Secretary earlier to do something that the Home Office has refused to do for the past year. He agreed and we will hold him to it. I asked him to comment on the Prime Minister’s claim that 114 murderers have been convicted and locked up as a result of the 1 million database entries from innocent people—not the others, because we all accept that there is a reason for the guilty to be on the database—and to provide the list. The information is in the public domain, so there is no reason why the entire list of 114 murderers should not be published. However, I believe that that assertion is simply untrue. In the words of GeneWatch, the independent experts:
“These claims are demonstrably false”.
It also describes the claims as ridiculous, and says that it does not believe that locking up our children will protect us in the future.
Both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee have made the same point. The key period is between 2004 and now. In 2001, there was the first change to the law to allow retention after charge, while the second change, which made the big difference, happened in 2004, with retention allowed after arrest. Between 2004 and now, the size of the database has doubled and become the biggest in the world. Of course, however, the number of direct DNA convictions went down by about 2,000—from around 21,000 to 19,000. The number was about that order of magnitude, but it certainly did not go up.
The Home Secretary responds to that by saying that it has happened because crime has gone down. He is the only person in the entire country who believes that crime is going down, but let us take him at his word. However, even if that is the case, crime has gone down on the Government’s figures—rigged as they are—by about 10 per cent., but although the database has doubled in size, the proportion of convictions achieved through it has stayed between 0.34 and 0.37 per cent. There is no upward trend—the figures go up and down—and it has remained the case that roughly one in 250 cases have been solved through DNA. The database inflation has not delivered more justice and security; it has simply delivered huge insecurity to the people who are on it, but should not be.
Why has this happened? What has led Ministers to take such an approach? They do so not for ill intent. I suspect that my namesake, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), supports them, and he does not have ill intent at all—there is not a malicious bone in his body. I think that their belief largely results from a misconception of the way in which the system works. Very few hon. Members have served in uniform of any sort, let alone police uniform, and they do not really think this through. They form a lot of their impressions of everything from terrorism to crime by watching too many editions of “Spooks” and “CSI”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) is not in the Chamber, but I would have mentioned that if he had been.
We too often take our understanding of what is happening in reality from popular culture, which the Home Secretary did today when he suddenly cited, out of thin air, one of his new examples—it was the first time we had heard about it—and talked about DNA under victims’ fingernails. The truth is that the relevant DNA in most murders is not the perpetrator’s, but the victim’s. That is the blood that is found on clothes, in the car, on the weapon, or on the skin of the person who carried it out—usually a man, to go back to earlier statistics that we heard. The database has no implications for such cases, because the body is generally there.
The most common circumstances in which DNA is used is when the criminal—the guilty man or woman—is identified first, with DNA taken second. In such circumstances, the database does not feature at all. The next category is when the DNA that is taken comes up as relevant to a cold case—we heard earlier from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is very keen on the issue of cold cases. However, the database has absolutely no implications for cold cases. The argument about cold cases is complete rubbish, because the relevant database for a cold case is that of cold case DNA samples from crime scenes, and there have not been more solutions of cold cases because that database is incomplete—and what is more, the Government propose to close Operation Stealth, the unit that runs it. If we really want to fix the cold case problem, we need to get the database of DNA from cold case crime scenes up to date, and then check DNA against that every time a person is arrested. I will return to how that has caused the House to be misled in a moment.
The last category of DNA use is the one that is relevant to today’s debate. It relates to future cases when a match is found to DNA that is already held, and an individual is arrested on the back of that. No one argues that that is not important. After all, not one person who has spoken has said that we should take guilty people—4 million of the 5 million—off the database. Both the Conservatives and Liberals argue that 2 million more such people should be put on the database, because that is where the system’s power lies. That is because, despite what the Home Secretary says, every piece of scientific research that has been carried out on criminality shows clearly that criminals are almost always repeat offenders. Those who commit big crimes precede them by committing small crimes. Those who are socially undisciplined by committing one sort of crime are undisciplined on everything, whether that is stealing things, cheating on fines or not paying following driving offences. Some of the Government’s more sensible strategies hang on that understanding.
There is an enormous difference between the likely criminality of innocent people and those who have already committed crime. If that were not true, there would be a case for a national database. That was why the hon. Member for Eastleigh was right when he said that the Home Secretary had made the case for a national database. If the Home Secretary believes that the data should be there, they should cover all innocent people, not just those who are unlucky enough to get caught up by a random process.
Let us think about the people who get caught. First, there are the victims, because if a person is mugged and the police happen to turn up on that occasion, the mugger will be much slicker than the victim by saying, “He hit me first.” We have read in the newspapers and heard anecdotally about many such cases.
Secondly, there are the have-a-go heroes who try to stop a fight but also get caught in this messy process. Then there are the children who are accused by another child, whom I mentioned earlier, and the teachers who are accused by a malicious child—there are two such cases in my constituency. There are also the care workers who are accused by people who are mentally unstable. They might have spent their lives trying to support those people but—bingo!—there is another case. All those innocent people are caught in this trap, yet we are doing what is convenient to the police.
Frankly, the police gave disgracefully poor evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, and I recommend that hon. Members read GeneWatch’s summary of the contribution of the representative from the Association of Chief Police Officers—almost every piece of data that he gave was wrong. To put it bluntly, ACPO’s understanding of the statistics and probability is non-existent, and I am afraid that it is down to the House to insist that Government agencies do their job properly, rather than sloppily and in a way that impinges on the rights of the people whom they are there to protect.
That all leads me to believe that there is a problem to be dealt with. As I said, the Scottish system is not perfect. However, I say to Ministers—they might have been discounting the rest of what I said, but I would like them to listen carefully to this—that in this area, there is a massive amount of data under the Government’s control. The data are in a manageable, electronic, coded database form. It is possible to do a great deal to pursue the effectiveness of that database, yet we have seen almost no published data from it.
The data that we have seen have been desperately flawed. Again today, we heard the Home Secretary conflate the issue of re-arrest with that of conviction after arrest, behaving as though being arrested twice somehow made a person guilty. To a young black man in Brixton, I do not think that that is true. It is no surprise if somebody who is on the database gets picked up again—how do we think policemen work? It is not wrong that they should work in that way, but it is simply wrong to draw that conclusion. A couple of months ago, I was so horrified by the Jill Dando Institute data that I asked its research director whether I could see the information and interview the researcher. Just 10 days later, the data were withdrawn because the same conflation error had been made.
It is not hard to solve the problem. The Government have the information, and they should put it in the public domain, or at least in the domain of authorised academics who can examine it independently. Then we could get some sensible answers on the mathematics of the matter, so that we could judge how much freedom, privacy and presumption of innocence we should trade off against the right to security from violent criminals.
This is a dangerous matter, because juries take DNA evidence as the golden bullet. Too many of them have watched “CSI”, “Bones” or “Cold Case Files” and believe that DNA evidence is perfect. I shall ambush the Home Secretary on his way home on the train on Thursday and give him a copy of this week’s New Scientist. I recommend that the other Ministers read it, too. It contains a long overdue piece about the doubts that many scientists have about the veracity of the presumption that there is a one in 7 million chance of DNA evidence being wrong. There are all sorts of reasons why that should not be the case, and I shall not bore the House with the technicalities today—my first degree is too long ago for that. It is likely that the probability of a mismatch is much greater than we think.
We come up against what is known as the “birthday syndrome”. The chance of me and the Home Secretary having the same birthday is one in 365—that is pretty straightforward to work out. The chance of me and one of the entire Home Office ministerial and Parliamentary Private Secretary team having the same birthday is about 25 per cent. If we add in the people in all their private offices, it is about 50 per cent. Actually, the chance of my having the same birthday as the Home Secretary is zero, because his is in May, but the point is that the probability of a mismatch rises steeply the greater the database gets.
The presumption among those who are tied to databases is that the bigger the database, the better it will be. No, the bigger the database, the geometrically bigger the chance of a mismatch. That is the mathematics. Members should not believe me, they should go and get themselves a mathematician to explain it to them. It is straightforward, and it is called the birthday syndrome. A bigger database carries a greater chance of a mismatch. If a quarter or a fifth of those on the database are innocent, there is a serious risk of a miscarriage of justice.
DNA is a powerful and effective tool, but we make an awful lot of presumptions if we jump to the conclusion that it is perfect. The Government are in a position to release the information from the database to the scientific community so that it can make the judgments that I have mentioned. The American Government have been approached to do that and turned down the request. I suggest that if the British Government really want to do something in their last few months in office, they should accede to it. They are right in that DNA is a powerful tool that can protect British citizens, but it can also create serious miscarriages of justice. It is in their interest to ensure that that does not happen.
I apologise for having been absent for part of the debate, but I had to attend a statutory instrument Committee upstairs.
I listened with a great deal of interest to what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said about DNA, about which I shall make a few comments later. I wish to talk first about another part of the Bill, which in some ways relates to the problems that he mentioned of the effect on communities. That is the part that deals with stop and search.
The Bill proposes changes to how stop and search is recorded. I absolutely understand the reasoning—we do not want excessive police bureaucracy, and we want the police to spend as much time as they possibly can on the street dealing with crime, rather than filling in cumbersome forms or records. However, the use of stop and search can be controversial and it is important that we get it absolutely right.
Stop and search can take several different forms, and there are three main powers to exercise it. There is section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which is the commonest form, but there is also section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These last two do not require a police officer to have reasonable suspicion about an individual before they conduct a stop and search. Section 60 of the 1994 Act, in particular, is often ignored when there is discussion of stop and search. There was a recently a prominent court case about section 44 of the 2000 Act, and there has been a great deal of publicity about how it has been used in relation to recent demonstrations in central London. However, when we consider the regulations governing stop and search during the passage of this Bill, we need to examine what happens under section 60.
The proposal in the Bill is to reduce the recording requirements under PACE. There will not be any need to record whether anything was found during the stop and search, whether any injury or damage were caused to the person stopped, or their name. Monitoring will continue in relation to ethnicity, but not age. We need to consider what the consequences of that might be. If someone wished to make a complaint that a stop and search was unlawful, or wished to show in their defence in a case that they had been stopped and searched two or three times in the same day—that sometimes happens—they would find it very difficult without names and other details being recorded.
We need to think much more carefully about how we monitor the use of stop and search. There is obviously an issue with section 44 of the 2000 Act following the court case. It must be reviewed and there is likely to be an appeal—there is of course no guarantee that that will succeed—but it is absolutely certain that all the reservations about the use of section 44 given in the judgment apply equally well to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
I was in the House when that Bill was debated back in 1994, as were one or two others in the Chamber today. In the debate on section 60, we were told that the power would be used only in exceptional circumstances, when a superintendent considered that there was the possibility of serious violence in their area. However, the power is being used absolutely routinely in certain police forces, as a method of doing stop and search without having to have suspicion regarding the individuals concerned. In the Met, in 2000-01, there were 2,800 recorded uses of section 60; in 2002-03, the figure was up to 8,600; and in 2003-04, it was 4,400; but by 2007-08, it had risen to 17,000. The latest figures show that in just one year, in one London borough—Newham—there were 25,500 searches using section 60. That happens to be the borough that uses section 60 most heavily, but in my borough, Waltham Forest, there were 6,000 in one year, which is more than there were in the whole of the Met just a few years ago.
The excuse for those figures is Operation Blunt 2. That was when the big increase occurred. However, the usage of section 60 is simply not being monitored properly. In fact, there is very little relationship between knife crime and the number of searches under section 60. Like the DNA provisions, the use of section 60 is a source of resentment among young men—it is generally young men—who are stopped again and again. It is about time we looked again at how section 60 is used and monitored, and we should be looking to amend how it operates. The Bill gives us an opportunity to do that.
I welcome the fact that the law on DNA retention is being looked at and reformed, but I am afraid I cannot welcome how it is being done. There are some very basic issues. The fact that three quarters of young black men between the ages of 16 and 34 are on that database has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and others. There is evidence that there is a higher rate of arrest among young black men, but often a lower rate of conviction than among the corresponding white cohort.
I have also heard the criticism that there are proportionately more young black men in prison and other institutions than white males, but there are all sorts of possible reasons for that, one being that the former group may be committing more crime. I accept that there are many other possible reasons.
I would not pretend that statistics relating to ethnicity and crime are not complex. We need to look at the causes of crime and the age groups involved and all sorts of issues. However, it should concern us that there are considerable disproportionalities between one population and another. That certainly happens with the stop and search, as I mentioned. A young black male is much more likely to be stopped and searched, and in London in particular, in recent years, the stop and search of young Asian men has increased. In turn, that is reflected in the DNA database.
The retention of the DNA data of someone who has not been charged with, let alone convicted of, an offence is a basic issue. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden gave some specific examples, so let me give a couple concerning people I have dealt with in the past few months. One 15-year-old girl was accused, exactly as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, by another girl in the same school. There was an argument at school and there was perhaps a little bit of pushing one way or the other, and that girl ended up being arrested and is now on the DNA database. When her mother and I asked for her data to be removed, the answer was no. I looked at the procedure that is currently used in the Metropolitan police. Its guidance on removing people from the database states that
“exceptional cases will be extremely rare”
and gives examples of when that might happen, which include
“where the original arrest was found to be unlawful”
or when “no offence” whatever “existed”. The reality is that virtually no one is removed. That 15-year-old will remain on the database.
I have had two examples in the past few months of Asian men—one in his 30s, one in his 50s—who had been on holiday to visit relatives in the US. On their way back through Gatwick and Heathrow, they were stopped under anti-terrorism powers and their DNA samples were taken. In neither case has there been any charge, nor is there going to be. That is quite clear. However, from what the Home Secretary said in his opening speech, those two men, who have not been charged or convicted, and who have no previous record whatever, may remain on the database for years, because they were stopped and questioned under anti-terrorism powers.
I cannot see what the hard evidence is to support the proposals in the Bill. I heard the statistics the Home Secretary mentioned, but the basis for his argument from those statistics is extreme flimsy—it was based on thin research that has not decided anything definitively. That the data are thin has been admitted, and yet they are the basis on which we are going to bring in primary legislation that specifies the number of years for which data can be held. At the very least, we should be looking at a measure that allows the number of years to be changed quickly and easily if we get the definitive research that I believe we need.
It is almost a no-smoke-without-fire argument: the fact that somebody has been arrested at one point leads to the assumption that they are more likely to commit a crime than somebody who has not been arrested. The evidence to back that up that I have seen—the hard evidence, based on solid data going back over a significant period—seems remarkably thin. I do not think we should be going down that road on the basis of data of that standard.
Finally, I welcome another part of the Bill that the Home Secretary mentioned—the measures to regulate wheel-clamping. That has been a real nightmare to deal with in many areas, and certainly in my constituency. I have seen a number of cases of the absolute abuse of power by private companies carrying out wheel-clamping on private land. I have seen cases of people who work in shops—not shop owners—being conned into signing a contract with a company, which then comes along and clamps people in the back alleyway behind the shop. I have seen cases of people being clamped on a garage forecourt after they have simply gone into the shop to buy something. They have come out to find that they are being charged £400 or some other ridiculous amount of money to release their car. I welcome measures to deal with that. The Bill contains the power to regulate, and what we need as soon as possible is the statutory code of practice that will put the detail into effect. That is what is needed, not just the requirement for the companies to register.
Alongside that, I hope that we can also use this Bill to consider some of the other activities of private security companies. I am really concerned about how many areas they operate in. I dealt recently with the case of a constituent who had had a problem in a department store. The private security company involved handled her somewhat roughly, she was thrown out of the store and banned from entering it again. She was also accused of being racist, but that was totally untrue, as the store eventually admitted. However, she had no comeback against the store, because the private security company was responsible. Such companies operate in far too many places, and they seem to operate without any significant regulation. They may have to be registered and obtain licences from the Security Industry Authority, but if they behave badly it is difficult to get anything done about it.
Is not the real problem that when the police indicate that they are no longer willing to investigate problems such as shoplifting, the private sector intervenes, but it is unregulated and some companies can act like cowboys? People receive letters threatening prosecution or telling them that they have been put on lists, and it is very intimidating. There is no redress in the magistrates courts, and no supervision or overview.
That is right, although the police have not withdrawn. In the street market and shopping centre in my constituency, there is a local police team which takes an active interest in what goes on. There is however a growing trend to employ private security, especially in stores, and then if something goes wrong, there is no redress. If people have a problem with the police, there is a complaints procedure and—if necessary and in major cases—it can end up with the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As with wheel-clamping, for which we are considering codes of practice and increased regulation, we should consider other areas in which private security companies operate. This Bill may be an opportunity to do that.
The Bill deals with some big issues—the reforms to stop and search, the DNA database and private security. I am disappointed by some aspects, especially those to stop and search, on which we need more monitoring, not less, and the DNA database. As the Bill makes progress, I hope that we will be able to improve those aspects.
I begin, as always, by declaring an interest as a lawyer, a Crown court recorder and a part-time district judge. I wish to address an aspect of the Bill that has not yet been raised in any great detail—the clauses on domestic violence and domestic violence protection notices and orders. I wish to speak from a practical point of view and tell the House and the Minister—I have no expectation that the outside world, or even any other hon. Members, will have the slightest interest in what I say—about some problems that will need to be considered carefully in Committee.
We all agree that domestic violence is a very serious issue. The official figure for domestic violence is 14 per cent. of violent offences, but anecdotally it seems higher in the cases that have come before me. Such incidents usually involve a man being violent to a woman, although not always. They are, sadly, under-reported, but the Government have taken the issue seriously over the years. As well as introducing several important initiatives for the police, they have also set up specialist domestic violence courts. The Government recognise the importance of the issue and have tried to act on it as best they can.
I once heard it said that domestic violence is even worse than stranger-to-stranger violence, because it involves a breach of trust and therefore has a longer lasting impact. Be that as it may, we all agree that domestic violence is terrible, and everything that we can do as legislators to stop it should be done. We should punish those of either sex who are guilty of it.
However, I am not sure that the provisions in the Bill are necessary. The Government are nearly always well intentioned, but they have had a tendency to legislate a bit too much and forget about how the legislation will work in practice—what it will mean in extra bureaucracy for those who have to enforce it and what the results will be on the ground. I refer to clause 21 onwards and the provisions on domestic violence protection notices—the ability of the police to issue a notice to someone who has been violent or threatened violence to another in a domestic situation. Such a notice could have some nasty results for the person who received it. However, if we are dealing with violence—the Bill specifically mentions someone who “has been violent towards” another, as well as threatening violence—I contend that we have enough provision in the criminal law to deal with the perpetrator, without adding another layer of statute.
Let us say that I am cohabiting with a woman and I am violent towards her, and she calls the police. The Bill would provide that I could be issued with a domestic violence protection notice, but the police can already arrest me, take me to the police station and charge me with a criminal offence. They can charge me with common assault, which is only triable summarily in a magistrates court and carries six months in prison. They could charge me with actual bodily harm, which is triable on indictment, or—if the violence is very nasty—with grievous bodily harm or malicious wounding with intent. If I threaten to kill my partner, they can charge me with threatening to kill. They cannot charge me under the Public Order Acts because those offences apply only outside dwellings, but they have several options for dealing with me. If the police are not happy with those options, they can move on to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which I think was introduced by this Government. It would apply if I had embarked on a course of threatening or abusive conduct—the Act requires such conduct to be carried out only twice before an offence is committed. That Act also gives the courts the fullest powers to impose non-molestation or restraining orders on me.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully and I fully agree with him. I would make the further point that, with the various assaults to which he has referred, there could be a remedy whereby the person who had committed the assault could be freed on bail, albeit on conditions that state that he should not return to the property or go within so many yards of the person concerned.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He has extensive legal experience and makes the point, which I was about to make, that the ability of the police to act in relation to charges of common assault, ABH and so on is not restricted to just charging a person. Rather, they can deal with the issue in exactly the same way that is proposed in the Bill, namely through the granting of bail or not. So if I go to the police station and I am charged, the police can make it a condition of bail that I do not attend the premises or go within 100 metres of it, and so on. Therefore, my direct question is: what exactly is not covered in the law as it stands today that the Bill seeks to cover?
Obviously this is a discussion for those who are selected to serve on the Committee, but I suspect that, in part, the point is to be declaratory to individuals who commit domestic violence about how they are likely, for that reason, to be removed from the matrimonial home. However, I have a slightly different concern that I would like to put to my hon. Friend, who has much greater experience, sitting on tribunals, than I do as an advocate. In the past, much would have been done by way of injunctive or other relief in the civil courts on behalf of the wife. The difficulty now is that it is almost impossible for people to get legal aid or, in market towns such as those that he and I represent, to find solicitors who still do matrimonial and family law, because of the attrition on legal aid. Thus, we are effectively in a situation where the only people who can protect and act on behalf of, usually, wives or partners who have been attacked are the police.
Indeed. My hon. Friend’s experience will have led him to the absolutely sure conclusion, which we all share, that legal aid rates have been so dramatically cut that things are very hard. He has rightly said that what should be going through the civil courts in a proper manner is now, in a sense, being taken over by the police; and what is more, they are being given extensive powers under the Bill that we should query. The existing criminal law, including common assault, ABH, GBH, threats to kill, harassment and so on, covers a great deal.
I am enjoying listening to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to the debate, but do the provisions in the Bill not answer my concern, which I have had for quite some time, that often the police will be called to attend premises where domestic violence is clearly taking place and yet the victim of that violence will usher them out and say, “No, please, go. I don’t want to press any charges. I don’t want anything to happen.”? Often the police are frustrated, knowing that they will be called back time and time again, on subsequent evenings or possibly even the same evening, whereas the powers in the Bill give them the ability to ban the perpetrator from the premises concerned, so as to create a breathing space. Is the hon. Gentleman’s view on that different from mine?
Very slightly. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, because it is frustrating for the police to turn up and be told by, usually, the woman, “Yes, he thumped me, but I don’t want to go ahead.” However, the hon. Gentleman should know that even in those circumstances, where the police believe that an offence has taken place, notwithstanding the view of, usually, the woman, they can go ahead and make an arrest or bring a charge under the current law. The frustrations that exist in the scenario that he has outlined will be similar to those in the situation that is envisaged in the Bill, although I accept his general point.
The Government say that there is a gap in the protection offered to victims of domestic abuse in the immediate aftermath of a violent incident. That is a Government argument, but I do not think that it is right, because of the ability of the police not only to arrest and charge someone, but, as was pointed out in an earlier intervention, to impose exactly the same bail conditions on a proposed defendant as those proposed in the Bill, or even more stringent ones. There is plenty of time for an injunction.
When the Minister winds up, will he also set out the relationship between domestic violence protection notices and other non-molestation orders in our law at present? I refer in particular to orders under the Family Law Act 1996 and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, which give identical powers to those proposed in the Bill. Is there a problem with those powers, or is there no problem with them? If there is no problem with them, what is the problem that we now need to address? Have those powers gone hopelessly wrong? Or is it—the Minister will intervene on me to clarify this—that one or more of those pieces of legislation have not yet been brought into play, like the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on custody plus and custody minus? That was from 2003, when it was deemed terribly important to have new sentences through custody plus and custody minus. We debated them for months upstairs. It is now seven years later and none of those provisions has been implemented—what a waste of space that debate was—the reason being, of course, that there is no money to do it. Even today—I know that the Minister will correct me now if I am wrong—those provisions from the 2003 Act have still not been implemented.
Let me try to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes such matters seriously. The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) are the driving force behind the potential implementation, should the House agree, of domestic violence protection orders. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is proposed that they should act as a pilot, so that we can look at how they work and determine whether they are a helpful addition to other proposals that will reduce domestic violence and help the victim. I hope that he will support them this evening for those purposes. I am happy to reflect on the points that he is making in his constructive speech and respond later.
The Minister, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is clearly listening. Although many of the points that I am making would be better made in Committee—I think that I am old enough now to be released from Standing Committees; after a while one gets to that stage—I thank him for what he has just said.
However, the relationship between DVPNs and other parts of statute is quite important. Let us have a brief look at what is going on. Clause 21 says that a superintendent can issue a DVPN. Well, fine—the superintendent will issue it himself or herself, but on the basis of what a police constable says. So the police constable wanders up to the superintendent and says, “Now boss, will you please issue a domestic violence protection notice?” “Well,” says the superintendent, “what do you think? Tell me what’s going on.” So then the policeman gives an account of what is going on. “Okay. I am satisfied,” says the police superintendent. “I have reasonable grounds for believing that there has been violence or the threat of violence. I will issue a notice under subsection 2(a)” which he or she does. The next subsection says that the superintendent must consider the opinion of the victim before issuing a DVPN, but oddly enough the next subsection suggests that he can ignore it completely if he wishes to, although he must consider it. That is just a little odd.
Then there is the notice. I assume that the Minister will confirm that some of it involves paperwork—I thought that we were trying to stop bureaucracy and paperwork, but there must be some. Presumably the constable will have taken a written statement from the lady concerned—the Minister really must confirm that, because there is no requirement, by the way, to take one, even though they must, otherwise it will be double hearsay and the application for the order, which comes later, could not possibly succeed. Anyway, the superintendent then issues a notice saying, “You must not molest”—it stops the party molesting. “Molesting” is one word, although it is used more in our civil law than in our criminal law, for the obvious reason that “molesting”, properly defined by the Chambers and Oxford dictionaries, does not amount to a criminal offence. For example, molesting means to interfere with in a troublesome or vexing way, to annoy or to pester in a hostile way. That is not exactly a criminal act, but here again, in a criminal statute—
Yes, but there are more in civil proceedings.
Here is the crunch. I am not entirely happy that the police constable—it says “superintendent”, but it is really the police constable—has the power in a domestic violence protection notice to evict the so-called perpetrator from his or her home. That is a serious power. In my judgment, it is a very serious power to be used when no crime is committed or charged. There is a lesser standard of proof: reasonable belief rather than the balance of probabilities or certainty.
That is a major power to give to police constables. They will be able to serve me with an order saying, “Out of your house, under penalty.” I do not like it. I do not mind the courts doing it, and I do not mind the police granting me bail subject to those conditions after they have charged me with a crime, but it is a big power to give a policeman on the basis of no more than a bit of hearsay evidence.
Yes, but I am thinking of the first 48 hours, not afterwards when I go to court and say, “Thank God, I’ve come before a tribunal. I’ve had two days out of my house with nowhere to go.” That is a serious thing to do on the say-so of a policeman and no other tribunal. It is a worry.
Oddly enough, the domestic violence protection notice “must” say that the application for the domestic violence protection order
“will be heard within 48 hours”.
Now that is a funny one. Picture the scene: it is a Friday night, and there is possible violence. By some miracle, the constable has whipped round to the house, seen what is going on, found a superintendent, got a DVPN and filled out the paperwork; it is probably Saturday lunch time by now. He whizzes round and serves the domestic violence protection notice on me, the perpetrator. Will it be heard within 48 hours? I do not see how a substantive hearing can take place within 48 hours. An interim hearing might, but we do not talk about interim hearings here. Frankly, most courts would want a little help and evidence when they first come to hear the case.
Imagine insisting that the magistrates court hear the application on the Monday morning. It is not possible. The courts will not do it. How could they? They are so clogged up and busy. They will say, “Come Wednesday.” “I’m sorry, the notice says it must be heard.” In goes the defendant, as I call him; it could be me. “Can I have my solicitor present? I wish to object. Am I denied my lawyer, or can I go get him for tomorrow or the next day?” A hearing within 48 hours is difficult.
There is also a logistical issue. My hon. Friend is doing the House a great service in drawing attention to the clauses. The Bill refers to a superintendent. In Oxfordshire at night, there is usually only one duty superintendent for the whole county. At the divisional level, there is a duty inspector, and most patrols in towns such as Banbury have a duty sergeant and constables. If someone is taken to Banbury police station under one of the orders, they will then have to be ferried to Oxford. Effectively, half the police officers patrolling Banbury on a Friday night will have to leave to ferry someone to Oxford simply to find a superintendent. It cannot be done properly over the telephone, because the individual concerned must have the opportunity to make representations to the superintendent.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He makes a nuts-and-bolts point. The more such points are made in debates like this, the better. Where does one find a superintendent on a cold Friday night in Oxfordshire? So much for dealing with such cases with speed; it will be quite the reverse.
We move on to breach of a domestic violence protection order, assuming that an order is made after the notice. It says here that the defendant “must”—not “may”—be held in custody. Again, that removes a tremendous amount of discretion from those whose position it is to consider bail and somebody’s liberty.
After a domestic violence protection notice is issued, apparently,
“the constable must apply for a domestic violence protection order”.
What happens if circumstances change dramatically between the issue of the notice and the hearing of the order? The constable must still apply for an order, because it says so in the Bill. It is another troubling situation.
I asked the Home Secretary earlier about penalties for breach of an order. There is no reference whatever to any. However, the Home Secretary has not been long in the job, and I would not expect him to know the details of the Bill, although I am sure that his Ministers do. There is no provision for breach of an injunction. I assume that it is imprisonment, but the Minister will confirm.
I have a huge amount of time for the Minister, but that is the first time that I have been told that a penalty is in the Bill, asked the Minister where it was and been told that we do not know. Those in the Box will tell us, no doubt, as they have been listening. It must be in a clause that I have missed, but we shall come to it.
My advice to the Government is: do not just legislate. Think things through. Take on board the practical point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and do things in the criminal justice system that actually work. This is my final tip for the day: forget some of the old-fashioned initiatives such as the night courts at Bow street. When Mr. Blair was Prime Minister, he wanted instant justice and for people to come before the courts at Bow street straight away, so that was done as a pilot scheme. What a shambles. According to official answers, 97 per cent. of the defendants were drunk and could not be dealt with that night anyway, so the cases were adjourned for weeks. Eventually, after spending an absolute fortune on getting one guilty plea over three months, the night courts were abandoned.
The Government should forget all that and stick to what is real. When somebody in a domestic violence situation hits a woman so hard that damage—blood and a wound—is caused, make sure that the police charge them with actual bodily harm, because they do not do so at the moment. They charge common assault, because it does not go to the Crown court, so they get a quick guilty plea and a lesser sentence. Very nasty violence is not being dealt with in the courts as it should be due to under-charging. The problem is endemic among police forces in the south-east, as far as I can see. We need to stick to what works, and the Minister should know that I have my doubts about the efficacy of the new domestic violence protection orders.
It has been an extremely interesting debate so far, and I hope to add to it. First, however, I will set in context how I think the Bill—and some amendments that I hope to table if the opportunity arises during its progress through the House—will affect my constituents.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) discussed the vast amount of new legislation introduced over the past 12 or 13 years. That toolkit of measures has been extremely useful, but my concern is that, unfortunately, some councils, including Stoke-on-Trent city council, have been hesitant even to look into the toolkit, let alone take out the pieces of equipment inside. That has now improved. The situation is markedly different from what it was three or four years ago, when it was up to me as the local Member of Parliament to hold meetings to bring communities together and to get the agencies into the same room to listen to the concerns of the communities about issues such as section 30 dispersal orders. It was a nightmare. Inspector Asha Kaur, who was the local neighbourhood police inspector at the time, had great difficulty in satisfying the local authority that the huge, 1-foot-thick volume of correspondence, information and statements was sufficient to get a section 30 order, but that situation has now improved.
We now have a much better situation in Stoke-on-Trent. We have police and communities together—PACT—meetings, for example, and we have police community support officers out there doing a fantastic job. Indeed, only recently a couple of PCSOs in the Longton area were on the front page of the local newspaper, The Sentinel, because they had given chase on their pushbikes to a criminal on a motorbike. They apprehended the criminal and justice was subsequently done. There have been some incredible improvements. Unfortunately, one of the issues for Stoke-on-Trent—and, I think, for much of the country—is that they are quite patchy, and there is still room to improve.
Some of the other local successes involve Inspector Sharrard-Williams, the neighbourhood inspector who covers the south-eastern part of the city. He has had some fantastic successes on Cornelius street, and I recently attended court to witness the closure order for the crack house. The legislation involved has been on the books for a while now, but that was the first instance of its use for that purpose in Stoke-on-Trent. That troubles me greatly. As I said, we have some great tools in the toolkit, but their use is very patchy. My thanks and praise go to Inspector Sharrard-Williams and the force solicitor for taking that case through to Fenton magistrates court and getting the job done.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) mentioned statistics. Some of the statistics for the south-east region of Stoke-on-Trent in the past five or six months speak for themselves. In that period alone, there has been a 43 per cent. reduction in serious acquisitive crimes, including robbery, theft of or from motor vehicles, and household burglary. That means there were 158 fewer victims in that period than in the same period in the previous year. Breaking down that figure, we see a 44 per cent. reduction in thefts from motor vehicles. That means there were 81 fewer such victims in that period than in the same period in the previous year. That is an incredible improvement for the 81 people who did not did not have to go through the trauma of waking up one morning to find that their car had been broken into, or who came back from the shops to find their car still intact. I could go on.
Customer satisfaction figures for that same period show that 94 per cent. of victims of antisocial behaviour said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the police response. I hope the Minister will pay tribute to all the officers in Stoke-on-Trent, and particularly to Inspector Sharrard-Williams and his team, for achieving such fantastic results.
Successful working together on these issues can be patchy, however. I attended a raid on a property in part of the Meir to deal with drug use on the premises. The police arrived and gained entry to the premises, which were in a horrendous condition. Anyone keeping animals in such conditions would rightly be arrested and prosecuted, but there was a small child running around these premises. The city council officer turned up within about 15 minutes of receiving a call from the police, and secured an agreement from the tenants that they would vacate the property within 28 days. That was an extremely good result, which showed how the police and the city council can work together very well. Unfortunately, as I have said, such good responses can be patchy; they are not happening uniformly across the city or, indeed, across the country.
An extremely effective local resident, a gentleman called Brian Jones, came up with the fantastic idea of mobile CCTV. This involves great long columns with wireless cameras at the top, which can be moved around the footprint of the area, as and when problems arise. That system should certainly be taken up elsewhere, and I give credit to Brian and all those involved with it.
Another local resident is Fred. I will not use his surname, but he will know who he is. He is a very forthright man who lives on the eastern side of my constituency. He and his neighbours were having problems with the local yobbos and idiots, as he put it. He got them into his front room, sat them down and asked them what the problems were. They explained that they had nothing to do. They certainly would not argue with Fred. I am sure he will forgive me for saying that he is no youngster, but he embraced the problem, got to the heart of it and came up with a solution.
So there are good, positive things happening, but there is still room for improvement. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members mentioned antisocial behaviour orders being ineffective, being used far too liberally—if I can put it like that—and being a badge of honour. I wish that that were the case in Stoke-on-Trent, because only 12 antisocial behaviour orders have been issued there in the past year. What is the point of our meeting here, having these debates and passing legislation if local authorities are not going to make full use of the powers available to them?
On empowering local officers to issue fixed-penalty notices, I asked the city council nearly two years ago to allow people to go through the training and get a warrant card so that if they saw some mindless idiot throwing a bag of chips into the middle of the street and walking off up the road, they would be able to tackle them. Nearly two years later, I am still waiting for that training to take place.
Gating orders are a wonderful thing. They result in instantaneous improvement to an area by getting alleyways and passageways—places where teen gangs can gather and cause a nuisance—gated off. In Stoke-on-Trent, however, there is a requirement for a 100 per cent. take-up by local residents. What nonsense! What is the point of having the legislation if councils are going to use it in such a way that it becomes very bureaucratic and difficult to get through?
The legislation that we have is extremely good, but some of it is just not being used. We need to see a recognition of that in the Bill. Some of the powers in it could be improved further, and I will go on to talk about that shortly. The provisions in clauses 37 and 38 are certainly welcome, however. They include a requirement for family circumstances to be taken into account and reported on when considering ASBOs—that is, of course, if we can actually persuade our local authorities to make more use of ASBOs in the first place.
I was interested to receive a briefing from an organisation called Catch22, which outlined a number of elements that it would like to see included in any parenting assessment. I know from my previous experience outside the House, working with a Birmingham-based charity—the Malachi Community Trust—that works with young people with behavioural or mental health difficulties, that some of those elements are absolutely crucial. For example, sometimes, something as simple as improving a person’s housing situation can make all the difference, and even provide a miraculous outcome not only for the family but for the whole neighbourhood. If we solve someone’s housing problem, we often solve the deeper problems that are manifesting themselves in antisocial and criminal behaviour.
Catch22’s briefing also mentioned the need to take into consideration a family’s financial situation, debt, family breakdown, conflict and bereavement. In my experience, family breakdown can have a huge impact on the way in which families behave, and can result in antisocial and criminal behaviour.
I am not suggesting that at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it will allow me to clarify my comments. I am saying that my experience working with organisations such as the Malachi Community Trust has shown me that families often live in desperate housing circumstances. A family of a dozen, for example, might be living in a two-bedroom home. One child at school might be struggling to find anywhere quiet to do their homework, which becomes very frustrating, leading to detachment from school life and lack of interest in school, perhaps ending with the child being drawn into gang activities. It can happen for a whole host of reasons, but I concur completely with Catch22 that this is just one area that needs to be looked at. I am not suggesting that there should be a reward mechanism, but I will come back to the point when I talk about family intervention projects.
Worklessness or, indeed, having to work long hours away from home can impact on children and create many difficulties with their behaviour. Mental health issues and drug or alcohol dependency in the family should also be on the list. I ask the Minister to look at the Catch22 briefing paper as it relates particularly to clause 37, because it is important to have a wide-ranging assessment of the parental situation rather than to focus solely on whether the parents have control over the young person in question.
Having said all that, I have some concerns that in cases where local authorities are hesitant to use antisocial behaviour orders, particularly where young offenders are concerned, these alternatives might be used as a further excuse not to go down the route of imposing ASBOs. I am concerned that where parental orders and the reports on family circumstances are being looked at, these will not be used as an excuse by a local authority to avoid going down that route at all.
I mentioned family intervention projects. I have seen such projects for myself in Stoke-on-Trent and I was extremely impressed by them. I met one family living in extremely inadequate housing. Both parents were drug users, while the daughter was herself a parent but took no parental responsibility, preferring to spend all day in bed, and the son—of primary school age, but close to secondary school age—was truanting. The family intervention project went in and literally transformed the lives not only of this family, but of those in the surrounding area, whose lives had been blighted.
The last I heard was that the mother was off drugs and attending college with her daughter, who had stopped spending her day in bed and was now taking parental responsibility for her own child. The father was doing his best to get clean of drugs, and the son was at school, enjoying it, doing well and thriving. This was a complete transformation, as I said. Yes, it is expensive; yes, it is a lot of hard work; yes, it takes dedication—but it works. I certainly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement on tackling the 50,000 most challenging families in the country. That project needs resources and work put into it; anything that can be done through this Bill to strengthen that would be a very positive thing indeed.
Let me move on to what I believe is an omission from the Bill. An investigation of an issue that has been a concern of mine, and, more importantly, of many of my constituents—certainly for as long as I have represented them—is reported in today’s Daily Mirror. I do not think of myself as a killjoy; I like a drop of alcohol from time to time, as do many people. I like to think that I control it, rather than it controlling me. Unfortunately, however, as reported in this article, there is a culture of pubs opening up with the mentality of “Have all you can drink for a tenner”. We need to address the problem of alcohol misuse, which is taking place on a huge scale.
Sadly, Stoke-on-Trent tops some of the league tables on various negative things, one of which is alcohol misuse. I petitioned some of my local residents groups and asked them for their views on a particular issue, on the basis of which I hope to table amendments to the Bill in Committee. That issue was drinking in public. At the moment, it is possible for the local authority to ban drinking in public in a city centre or to bring in alcohol restriction zones in particular residential areas where there are problems. So far as I am aware, however, local authorities do not have the ability, in consultation with residents, perhaps through a referendum, to ban all drinking in public, save in designated picnic areas across the city.
At the moment, some residents may feel that their area is tainted by being designated an alcohol restriction zone. In other areas, such as privately owned shopping arcades, the owners might be too liberal in allowing people to sit on the steps drinking cans of strong beer from an early hour of the day. That problem blights people’s lives. I see no excuse for or reason to allow people to walk up and down residential streets from early in the morning, drinking alcohol or hanging around in parks where children are trying to enjoy themselves in play. I shall be looking to table an amendment to bring in a provision whereby a local authority, perhaps through a referendum of the public, could bring in an authority-wide ban on drinking alcohol, save in certain areas designated as picnic areas where alcohol is allowed.
Domestic violence is another issue. I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). I intervened in his speech on the issue of the victim not wishing to pursue action against the perpetrator. The police can indeed arrest the perpetrator—or the alleged perpetrator—but that arrest is often followed by no further action being taken because the victim does not wish to press charges. It may well be that the following morning or 24 hours later, the perpetrator is released and goes home, only for further domestic violence to ensue.
I recently went out with a police constable one Friday night and we were called out to a particular home. The officer told me, “I know where this house is; this is not the first time I have been called out here.” It was a domestic violence incident. We arrived to find that other officers had arrived slightly before us and had taken charge of the incident. As we left, the constable told me, “We will be back to these premises again tonight. This will not be the only time we’ll be called out here, but the victim never wants to press charges.” Sadly, all too often in this situation, women—it is predominantly women—who are the victims will, for a whole host of reasons often including the fact that they love the perpetrator, refuse to press charges. Some of us find that hard to understand, but it is nevertheless the case.
As I see it, the benefit of being able to apply these orders is that police officers will, under instruction from their superintendent—I take the point about only one superintendant covering the Oxfordshire area—be able not only to arrest the alleged perpetrator, but to take him back to the police station, at which point the notice can be served. Rather than being released a few hours later to go home and continue the cycle of violence, the order will mean a two-week, or perhaps longer, window of opportunity for the relevant agencies to work with the victim. One hopes that we will reach a point at which the victim says, “Enough is enough.” It is right to move things on and to tackle the victim-perpetrator relationship so that the ongoing cycle of violence does not continue.
I recognise the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman mentions. A number of victims have told me that they feel out of control of the situation when they ask for help. Does he agree that we must be very careful not to create a situation in which victims suffer in silence because they feel they will not have control over what will happen if they ask for help?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He makes an extremely good point, and it brings me on to my next point, which is that financial intimidation is often a factor in domestic violence, in that the victim, who is often a woman, might think that she will be made homeless. She will often have children, too, and she will be considering their needs. She might feel that if she takes the children and leaves the family home, she will be more vulnerable. There is further intimidation—a further level of domestic violence—in such mental cruelty being heaped on to somebody already suffering in an abusive relationship. The orders give breathing space, by in effect saying, “No, you don’t need to leave your family home; you don’t need to take your children at dead of night and get away. Actually, it is the person creating the problems in this relationship who has to go,” thereby creating some safe space around the family to sort out what to do next.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has issued a briefing, which many hon. Members have probably read. It talks about the current official definition of domestic violence, which is
“any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”
I entirely agree with the NSPCC’s point that that definition fails to capture the impact of such abuse on children. Where children have witnessed—perhaps for many years—ongoing domestic violence, their perceptions of what is a normal, healthy adult relationship can be extremely tarnished, and sometimes, although by no means always, their own relationships in future years are very damaged by what they have witnessed. The Bill must take note of the fact that children can be silent victims. The main victim—very often a woman—is the physical victim on whom the violence is being inflicted. However, any children witnessing it—even if just remotely, such as by being upstairs and hearing the shouting and sounds of violent activity—can be extremely damaged by that. The Government, and certainly the Department for Children, Schools and Families, should consider offering greater support through the schools network for young people who have witnessed domestic violence in their home.
I understand that there are to be pilots for the Bill’s domestic violence programme, and I would like to make a plug for Staffordshire. We have already heard some extremely positive comments about what Staffordshire has achieved in minimising form-filling, and I would like it to be considered as a possible location for a pilot.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said that prison security is a much greater issue, and phone smuggling a much more common crime, than 12 years ago. Over that period, the availability and use of mobile phones among the general population has increased a lot, and the size of handsets has reduced dramatically. He may not realise that mobile phones are getting smaller, but the inmates who smuggle them into prison via their bodily orifices have realised that. Phones are being routinely and regularly smuggled in, and that is a problem. I see that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism is shifting in his seat; I hope he is not reaching for his phone to check the size of it. [Interruption.] I knew I would get his attention one way or another. [Interruption.] That is an extremely chunky phone. The smuggling of phones into prison is a problem, but that is not a result of lax security—of it somehow being worse now than 12 years ago. It is simply a fact of life that mobile phones are smaller and more accessible, and component parts are more easily taken apart and smuggled inside.
I fully support the measures to address this problem, and I wonder whether their scope should be widened to include police cells. Visitors, and even staff, are not the only external parties who smuggle phones into prison. Often, prisoners being taken straight to prison from the courts are already in possession of a phone. That is an issue, too.
The hon. Gentleman is making very interesting, if also slightly lurid, comments about mobile phones. Would it not be simpler for prisons to employ the same systems that are now being employed in theatres? They are used by the military, too, and they jam all mobile phone signals.
I am grateful for that intervention, because it brings me nicely on to my next point, which is about jamming equipment. It is not only the military who are exploring that. I gather that some hotel chains routinely install jamming equipment so that residents are more inclined to use the hotel’s telephone system than their own mobile. Perhaps that is just an unfounded allegation, but I understand that it does happen.
There does not necessarily need to be jamming equipment. Prisons could be constructed in ways that minimise the possibility of getting a mobile phone signal. Certainly, some of the offices in and around Parliament seem to have been constructed in a way that minimises that. This afternoon, as I was on my way to the Chamber, I could not get a signal on my mobile phone, even though it was telling me I had a couple of new messages. Therefore, as well as the active jamming of signals, there are also passive methods that can be used to make getting a signal impossible. That is particularly important for those prisoners whom we do not want to be able to have any such communications—but such people have been caught using laptops, logging on to the internet and creating websites. That important point was missed by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell.
The legislation that is already in place needs to be looked at, too. There are some 3,000-odd measures, which are important tools in the toolkit, and they should be used. I would like the Home Office to do some work on which local authorities are using the powers that are available, which do not use the full range, and which use them only very rarely.
One overlooked area of legislation that needs to be considered involves pubs that serve people who are clearly drunk. This is of relevance to my point about alcohol misuse leading to many crimes. If an area, such as a city centre, increasingly becomes a place where, fuelled by alcohol, criminal activity and antisocial behaviour occur, we should look at the pubs or nightclubs in that area that are serving people who are clearly drunk and who then go out on to the streets and cause problems.
My final point is about an issue that might be addressed in an amendment to the Bill. I am currently dealing with a dispute between two neighbours. The police have done everything they can within the law to resolve it, and the local authority has done everything it can to resolve it, too. They have concluded that it is a lifestyle difference between the two neighbours, but I am concerned that the neighbour who is suffering—who is at the receiving end of what she perceives to be the problems—is becoming more and more traumatised. In such situations, the local authority and the police say that nothing more can be done. Given some of the tragedies that have gone before, we need to consider whether there is a further provision that we can introduce in the Bill to identify a problem and try to find a solution that is not already covered by legislation. However, that matter would be better brought up in Committee.
I am grateful to the House for listening to my comments. The Bill is good in principle, but a lot of it needs further detailed scrutiny, and I would like to table some amendments at a future date.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) spoke for nearly 40 minutes, so I can only assume that the Whips, believing that there was a somewhat thin turnout on the Government side, had exhorted him to go long. He clearly had not appreciated that the cavalry had arrived, in the shape of the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). As some seven Members appear to wish to speak, I shall try—if the right hon. Gentleman is able to contain himself—to ensure that my remarks are as concise as possible.
I wish to focus on just two clauses—namely, 39 and 40, which relate to wheel-clamping. I have never had my vehicle clamped, but clamping appears to be one of the few growth industries under this Government. I find it objectionable that so many of our fellow citizens are being ripped off by wheel-clampers. As I have been selected to serve on the Public Bill Committee, I obviously look forward to contributing to detailed scrutiny of the all other parts of the Bill, too, but I am not clear how Members will be able to scrutinise properly in Committee and on Report a Bill of 46 clauses and a schedule in the time left before we have to dissolve for the general election, let alone how we will be able to send it to the Lords. There is thus a sense that this is all distraction politics while the Prime Minister and the Government mark time until the final rising of this Parliament on 27 March. Frustratingly, I suspect that because of the timetabling and guillotining provisions, the chances of any proper scrutiny of clauses 39 and 40, which come near the end of the Bill, in Committee is almost zero, although, as the House knows, I am an inherent optimist.
Banbury, whose population makes up about a third of my constituency, is a town of about 40,000 people. It is a good-sized town, but not a large town. In fact, it is the 232nd largest town in the UK by population. I discovered that last year on a day I selected completely at random—20 November—40 vehicles were clamped in Banbury. On the basis of the “fines” that were imposed that day on my constituents and on the basis that a random Friday in November is an average day, there is a minimum—I stress that this is a minimum—income to the clampers of £2,000 per day. If one completely ignores the so-called “towing fees”—if one assumes that those vehicles were simply clamped and people were not also charged for towing—that represents £672,000 per year to the wheel-clampers just in Banbury. However, as we all know, a considerable number of people get charged for “towing”, even if their vehicles are not towed. So in just the town of Banbury, which is the 232nd largest in the UK by population, my constituents pay getting on for £1 million a year in clamping penalties.
This is an abuse of the law and it must stop; wheel-clamping has become a state-sanctioned extortion racket. It is estimated that in any one year 10 per cent. of motorists are fined or clamped by private contractors in what is becoming an increasingly lucrative industry. Paul Watters, the AA’s head of public affairs, has observed:
“Private parking enforcement is big business generating millions of pounds and no-one notices and acts when the rules are broken. The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly—it is a civil matter and no-one is interested in helping… At least there is proper machinery when it comes to dealing with local authority fines.”
Wheel-clamping is out of control. The number of vehicles that are clamped has risen by 75 per cent. in just the past 19 months, and 2,100 individuals are licensed to clamp, which is an exponential rise from 1,200 in March 2008 and 1,900 in April 2009. Professor Stephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation has observed:
“The figures reveal more and more people are becoming clampers because the business is so lucrative and the law surrounding it so lax…With charges for being clamped and towed often running into several hundred pounds, cowboy clampers”—
“on the lookout for motorists who leave their car in the wrong place even for a few minutes”.
He went on to say:
“The huge rise in licence holders”—
those licensed to be wheel-clampers—
“proves the Government needs to act quickly. It has promised a cap on fees, an appeals service and a binding code of conduct. In 2010 it needs to deliver.”
It is questionable whether this Bill will deliver, because it is unclear what, if any, of those promises it will deliver.
It is estimated that the private clamping industry is worth about £240 million a year, and there are clearly a number of rogue companies taking advantage of the public. Tens of thousands of drivers, whose vehicles are clamped on private land, can be charged anything up to £800 because the clamping companies can set whatever fees they wish. Nowadays, wheel-clamping has almost always become legalised extortion.
People are worried not only about the clamping, but about the attitude of the clampers. In a recent letter to the Banbury Guardian, a local resident observed that his
“lasting impression of the whole experience is not the dent to the finances but the unprofessional behaviour of the clampers.
The two ‘officials’ stood inches from my face in stain-covered tracksuit bottoms. Their vehicle had two broken wing mirrors, cigarette packets fell out on to the floor when they opened their…door and the documentation I was presented with looked like it had been designed at the Early Learning Centre.”
The letter wisely concluded that
“we need traffic enforcement, but like any other process where money is demanded from a member of the public it should be regulated.”
Of course, if a vehicle is trespassing, clamping is not a particularly effective means of releasing that space, as has been clearly recognised by the Department for Transport and local authorities. Indeed, in respect of provisions in the Road Traffic Act 1991 and the Transport Act 2000, the guidance published alongside the Removal and Disposal of Vehicles (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2007, which came into force in March 2008, observed the following:
“Very few authorities now use immobilisation. The Secretary of State is of the view that it should only be used in limited circumstances such as where the same vehicle repeatedly breaks parking restrictions and it has not been possible to collect payment for penalties, primarily because the keeper is not registered, or is not properly registered, with the DVLA. Where a vehicle is causing a hazard or obstruction the enforcement authority should remove rather than immobilise. Immobilisation/removal activity should only take place where it gives clear traffic management benefits.”
The Government, the Department for Transport and local authorities do not believe that it is sensible to clamp, yet they allow all these rogue clampers to go around clamping on private ground.
What, in reality, is happening if a vehicle parks on private land? It is a civil matter, a tort and a trespass, and the damages should be equivalent to the compensation for the damage to the land done by the trespasser—in most instances, this is zero or minimal. If the damage consists in a vehicle being parked, clamping, which obviously prevents the vehicle from being moved, increases that damage. Thus, this is little less than self-inflicted injury by the landowner. What is all too often being extracted is not the equivalent of civil compensation, but, in effect, a punishment. It has been a long-established principle of English law that one private citizen cannot legally punish another for his conduct. I suggest to the House that those who charge £200 or more to release cars that they have clamped on private land are doing little more than extorting money from innocent people.
Bizarrely, the Government are conniving in this extortion, a point that was made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). The DVLA is selling drivers’ names and addresses to clamping companies. It made more than £4 million in 2008 by selling the details of some 1.6 million drivers. It has sold drivers’ details to companies notwithstanding the fact that it is often aware of businesses that repeatedly double-charge drivers for parking breaches and charge inflated bills for spurious charges.
Eventually, I am glad to say, the Government recognised that this is a public mischief that needs to be addressed. The right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), when she was Home Secretary, observed:
“There are clearly a minority of clamping companies indulging in unacceptable behaviour including unclear signage and excessive fees.”
As is usual with this Government, they launched a consultation and told the press what they hoped it would deliver. Way back in April of last year, The Daily Telegraph reported:
“The Home Office wants to set a maximum penalty charge—likely to be £135—to stop cowboy clampers fleecing the public.
Clamping firms will also have to prove vehicles had breached parking restrictions and will be forced to make warning signs more obvious and visible”.
By October, the Home Office had briefed the press that Ministers had proposed a £125 maximum charge for removing a clamp, a £250 ceiling for returning a car that had been towed away and a ban on double-charging—that is, it would not be possible to levy both the clamp removal fee and the tow-away fee. A Home Office press notice stated:
“Proposals within the bill will make it mandatory for all wheel clamping businesses to be licensed under the terms of a strict code of conduct. The code will include a cap on fines, time limits on towing cars unreasonably quickly after being clamped…Ministers are also looking to introduce an independent appeals process for motorists who feel unfairly penalised by firms and their employees.”
The only problem is that those changes are not provided for in the Bill.
Clause 39 takes up approximately 150 lines of the Bill, and it does just one thing. Whereas at present individuals who engage in wheel-clamping are obliged to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority, the clause provides that businesses should also be licensed by the SIA. All it does is ensure that whereas nowadays individuals are regulated and licensed, in future businesses will likewise have to be licensed. There is no mention of a statutory code of conduct or of what would be in such a code. Notwithstanding the fact that individuals will have to be licensed by the SIA, it is clear from the exponential growth in the number of wheel-clampers and in their take that despite Government efforts to control the industry it is effectively a state-sanctioned extortion racket.
Clause 40 simply extends the powers of the SIA’s approved contractor scheme to allow in-house private security services to apply for approved status. As the explanatory note comments:
“This is a minor extension of an existing scheme”.
So there are no proposals in the Bill to cap charges or to control the activities of wheel-clampers. The Secretary of State made such a fleeting reference to this subject in his speech that it was missable.
We will need to be given some real assurances and undertakings in Committee by Ministers that they are intent on introducing a code of conduct for wheel-clampers that will give motorists protection. Otherwise, all they are doing in this Bill, as is so often the case, is giving the impression of dealing with a public mischief—rogue wheel-clamping—without actually tackling it. They give the impression that they will do something, but nothing will come of it. I hope that this Bill, if it gets through, will do something to tackle rogue wheel-clampers. There is a lot more work to be done, many more undertakings to be made and a lot more that we need to hear from Ministers in Committee before Report and Third Reading if we are to be convinced that they mean business.
This is a wide-ranging Bill, and I originally intended to speak about the provisions on wheel-clamping, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) just did, on antisocial behaviour orders and parenting orders, on DNA and fingerprinting and on gang-related violence. However, I must take this opportunity to refer to the provisions on domestic violence.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) earlier pointed out that domestic violence is often not physical. I would agree with that. The violence can be mental, emotional, psychological or sexual and will often originate not just in disputes between husbands and wives, partners and so on. Abuse can be against elders, and it can also be honour-related. Increasingly, we are seeing evidence of that in the courts.
The provisions in the Bill—this is all I want to say on this point, because a lot of what I was going to say has been brought to the attention of the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) —are firmly supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It is ACPO’s firm view, as expressed in evidence to the Home Secretary:
“In many incidents, the victim is in no fit state, physically or emotionally, to make complicated and life-changing decisions regarding her safety, residence…and the well-being of her children at the time when the police are investigating an incident or offence.”
It is quite clear that there are occasions when an individual is released without charge or without being placed on police bail, partly, sometimes, because the woman concerned—it is more often a woman than a man—is in no fit state to make decisions about whether to bring charges or to make the necessary decisions to react to the incident that she has just suffered. She needs the protection and time to make the necessary decisions on future steps to secure her safety and, more often than not, that of her children. I agree with ACPO and think that the provisions in the Bill are sensible. They represent an intermediate step that can help women, in particular, to deal with the situation in which they find themselves.
I want to refer to the wheel-clamping provisions. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Banbury said, but I would add that many drivers and motorists across the country would argue that it is not just wheel-clamping that is the problem, but private parking services per se. Many of my constituents complain to me that companies such as Excel—no doubt I will get another nasty threatening letter from that company as a result of this speech—fleece customers. Such companies’ signage is appalling and they fine customers on the basis, sometimes, of parking slightly over a line in a parking space. The signage is so unclear that motorists do not know whether they have broken the rules or not, and the DVLA is passing on the information about these motorists to such companies. In addition, companies such as Excel offer no appeals process whatsoever when it comes to the penalty notices that they issue for so-called parking offences. I hope that the Bill can be extended to cover some of these issues. Problems with private parking provision are raised repeatedly in the media nowadays, and I hope that the Bill can be extended to do something about it. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on this issue.
Let me move on to refer to the provisions in the Bill that deal with ASBOs and parenting orders. I support these provisions wholeheartedly. Many parents who find that their children end up in court to discuss whether an ASBO should be issued want to help their children but find that they are often not equipped to do so. Parenting orders are therefore an essential part of the ASBO package. There are parents who do not want any support or help in handling their children. They have a completely different attitude. For that reason, the provisions in the Bill are welcome. We need to focus in the immediate future on that hard core of parents who do not care about the impact of their children on the local community. I welcome the Home Secretary’s prioritisation of that.
Parents who want to help their children keep out of trouble and stay on the straight and narrow are best helped before their children end up in trouble. The Government have done a great deal to pilot initiatives in schools in order to involve parents in their children’s education—for example, through home to school liaison officers and support for adults in schools, helping them to deal with their own literacy problems and involving them in the education of their children. However, much of that piloting has not been mainstreamed, usually because the funding has been ring-fenced or temporary, and there has not been a proper evaluation of the effectiveness of such interventions and the mainstreaming of parenting support in the education system.
The provisions need to be matched by a serious analysis of how best we can support parenting within the education system. That is the best place for intervening with parents and helping them to support their children. Sure Start is based on that principle, and I am convinced that we should see that throughout the primary system and the secondary system, wherever necessary.
On the DNA provisions, I agree with hon. Members who have expressed grave concerns about the Government’s movement on the European Court of Human Rights judgment. The Government have not gone far enough in responding to the judgment. For me, the very articulate speech from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who is no longer in his place, summarised the range of reasons why the Government have not gone far enough in implementing that judgment.
Someone who is innocent is innocent. I accept, however, that within the large pool of people who have been arrested for various offences there is a degree of complexity that makes it difficult to argue that one kind of person arrested is the same as another, so I disagree with the Liberal Democrat position. We need to examine more carefully the massive range of complexities involved in the pool of people who have been arrested by the police and released without charge, charged with an offence and found not guilty in court, and so on.
A young girl caught shoplifting at 13 is often taken into police custody, given the fright of her life and released without charge, with a caution, precisely because the police do not want to criminalise that young woman. At that stage, the police’s view is that the experience of being arrested and put in a police cell will, more often than not, probably be enough to put that girl on to the straight and narrow. That, together with a strict word with the parents, is often seen to be the means by which the police can avoid turning her into a convict and putting her on a path to criminality in the long term.
It is a contradiction, therefore, to say that that young woman’s DNA should be taken and kept on the database for X years on the basis that her arrest means that she is more likely to commit an extremely violent and serious offence in the future. The Government’s argument does not relate to whether an individual who has been arrested once is likely to be arrested for a minor offence in the future—another disorder offence or another drink driving offence. The arguments have been about rape, murder and the most serious forms of physical violence.
In some cases DNA is taken from people who have been given fixed penalty notices for extremely minor offences that are not even recordable or arrestable. I find it appalling that it can be assumed that such people, or the vast majority of those who have had their DNA taken because they shoplifted as a 13-year-old, are far more likely than the general population to commit an extremely serious crime in the future. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden was right to say that often people find themselves on the receiving end of a demand for DNA because they have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The building of the DNA database has often been incredibly random.
Members in the Chamber will know that I am not given to opposing the Government at every twist and turn. It is not my way of doing business, but on this issue I do not think the Government have gone far enough. That does not mean, however, that I will vote against Second Reading tonight, or even abstain. The Government have moved to some degree to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment and should be given the chance to respond in Committee and on Report and Third Reading on this important part of the Bill. I will push the Government for a fuller implementation of the judgment that takes account of the complexities of the issue more clearly, but that does not mean that I want to jeopardise the other provisions in the Bill on account of that one disagreement. In that, perhaps, I differ from some of those who have spoken in the Chamber today.
Finally, the provisions on gang-related violence have hardly been mentioned in the debate, but I consider them extremely important. I support wholeheartedly the extension of the provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 to a younger age group—specifically, the 14-to-18 age group. The problem is not new. From what we read in the media, most people would believe that gang-related violence is a symptom of the new millennium, but that is clearly not case. Mention gang-related violence to anybody over the age of 70 or 80 in Sheffield, and they will quiver with fear and talk about the Mooneys, one of the most dangerous gangs ever to have operated in the city of Sheffield, especially in Sheffield, Attercliffe. That does not mean that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has to deal now with a problem on a similar scale. He does not.
We have had gang-related violence in the past. Sheffield had it in the 1930s and London in the 1950s and 60s. It is not a new problem. Such violence is not related to the use of guns or knives. It is an age-old problem, but we need to deal with it. The emergence of postcode gangs is a new development and an extension of the old form of gang warfare which I find particularly worrying. The use of the internet and mobile phones makes it so much easier for such gangs to organise. I do not know whether any hon. Member in the Chamber has had a good look at some of the internet sites of postcode gangs. They are terrifying. One sees very young individuals, typically aged 12 upwards, in balaclavas and uniforms, handling what look like terrifying weapons—guns, knives and so on. More often than not, we see cannabis leaves and cannabis on those websites. I have raised the matter with the local police, and they point out the problem that one cannot prove that what is being smoked in video clips on such sites is genuinely cannabis, or that the guns and knives are anything other than replicas. The situation is very difficult, but my point is that those sites are meant to intimidate and terrorise, and they exist throughout the city of Sheffield. The S3 and S4 gangs are particularly difficult, and we have had gun-related gang killings in Sheffield. One case went to Crown court recently, and it resulted in long life sentences for two or three individuals. There are gangs in S6 and S12, too. Whatever the postcode in Sheffield, there is likely to be a gang attached to it.
We need to do something about that problem, because it absolutely terrifies the communities that make up cities such as Sheffield. When I was a councillor in Attercliffe, we had a problem with a gang that was peddling drugs and taking control of the neighbourhood. Tackling that problem took a partnership between the police, us councillors, and local residents, who had to be given the confidence to gather the necessary information to nail the gang leaders. But we reached the point whereby news about a private meeting that had been called to discuss the issue got out to the local community, and we ended up with almost 100 people in the hall. They did not care that the meeting was private; they turned up because they wanted to discuss the issue. It had become so serious that their lives were being seriously hindered and hampered by the behaviour of that gang of young people, who were led by the children of one family—peddling drugs and causing havoc. I therefore stress the need for such partnerships, which involve elected representatives, to deal with those issues.
I am listening to the hon. Lady with considerable interest, and particularly with regard to the websites that she just mentioned. I fully understand that it may be difficult to prove that people are smoking cannabis or handling real guns, but has she investigated, or does she know whether the police have investigated, any way in which they might just close down the website and, therefore, stop communication between gang members?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The police say that a ten-minute Bill, making it either easier to close those sites down or harder to set them up in the first place, is probably the way forward. However, gangs are increasingly tuning into the use of the web as a way of threatening and intimidating people, and that is very worrying.
Some people will oppose the Bill, saying that the measures on 14 to 18-year-olds employ a lower standard of proof, but we do not have any real choice, because some of the activities in which those gang members are involved are so extreme. Serious crime is being perpetrated by the users of guns, knives and—this is why I have raised the issue—dangerous dogs. I was absolutely delighted to hear the Home Secretary make it clear that he believes that, increasingly, gang members are using as weapons not just knives and guns, but dogs. A dog that is dangerously out of control is as dangerous as any gun or knife. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that issue, because we must ensure that the gang-related violence provisions that are extended to that younger generation are applied equally—regardless of the weapon that they employ.
In London, in particular, there is a growing problem with the use of dogs as dangerous weapons—so much so, that the Greater London authority is pressing for changes to legislation on the issue. There has been a nineteenfold increase in the number of dangerous and status dogs in London since the early 1990s. The problem is emerging in Merseyside and Birmingham, too, and it will not be long before we see it in Sheffield and other cities and communities throughout the country.
It is my firm view that we must look again at the dangerous dogs legislation, and strengthen it. We need to strengthen the penalties for gangs, in particular, and the police’s ability to respond to gang members’ use of dangerous dogs as weapons. We need also to give the police the tools that they need to deal with the issue, and that means increasing the penalties that are available to the courts to deal with people who own dogs that are dangerously out of control and endangering innocent people in our communities.
The provisions on gang-related violence are to some extent supported by strong legislation on the ownership of a knife, and how and when one carries it, and on the ownership of guns. We have strict legislation on knife and gun ownership, and I applaud it. No way would I want this country to liberalise the ownership of those weapons as the United States has. However, we need to think more seriously about supporting the provisions on gang-related violence, particularly those involving the use of weapons. We need to make sure that our dangerous dogs legislation is just as tough and effective at ensuring that individuals do not deliberately use dogs to intimidate, threaten, injure and, sometimes, kill other individuals.
May I first declare an interest? I have practised in the family and criminal courts for more than 30 years as a solicitor and as a barrister.
It is self-evident, to me at least, that the problems we have discussed today are real. The moot point is whether we have the right answers. Today’s problems cannot be addressed effectively by eroding civil liberties, and there has been enough talk about the balance between the freedom of the individual and the all-important security of society. Of course that is important, and it should be as central to this debate as to any other, but many people believe that the scales have fallen too heavily on the side of the interests of the state, at the expense of guaranteed rights that we have recognised for centuries. Those rights and freedoms meant that we stood out as an example of a civilised system that provided for the interests of the individual alongside the interests of society or the state. That used to be the situation, at any rate.
Recently, Amnesty International published a report on the state of the world’s human rights in which the then secretary-general said that giving one group of people security at the expense of other people’s rights is bound to fail, and that many anti-terrorist measures and laws have failed because they do not give that element enough consideration. They have, she said,
“done little to reduce the threat of violence…and much to damage human rights and the rule of law.”
The tension between this form of legislation and human rights has led to several recent cases in the Strasbourg Court. There are genuine concerns in this Chamber and there will be in the other place. I do not make these points simply to play politics; it is my sincere belief that there are some very bad and insidious parts of the Bill. I do not impute any wrong intentions to the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism or to any of his colleagues. However, I believe that some of this legislation must be thought through a great deal before it can go through.
Here is another crime Bill, a pre-election one. As always, it contains some sensible measures; tucked in with them, however, are measures that are not sensible and even insidious—a continuation of the sad trend to which I have alluded. But I should say that I welcome without qualification the proposed provisions on airguns. I also accept and appreciate without qualification the compensation for victims of terrorism abroad—indeed, I applaud it. We will have to see how the legislation on wheel-clamping works out, but I am pleased that the Government are recognising the problem.
I shall now attempt to explain—hopefully in short order—why I do not think that the provisions on domestic violence are necessary. That is not to say that I underplay the problem of domestic violence. I practised in that area of law for many years and know how awful that problem can be. I agree in large part with what the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) said. It is my belief that there is sufficient provision to deal with what the Bill proposes to address. We do not need to introduce a plethora of new legislation; we should ensure that the current legislation is properly employed. That is an honest response to that aspect of the Bill.
On fingerprints and DNA samples, we know that the Government are seeking to address the judgment of December 2008, which held that
“The blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences”
“right to respect for private life”
under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. I would say further that the right to life is an absolute right, although it can be limited in certain cases. This general case, however, has not been made out.
Earlier, there was much talk about the preferable system in Scotland, which probably has the right balance. It is worthy of further consideration.
It has been said before but I feel obliged to say it again: every person has the right to be presumed innocent until the opposite is proven, and acquitted persons must be treated in the same way. The national DNA database risks stigmatising people, as inclusion on the database leads to the perception that suspicions exist in relation to that person—as somebody said earlier, “no smoke without fire”. The retention of samples and profiles of unconvicted people may be especially harmful in relation to children; currently, unconvicted children and minority ethnic people are hugely over-represented on the database.
The proposed replacement measures in the Bill are really and truly only a marginal improvement on the existing regime. Those arrested but not charged or convicted may still have their DNA profile kept on the database for at least six years and as many as eight. In the view of Justice, retaining the DNA profile of an innocent person for six years is both excessive and unnecessary. The organisation opines that the Government have failed to follow the much more appropriate model in the 1995 Scottish legislation, under which the DNA of persons arrested but not convicted is destroyed following an acquittal or a decision not to charge. If they are enacted, the Government’s proposals would replace the existing “blanket and indiscriminate” retention policy with one that is only slightly less sweeping and is still disproportionate.
The other thing that I find a little concerning is that a chief police officer will make a decision on whether to extend that time, based on national security needs. I am not being disparaging of the police, less still of senior officers; my own brother is a fairly senior officer in north Wales. However, I do not think the police are necessarily qualified to decide on what is a security issue. As somebody said earlier in this interesting debate, the police are there to do their job and to do it in any way they can: they want to maximise convictions and to bring down crime rates, and that is to their credit. However, some elements within the police might be over-zealous in the way they go about it, and that is a problem.
Under-18-year-olds arrested for a recordable offence but not convicted will have their fingerprints and DNA retained for three years unless the offence is a qualifying offence of a sexual or violent nature and the child is aged 16 or 17, in which case their fingerprints and DNA will be retained for six years. Neither of those more limited periods of retention applies if the chief officer for a particular police area determines that that is necessary for the purposes of national security. A determination to that effect can be made every two years, and there is no limit on the number of such determinations. Effectively, then, an unconvicted person’s DNA could be retained indefinitely despite the European Court ruling of December 2008. Since then, the four Welsh police forces have added 23,778 DNA profiles to the database, and only 10 have been removed. That shows how difficult this is. I am sure we have all had experiences of trying to assist constituents who feel hard done by under this provision. It really is a disgrace, because it can genuinely affect people’s lives in many different ways, including their job prospects. To put it in a simple form of words, it is not fair.
Looking at the DNA regime in general, there is the whole notion of a person who has been arrested having a greater tendency to reoffend. Evidence from the Jill Dando Institute is not exactly evidence that one can heavily rely on. Mr. Justice Beatson, the outgoing president of the British Academy of Forensic Science and a High Court judge, has referred to research in this area as being less than convincing. He says:
“The issues involved raise difficult scientific and technical questions, and the policy choices in this area also have constitutional and civil liberties implications. The need is for an objective, impartial and balanced assessment in which the public can have confidence. Bearing these factors in mind, I suggest that the issue is one on which, for most of the twentieth century, advice would have been sought from a Royal Commission made up of the leading experts in all the relevant disciplines or a body such as the Law Commission.”
I do not accept the idea that a person who has been arrested is more likely to offend in future: that offends common sense. There are serious flaws in the Government’s research and analysis. Frankly, this part of the Bill should go back to the drawing board.
There are problems with the manner in which the new domestic violence protection notice is meant to be enforced, in that the offender and the person who has been offended against have a right to be heard by the superintendent in charge. There is no superintendent in the constituency that I represent, which covers an area that is 100 miles from north to south and 100 miles across. Need I say more than that this is balderdash in terms of practicality? It might work in an urban area, however.
The order was suggested by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has examined the matter practically. Secondly, it will be established as a pilot so, if legislative approval is given, the issues the hon. Gentleman raises may be considered as part of our examination of that pilot.