House of Commons
Monday 8 March 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Children, Schools and Families
The Secretary of State was asked—
There are currently no such meetings planned, but I will always give due consideration to any proposals from local authorities to meet them.
Does the Minister agree that if the 14-to-19 diploma programme is to work properly, efficient and effective school transport programmes must be in place to ensure that children who are going to schools further away from their home are accommodated? Has she seen the Select Committee on Transport’s report of March 2009, and what action is she going to take?
We think it very important indeed that parents and young people can exercise preferences about where they want to go to school or college and the courses they want to study. Additional money has been made available to local authorities to ensure that young people have that choice. The Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), who is responsible for the diplomas, has said that further additional money is being made available, too.
If the Minister is not having any meetings with local authority representatives, what further action will she take, beyond existing guidance, to ensure safer travel on school transport, including, in particular, tackling bullying on school transport and providing adequate training for school bus drivers?
The hon. Lady will know about the travelling to school initiative and the £7.5 million that was made available to work with schools to allow them to draw up school transport plans for the whole school community, so that there can be safe and sustainable ways of getting to school. The issue of bullying will be addressed within that, as will the issue of training for people who are travelling on school buses.
Schools and local authorities need the Secretary of State’s consent to sell school playing fields. The legislation introduced in 1998 sets out clear criteria for sales. School playing fields can be sold only if they are genuinely surplus, and all proceeds from the sale must be returned to improving sports or educational facilities.
Essex county council has made three attacks on Castle Point’s school playing fields, which is outrageous. The latest attack is to sell off part of Castle View school’s playing field to build a massive estate in the green belt and on the floodplain. It is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister work with me to try to stop this? Essex county councillors should not be using my community—
Order. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but we have got his point.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this matter. He has raised it on the Floor of the House before in Department for Children, Schools and Families questions. I am very keen to work with him and, more importantly than that, my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners is very keen to work with him. I can offer a meeting between the hon. Gentleman and the Minister for Schools and Learners to allow that to take place.
Is the Minister aware of the increasing use of outdoor gyms to enable people to use outdoor facilities more often? Will he encourage schools and local authorities to set about entering into partnerships to have more of those facilities, so that more people can use them?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. We are keen to ensure that partnership and collaborative work takes place to ensure that every single young person in school has the opportunity to have 21st-century sport and recreational facilities. The hon. Gentleman’s suggestions have been taken on board, and I want to work with him and other Members from around the House to ensure that his vision is realised.
Primary Schools (Hove)
Partnerships for Schools, the body responsible for the management and delivery of our schools capital investment programme, is currently in discussions with Brighton and Hove local authority about school place provision, particularly for primary schools in the Hove area. I have agreed to meet my hon. Friend and some of her constituents on 17 March to discuss access to primary school places in the area.
I thank the Minister for meeting me and my constituents and for meeting other parents in the autumn. Despite the Government’s granting £44 million for schools in Brighton and Hove, the Tory-led council is still slashing money for young people, toddlers and training, including £600,000 from Sure Start. It still has not allocated the £5.7 million granted by her Department for a new primary school. Will she ensure that money given to children by the Government is given by the council?
The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has made it clear that if we want to know what a Conservative Government would be like, we should look at how they act in local authorities—
Order. I must say to the hon. Lady that I feel sure that we are going to have an offer of Government policy on the matter—or does she feel that she has said enough?
Secondary Schools (Attainment)
Standards are rising in our secondary schools due to great teaching, the doubling of per pupil funding and the biggest investment in school buildings since the Victorian era. We already have 96 local authorities in our Building Schools for the Future programme, and I can announce today approval for the next six authorities to enter the programme. These authorities are Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Gateshead, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire and Sutton, with a total investment of £420 million. In addition, Birmingham, Cumbria and Gloucestershire fell just short of being ready, but with some extra work they will be first in line to enter the programme at the next available opportunity.
I note the Secretary of State’s response, but far too many schools are still not making the required level of progress. Is he aware that in almost a quarter of state-funded secondary schools, fewer than half the pupils made the expected progress between key stages 2 and 4 in English and maths? Is that not an indictment of his record, and his Government’s record, over the past 13 years of failure?
I know that the constituents of Bexleyheath and Crayford will be hoping, along with 50 other local authorities, that they will have the chance to come into Building Schools for the Future in the coming years. As he knows, that is a guarantee that Labour will make but that the Conservatives will cut. As for one-to-one tuition, which is vital to make sure that every child can make progress if they fall behind, it was in our fifth-Session Bill, which the Conservative party voted against on Third Reading. That is why there would not be progress under a Conservative Government.
Is not a real picture of our success given by Halton, where the percentage of children getting five grades A to C has gone up by 36 per cent. since 1998 to more than 70 per cent. today? Congratulations must go to the teachers and pupils there. Is it not also important to recognise the role of local education authorities? Will he examine the important contribution that Halton has made to increasing and improving standards there?
I know that some people do not think that there is a role for local education authorities, but the reason why we have made progress is because of those authorities that have been willing to support and challenge where progress was needed. The fact is that in 1997 only one in 20 schools were getting five GCSEs, including English and maths, whereas the number today is not one in 20 schools but one in three. That is a real measure of the progress on standards that we have seen in the past 10 years.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Thomas Lord Audley school in my constituency on exceeding the Government’s 30 per cent. GCSE target and on achieving the best results in the school’s entire history? Does he agree that, given those circumstances, Essex county council should not be shutting such a successful school, particularly given that last September’s admissions were the highest for many years?
In 1997, some 1,600 schools—more than one in two—were not achieving that benchmark of 30 per cent. for English and maths. Now, the number is not one in two, but fewer than one in 13. I congratulate the leadership of Thomas Lord Audley school on the progress that has been made. On the other issue that the hon. Gentleman raises about school improvement, and on the matters that are being discussed at length between him and Essex county council, I know that one of the numerous meetings that he is having with the Minister for Schools and Learners is happening this afternoon, and I shall look forward to receiving a personal report on the issues that have been raised—I am sure that playing fields will come up as well.
High schools in my constituency have, like many others, made dramatic improvements in attainment in recent years. That is down to a number of factors, including dedicated, high-calibre teachers, but above all to a return to rigorous teaching methods. Will my right hon. Friend seek to make sure that such teaching methods are adopted nationally, so that we can get national improvement?
We have a national curriculum that specifies the particular areas that need to be covered, including, for example, in history, the first world war, the second world war and the slave trade, but how teaching is done is really a matter for head teachers and teachers, rather than for the Secretary of State to prescribe. We have the best generation of teachers and some of the best school leaders that we have ever had. I think that starting to tell people how to teach and what to teach would be over-centralising. That may be the approach of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), but it will not be my approach.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, in the last year for which we have figures, of the 80,000 children who were eligible for free school meals—the very poorest—only 45 got to Oxford or Cambridge. Why are so many poor children being failed by Labour?
There has been repeated discussion on these matters. I have attempted to correct the hon. Gentleman on his statistical failings, but he keeps refusing to listen. What he does in his comparisons is to look only at the children on free school meals who go to schools. He repeatedly ignores the performance of young people on free school meals who go to further education colleges. His statistics therefore always give a very unfair and biased picture of what is going on, which I guess must account for why he keeps saying that his school reforms would lead to rising standards, while the head of the Swedish equivalent of Ofsted has said that they would lead to falling standards and greater inequality. I think that he should do his homework a little bit better.
I think that it is the Secretary of State who will get an F for fail. The Association of Colleges has looked at our figures, and the 80,000 whom we are talking about are all people who were in school in 2002. Whether or not they went on to school or sixth-form college, we looked at those who went on to Oxbridge. The right hon. Gentleman’s deputy, the Minister for Schools and Learners, repeated that mistake two weeks ago and had to acknowledge that it was an error. I hope the Secretary of State will have the good grace to acknowledge his error when he comes back to the Dispatch Box now. When more than 40 per cent. of the people who go on to Oxford and Cambridge come from fee-paying independent schools, where they have access to the high quality IGCSE, why does he deny poorer pupils in state schools the chance to have that high quality qualification? Why the prejudice towards the poor from his Labour Government?
Order. I am sorry, but I counted four questions there. In the next set, we must not have a repetition.
I will do my best to answer all four questions, to the extent that I followed them. The point that I was making is that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) regularly alleges, as he did only a week and a half ago, that only 189 pupils eligible for free school meals got three As at A-level, but he counts only pupils at maintained schools’ sixth forms and excludes those who go to sixth-form colleges or further education colleges. I have written to him and contacted him to try to get him to correct that mistake, but he refuses to do so. Similarly, he refuses to acknowledge that his free schools initiative will not only divert money away from other state schools, but will lead to falling standards and greater social inequality. I would have thought that he would join me in congratulating the six areas which today have been given more than £400 million of school investment. Let me read a quote from EducationInvestor—[Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much wittering from a sedentary position taking place—
The Secretary of State is wittering from the Dispatch Box.
Order. Mr, Gray, calm yourself. It is not good for your health. The Secretary of State may quote very briefly.
Very briefly, the quote is:
“‘What we’re saying is if financial close has been reached, it will go ahead.’ If not . . . Decisions about whether to continue with projects will be made on a ‘case by case basis.’”
That was the shadow schools Minister. What that means is that schemes at 700 schools in 50 areas could potentially be cancelled by a Conservative local authority. That is the threat to school building. That is why the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will not talk about the Swedish model or his school building—
Order. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We now need to move on.
Education Maintenance Allowance
To be eligible for education maintenance allowance in England, a learner must be aged between 16 and 19, meet certain residential criteria, have a bank account, and have a household income under £30,810, based on evidence from the last full financial year. We will continue, as now, not to require household income assessment for specific groups. However, from the end of June 2010, no new learners will be exempt from household income assessment solely on the basis of their course.
More than 3,000 young people in my constituency receive the education maintenance allowance. Without that financial support, many of them could not stay on for further education and skills training after 16. Will my hon. Friend assure me of his continuing commitment to maintaining the education maintenance allowance for low-income families in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is correct, and I pay tribute to all the hard work that she does with regard to this subject. For far too long—for decades—there has been a direct correlation between the level of educational participation and attainment, and household income. EMAs help to break that. That is a direct result of a policy intervention from the Government. The 3,000 learners in my hon. Friend’s constituency who are benefiting from that would, I think, like to be reassured that the Government will continue steadfastly supporting EMAs. We will certainly do that—no ifs, no buts. We will continue to support EMAs, unlike the Opposition, who have described them as a fiasco.
Will the Minister steadfastly defend EMAs for children in the independent sector in cases where, for example, grandparents are paying the fees of their grandchildren in independent schools?
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who is a decent and honourable man, that the whole purpose of education maintenance allowance is to make sure that we can help people on low and middle-incomes participate in education post-16. I suggest that if parents or grandparents are paying for their education, the household income is not necessarily a key criterion, and perhaps we should examine that criterion a little more closely.
I thank my hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the constructive meeting to talk about EMAs with young people from Northampton. May I stress the fact that a number of young people who are at university in Northampton were able to go only because they received an EMA to stay on at secondary school and finish their A-levels?
The Secretary of State and I really enjoyed our meeting with students from my hon. Friend’s constituency. They convinced me—if I needed convincing —that EMAs are an absolutely essential part of what we offer to young people as they go forward and participate in education and training post-16. Let me be absolutely clear with the House and, in particular, with my hon. Friend, who really supports that policy agenda. No ifs, no buts: we will continue to maintain education maintenance allowance from 16 onwards. That way we think that we can break the cycle between household income and educational attainment; and that way we can have real social justice in this country.
Primary Schools (Literacy)
Literacy standards in primary schools have never been higher. Eighty per cent. of 11-year-olds are now reaching the target level in English, up 17 percentage points from 1997. Record levels of funding and support, coupled with programmes such as communication, language and literacy development, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and, now, the pupil guarantee, all continue to drive up standards and progression.
But this year’s key stage 2 results are, I believe, the clearest indication yet that the Government’s policies for primary education have not only stalled but failed. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to focus on the use of tried and tested teaching methods in our primary schools?
I do not see how 100,000 more children achieving level 4 this year when compared with 1997 is a record of failure; I think that it is a record of sustained progress of which we can be proud. We are, of course, looking to see what further measures we can take to ensure that all children achieve the level that they should. That is why we are introducing one-to-one tuition and small group work; that is why the programmes to which I have referred, Every Child a Reader and Every Child a Writer, will be expanded and developed; and that is why we have recently announced proposals to allow the best primary schools to federate and join those primary schools that need support. So, over a period, we shall see continued and sustained progress.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the success in raising literacy standards is very largely due to our highly skilled teaching work force? If that is to continue and we are to achieve even better results, we must ensure that their continuing professional development—CPD—goes on unmarred. Does he realise that the “rarely cover” policy is interpreted in some schools as stopping CPD taking place?
“Rarely cover” arrangements, as my hon. Friend will know as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, should not stop CPD in any form. Continuing professional development is an important part of the entitlement of every teacher in our schools, and one way in which we want to see that progress and become entrenched is with a licence to practise, which we are introducing through the current Children, Schools and Families Bill, and which will mean a statutory entitlement for teachers with respect to their continuing professional development.
The Minister knows that the foundations for children’s literacy are laid in the very first years of their school life, and that the true record of Labour in that respect is no improvement in the national standards of reading at key stage 1 since 2001, and a decline in the standard of writing. Is it not time to start doing as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has said and focus on tried and trusted teaching methods, such as synthetic phonics, and bring in an effective reading test when children are six years old in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity to master the essential skills of reading, which will stand them in good stead for the future?
Of course we want to improve reading and writing. That is why we introduced Sure Start, which, as the hon. Lady will know, her party proposes to cut. She also mentioned the introduction of phonics as a way of ensuring that young children, particularly those at key stage 1, achieve the levels that they should, and she will know that it is now mandatory for schools to teach phonics at key stage 1.
Our school leavers guarantee will ensure that all young people leaving school this September will be offered a school, college or apprenticeship place. We have allocated £8.2 billion to fund a total of 1.6 million learner places for 16 to 18-year-olds in 2010-11. That includes 142,500 more places than we had originally planned, thanks to the generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with 449 extra places in Milton Keynes in 2010-11.
I thank the Secretary of State for those additional places. He knows that the youth unemployment level in Milton Keynes has gone up quite considerably during the recession. Can he assure me that he will maintain the September guarantee and the funding that goes with it, and that he will not be tempted to remove it too early simply in order to pay down the deficit?
My hon. Friend’s point is very important. In the pre-Budget report, the Chancellor of the Exchequer allowed us, for this year, next year and the year after, to ring-fence funding for Sure Start, for schools and for the school leavers guarantee, with rising funding in real terms, so that we can provide these extra places—a pledge that we will make and that the Conservatives refuse to match, because of their commitment to have cuts now to reduce the deficit.
May I give my hon. Friend a figure about her constituency that I know will be of interest to her? In Milton Keynes, youth unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds exceeding six months now stands at 365 young people. That is a low number because of the new deal, the school leavers guarantee and the future jobs fund. The figure peaked in June 1985 at 1,285 young people—almost four times as many. That is what happens when one cuts spending and does not act to protect youth jobs.
Can I give the Secretary of State a figure, as well? Over the past 10 years, the number of people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in education or employment has risen by 150,000 to 750,000. In my constituency, H. J. Berry, the oldest chair-maker in Britain, has closed, with the loss of 85 jobs; the oldest shoe shop in Clitheroe, D. Lord & Son, has closed; and we have recently seen the closure of Kaydee bookshop, with a loss of jobs. Let us forget the September guarantee and have the May promise—that we will get off the backs of entrepreneurs and allow them to create jobs for young people and others alike.
It is very important to protect and support entrepreneurs in creating more jobs for the future; there is a consensus on that on both sides of the House. I am proud of the fact that this year, compared with last year, the figures for young people not in education, employment or training have fallen for 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds, even in a recession. The reason for that is that, unlike the Conservatives, we will not forget the school leavers guarantee. We will fund the school leavers guarantee so that there is a college, school or apprenticeship place for every young person, not just some young people.
Primary Schools (Attainment)
Primary school standards have improved significantly over the past 12 years, with 100,000 more children now leaving primary school secure in the basics than in 1997, and a 19 percentage points increase in pupils achieving the expected standard in English and maths. There is still more to do if every child is to succeed at primary school. That is why last December we launched the world-class primaries programme, which will support local authorities in helping to bring all primary schools up to the level of the best.
As a governor of a primary school—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] As a former governor, I should say, of a primary school—[Interruption]—and, indeed, a former pupil, I quite understand the urge of Ministers to interfere from the centre, given the lunacy of what has sometimes passed for education in primary schools. However, does the Minister understand that the sheer volume of initiatives and prescriptions is becoming part of the problem, and that is certainly what the profession is complaining about?
One of the things that the Government are doing, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is to provide that from 2011 national strategies will have ended, with the money passed down to schools, including primary schools, to enable them to choose how best to spend that money within their own school. That will make a significant difference. As I said in a previous answer, one of the best initiatives—some initiatives are indeed better than others—in improving practice, whether or not it involves the primary school at which he was a governor, is to allow the sharing of best practice between schools that are achieving significantly better results than others to try to help and support those others to bring them up to the level that we all want.
Will my hon. Friend congratulate all the primary schools in my constituency on their excellent improved standards, much assisted by the reduction in class sizes brought about by the transfer of £2.25 million within the constituency from the Tories’ assisted places scheme? Will he congratulate them also on the wonderful rebuilding that is taking place, for instance at St. Agnes Church of England primary school and the Acacias community school? All that is because of a Labour Government.
I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the head teachers and teaching staff in primary schools in his constituency, and all the teaching profession across the country, on the work that they are doing and have done to improve standards.
My right hon. Friend refers to class sizes, and I can inform the House that in 1997, 29 per cent. of pupils were in classes of more than 30. Now, just 2.1 per cent. are in unlawfully large classes, and the overall average is 26.2 pupils per class. That is a significant improvement as a result of this Government’s investment.
Even given that improvement, it has been reported that more than 10,000 pupils in primary schools are in teaching groups of more than 40. How will that help to raise school standards? Is it not time that the Government considered the Liberal Democrats’ proposal for a pupil premium, which would put extra money into schools with disadvantaged children and enable the head teacher to choose to have smaller classes sizes, if that is the best option?
I suppose at least the Liberal Democrats are saying how they are going to pay for their pupil premium, although we do not agree with cutting tax credits to provide the £2.5 billion to support it. As I have said, we have invested significant sums of money into primary schools. In virtually every primary school across the country, there have been significant reductions in class sizes alongside additional teaching staff. That is one reason why we are seeing a significant increase in results. The Government are committed to ensuring that front-line services are protected, which is why we announced in the pre-Budget report a 0.7 per cent. real-terms increase in school funding, a promise that—
One of the most effective ways of improving attainment in primary schools is to encourage reading at home. The evidence from my constituency appears to be that the good work being undertaken by Sure Start is bringing that about. Will my hon. Friend assure us that that work will continue under the next Labour Government?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the importance of Sure Start, in which we will of course continue the investment. He is absolutely right that if we want to tackle the reading and writing problems of some of our poorest pupils, the involvement of parents and reading at home makes a significant difference. That is why many schools that are trying to tackle reading and writing problems invite parents in, work with them and in some cases offer them literacy classes, as those parents themselves often have very poor reading and writing skills. It is not that they do not want to read to their sons or daughters, but sometimes they simply do not have the skills to do so even if they wish to.
A number of recent reports from Cambridge down, including from the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, have expressed great concern about the need for even better-quality teachers in our primary schools, where some teachers have got on to teacher training programmes with no A-levels at all. Does the Minister share those concerns, and does he agree that as well as encouraging more specialists into teaching, we should ensure that primary school teachers have secured at least grade B level GCSEs in English and maths as a basic requirement, to help guarantee quality teaching for all primary school pupils?
What we want in our primary schools is good teachers, and many of them are excellent. We have the most highly qualified and best teaching work force that we have had, according to Ofsted. Rather than lecturing me about standards for teachers, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether Carol Vorderman is the right person to be the adviser to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), under whose proposals, as he will know, she would not be regarded as appropriate because she does not have the right class of degree.
Order. We started making very good progress at Question Time, since which time questions have tended to get longer and so have answers. We need to speed up.
Secondary Schools (Copeland)
Building Schools for the Future is the main programme for the strategic investment of capital funding for secondary schools. The Secretary of State announced today the latest six authorities to be invited to enter the programme, which have been assessed as the most ready to commence their projects. Cumbria is one of three authorities that came close to being selected. With some extra work in certain areas, it is well placed to enter the programme at the next available opportunity. Partnerships for Schools will work with the authority to assist it to prepare for entry.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response. Without question, attainment levels in schools in my county are rising as a result of the investment we have been putting in, but enough is enough with regard to the local education authority. This is the second time that it has missed an open goal for attracting school funding to my part of the world and the Workington constituency. Will he now meet me, the LEA and head teachers, and send in a Government hit squad to sort the LEA out once and for all?
I know the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency well—as he knows, I visited Cumbria the week before last. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also visited the county to look at the quality of education and particularly at school buildings. I am quite happy to meet not only my hon. Friend to discuss Cumbria’s progress and how we take matters forward, but any other local Member and, indeed, the local authority.
Young People in Care
I have not received any recent representations from local authorities concerning the security of young people in care.
I am puzzled about that, because last week UNICEF produced an excellent report, in which it said that three councils—Kent, Solihull and Harrow—reported losing contact with children in their care and expressed concern that there could be thousands more out there at risk of exploitation, but invisible to the professionals. Will the Minister confirm that she will immediately put an end to trafficked children being accommodated in bedsits and hostels, where they are very much at risk from their traffickers? It really is a bit of a scandal that children are disappearing—
Order. I am sorry but I have appealed for briefer questions.
It was brief.
Order. I am afraid it was not brief—that is the trouble.
The hon. Gentleman has a fine track record in representing the best interests of young people who are trafficked to this country. He and I had discussions on the matter recently. Clear guidance is in place on the standards that we expect local authorities to achieve in identifying and supporting children who may have been trafficked. If he has specific issues regarding the three local authorities he mentioned, and if he brings them to my attention, I will be happy to pursue them on his behalf.
Following the damning PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ofsted reports into safeguarding and looked-after children in Calderdale, and the litany of failure they highlighted, what importance does my right hon. Friend attach to the role of elected local authority cabinet members, particularly the portfolio holder and the leader of the council, in corporate parental responsibility?
Both elected members and officials in local authorities should be and are undertaking their responsibilities with regard to looked-after children and are caring for them as the corporate parent to the very highest of standards. Where that does not occur, and when interventions are necessary, the Government act swiftly. Later today, I will be meeting representatives from Calderdale local authority to discuss the particular issues following the Ofsted report of 26 February.
The right hon. Lady will be aware that the two children who were responsible for the horrific crimes chronicled in the serious case review into the Edlington case were both in foster care. Does she believe that the executive summary into that case is an adequate document?
I have read both the full report and the executive summary. Ofsted judged the latter to be good. As the Minister responsible for dealing directly with discussions with Doncaster, I am taking forward all the questions of improving that authority’s procedures for safeguarding children.
I am literally amazed that the Minister thinks that that scanty 10-page document is adequate to do justice to the scale and complexity of the case. The British Association of Social Workers—the professional body—has said that full serious case reviews should be published in a suitably anonymised version. Why are the professionals wrong, and why is the Secretary of State correct?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children does not agree with that view. In these circumstances, it is important that all the information is in the full serious case review to ensure that the lessons are learned, and that people are frank and open about what happened. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made the point about ensuring that whenever necessary we protect people’s identity, and the hon. Gentleman knows that all these matters are being considered in the discussions on how we move forward on the guidance for the information that should be made available in the executive summary. Ofsted has judged the executive summary in that case to be good, and we need to ensure that lessons are learned and acted on.
Academic and Vocational Qualifications
From 2013, most young people will access qualifications through one of four nationally available routes—apprenticeships, the diploma, GCSEs and A levels, or foundation learning. Each of those routes offers a different learning style, ranging from vocational to academic, with the diploma designed by employers and higher education institutions to bridge the divide between academic and vocational qualifications.
We all recognise the enormous contribution that vocational learning has made to upskilling our work force, making our manufacturing more competitive and encouraging innovation and enterprise. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that we get rid of the artificial divide between so-called vocational and academic learning, and raise the status of vocational qualifications?
My hon. Friend is right: too often, there is a tendency not to give parity of esteem to vocational routes in our schools and colleges. That is not helped by those who propose leaving out vocational subjects from league tables as if they do not count. That says that we regard academic qualifications as the premiership and vocational qualifications not even as the championship, but as one of the lower leagues. That is not an approach that we should follow, even though the Opposition advocate it.
There are now 203 academies open in 83 local authorities, with up to a further 100 opening in 2010. Evidence from independent reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ofsted and the National Audit Office shows that academies are working. For academies with results in 2008 and 2009, the increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five A* GCSEs, including English and maths, is 5 percentage points, an increase on last year’s academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points.
What assurances will the Government give to existing academy leaders that the freedoms that their schools initially enjoyed will not be further watered down?
The academies programme is an important part of the school reform programme that this Government have introduced, but academies are not independent schools within the state sector. They have certain freedoms, but they have to collaborate with other schools—and that is one of the changes that we have made. They have academic freedom and curricular freedom, as well as freedom with respect to their staff, but we do not want to see academies totally cast adrift and allowed to do whatever they want within the state system. They are an important part of our school reform programme, and that is how they will stay.
My hon. Friend will be aware that in Stoke-on-Trent the proposals for the 2020 academy have met with great concern from the local communities, who want to see it built on the fields alongside Longton high and for the Mitchell school to be kept open, serving those communities. Will my hon. Friend confirm that if Stoke-on-Trent city council wished to listen to the people of their communities and do that, it could do so—even though it is a Conservative council?
It may be of interest to the House to learn that I have had a meeting with my hon. Friend and local people about this matter in his constituency. The important point is that of course it is a matter for local authorities to determine the best way to organise schools in their area, and they can change, listen and adapt programmes, although they have to take account of other considerations. I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased to join me in welcoming the investment of £250 million into Stoke’s schools that we are making through Building Schools for the Future.
If academies are such a success, why can most schools not become academies?
We do not want most schools to become academies, because we believe that local people and local authorities should determine the best mix of secondary school provision in their areas. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that not only will he have to persuade me of his argument, but he will have to persuade a number of Tory local councils, up and down the country, which do not believe that simply saying that academies are the right solution for every secondary school is the right way forward. They agree with us that academies are sometimes the right answer, but that sometimes the answer is maintaining a school as a local authority school, while sometimes the answer is setting up a national challenge trust. Rather than being ideologically dogmatic, let us see what works and introduce it in a local area.
Building Schools for the Future
Birmingham is in waves 2 and 5. Ten schools are being redeveloped, and it is planned to redevelop a further 20. The first phase of projects reached financial close in August 2009. The first schools will open in January 2011. The authority is seeking approval from Partnerships for Schools for the remaining phase 1 schools, and it is preparing the strategy for change and outline business case for phase 2. Partnerships for Schools is assessing the readiness to deliver for phase 3. Today the Secretary of State has announced the next six local authorities, with the next three in line.
Will my hon. Friend clarify Birmingham’s current position? Although I am aware that it has benefited from BSF investment in the earlier waves, I am sure that he will share my disappointment that the majority of Birmingham secondary schools still have no idea when they will be refurbished or rebuilt under the BSF programme. Will he clarify whether today’s announcement shows that capital investment for Birmingham schools is unavailable, or whether it shows that the local authority has not got its act together to submit its case? Either way, will he meet me to discuss the situation?
Before we can agree a programme for a local authority, that authority has to demonstrate its readiness to deliver. There is a proper set of criteria that local authorities have to abide by, as well as a proper assessment process, which is rigorously assessed by Partnerships for Schools, the Government office and our officials, and on the basis of the information provided, so that judgments can be made about which authorities are most ready to deliver. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a statement today about the six authorities currently most ready to deliver, and indicated which three are, as it were, next on the runway. Birmingham is one of those three, but it is for the local authority to sort out the remaining issues before we can finally get that agreed.
Early Intervention Green Paper
We will shortly publish a document on early intervention to help local authorities and their partners, working in children’s trusts and elsewhere, to improve the quality and consistency of the support that they offer to vulnerable children and families.
In an era when politicians are criticised for not thinking long term, may I congratulate the Government on their far-sightedness in setting up an early intervention unit in the Department and on bringing forward a Green Paper on early intervention? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a social and emotional bedrock is the foundation of all attainment for babies, children and young people, and that we should continue to support it and ensure that it is spread as far as humanly possible, particularly in deprived constituencies such as mine?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Not only do we know that shifting to early intervention can provide value for money, in terms of the costs to the individual, the family and the community at a later stage, but the evidence base clearly shows that intervening early is a particular help to children’s development and their ability to learn. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to look again at how services are delivered, looking for that innovation and ensuring that we build that early intervention.
What assessment has been made of the impact of the recession on preventive services?
All local authorities have considered the position since the recession and the impact on services. If we look in particular at children’s services and the availability of child care facilities, both through childminders and otherwise, we see that, thankfully, excellent children’s services continue to be provided, giving children the very best start in life, thanks to the extra investment that this Government continue to put into those services.
I would like to update the House on the actions that I propose to take to implement the pre-Budget report. As I said, the Chancellor protected, with real-terms rises, 75 per cent. of my budget, covering Sure Start, schools and 16-to-19 learning. However, he also requested that by 2013 I should find £500 million in savings from non-protected spending, which, excluding teachers’ pensions, covers 10 per cent. of my budget. That will be a 7 per cent. cut in those non-protected budgets.
So far, I have identified savings of over £300 million, which includes £135 million from our non-departmental public bodies, including significant reductions in funding for BECTA—the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency—and the Teacher Development Agency. There will be a cut of £100 million by ending start-up funding for extended services, now that 95 per cent. of schools are offering access to them, and of £50 million by scaling back bursaries for initial teacher training. There will be a further £21 million of savings from communication—
Order. May I just say to the Secretary of State that the answer is too long? A problem has arisen in that those to whom we do not refer in the Chamber, but who have a hand in the preparation of material, are preparing too much material, and it will not do. I want to make progress. I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but we really must have pithy questions and pithy answers—[Interruption.] Order. I do not require help from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove).
Will the Secretary of State undertake urgently to investigate the failure of Building Schools for the Future to fund Havering sixth-form college, because 2,300 pupils were depending on that funding and they are now not getting it? Will he find out why there is a problem and try to sort it out quickly?
First of all, Mr. Speaker, may I apologise? I had understood that the convention at topical questions was that I could make a short statement in reply to the first question, which is what I was attempting to do.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about Building Schools for the Future, and I am happy to look into the details of the school that he mentioned. As he will know, his borough joined Building Schools for the Future in November 2009, and the schools in his constituency, including the one to which he referred, are therefore exactly the kind of schools that would be put at risk by the Conservatives’ proposals not to give a guarantee to any school that had not yet got to financial closure. I would be happy to talk to him, but I am afraid that I cannot make any guarantees on behalf of those on the Conservative Benches; that is a matter for them.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right in his interpretation of the procedure but, unfortunately, his statement was not as short as I wanted it to be.
I have to say that, although this situation has not arisen in my hon. Friend’s constituency, hon. Members on both sides of the House have come up to me in recent weeks and said, “Please could you get our area through, because if you lose the election, I fear that we won’t get the Building Schools for the Future funding that we want.” That is not a problem in the case of Manchester, however, because its money has already come through in the form of nearly £1 billion of school capital spending. The only thing I can say to those Conservative Members who are worried about cuts if they were to win the election is that they should join Samantha Cameron and vote Labour.
I joined the shadow Secretary of Secretary in not taking that test; we both decided that we would not put ourselves through that ordeal. I know, however, that we have had an expert report into primary maths teaching from Professor Williams, who made a series of recommendations. We have also heard that, because the person who speaks about maths on behalf of the Conservative party got a third, she would not even be allowed to teach in schools, let alone give any recommendations about how to improve maths teaching. We are the people with the real ideas and we are implementing them.
I am very disappointed to hear about the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent, and I will certainly look into it. We greatly value the work of educational psychologists. In the last six months, I have met the Association of Educational Psychologists twice to discuss its role and how best to support it.
I may have misheard the shadow Schools Secretary when I heard him—erroneously, once again—quote A-level student numbers that excluded those in sixth-form colleges and maintained schools. The fact is that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has form; in recent months, he has regularly quoted figures that he knows to be untrue. We have tried to correct them time and time again. I have no idea whether he got them right or wrong in this case; what I know is that every time he has used them in the past, he has got them wrong.
When the Ofsted report on the inadequacy of the services for safeguarding Calderdale children was published, my Department’s officials were immediately in contact and have been in discussions with Calderdale local authority about the issues, looking into the reasons and the steps it intends to take. I will meet Calderdale local authority this afternoon to hear its proposals before having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on any further action, including intervention, that needs to be taken in that local authority.
With respect, that is not what the hon. Gentleman asked me. He asked whether any local authorities had contacted me, and I said no, as they had not. He then said he was surprised because three had been quoted in a UNICEF report. I then asked him whether, if he had any specific details or concerns, he would let me know of them, and I would pursue them. I was not ducking his question. As he well knows, this Government have taken a number of steps over the last five years to protect and reinforce the rights of all children in care, including those involved in trafficking, by adopting procedures and protocols to ensure that children who go missing are found and returned to safety.
I welcome the recent reduction in the number of young people not in education, employment or training. However, if access to education maintenance allowance were to be restricted, would that help or hinder making further progress in reducing the number of NEETs?
As I mentioned in previous answers, the policy intervention of the education maintenance allowance has had a wonderful effect on improving the educational attainment and participation rates of pupils, particularly of those from lower income backgrounds post-16. We are continuing with that. We have a very clear policy on ensuring that the EMA will continue, but I am afraid that the Conservative party does not.
I am happy to give the hon. Lady a clear assurance that front-line school spending, including Sure Start and 16-to-19 funding, will be protected under the present Government. We have funds for real-terms rises during the next three years. What we will not engage in is a free-market experiment that would lead to cuts for existing schools, as well as falling standards and rising inequality. As I have said before, if the hon. Lady wants to ensure that her school budgets are protected, she had better vote Labour.
May I ask the Secretary of State to take a second look at one aspect of the Building Schools for the Future programme? Schools with listed aspects to their architecture—classrooms built on concrete, for example—are penalised because they cannot rebuild completely. An element of flexibility is needed, but it does not exist at present.
That flexibility should be there. We are talking about brand-new or fully refurbished school buildings. Over the past couple of years, I have visited many schools that have had to work with the issue of listed buildings, but it is possible to do so if the planning is right and the resources are there. I know that Coventry has benefited from those resources. I hope that the new schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency have reached financial closure, but their funds would be cut by the Conservatives were they to win the election.
I want more children from free school meals backgrounds to go to Oxford and Cambridge. The fact is that time and again in recent months, in the House and in speeches elsewhere, the shadow Secretary of State has wrongly quoted figures about free school meals in which he has excluded those who go to sixth-form or further education colleges. That does down their achievements, but I have not received any apology from the hon. Gentleman for his errors at any stage. Once he starts to admit his errors, we can start to have a grown-up conversation.
Order. I am not going to become involved in the issue of apologies, but I am sure the Secretary of State is not suggesting that the shadow Secretary of State was deliberately misleading the House. I am sure he is not saying that.
No, I am not saying that at all. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] It sounds as if a few Conservative Members have had a large lunch. That was a rather large belch from them.
I have written to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in the past and asked him to correct factual mistakes in his figures. He has refused to do so, even—
Order. We will not become further involved in that debate—although I think that we already have.
Leicestershire county council failed to get its BSF bid beyond the Partnerships for Schools process and on to Ministers’ desks. Will Ministers assure me that they will explain the reasons for that, and will they join me in urging the council to talk to all who oppose the bid, so that we can achieve a genuine consensus and partnership locally and the bid can be submitted again in the near future?
I assure my hon. Friend that we will do all that we can to work with his local authority to enable it to complete the process in due course. The Minister for Schools and Learners will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and local officials. What I cannot do, however, is give an assurance that the money will be there. We are guaranteeing Building Schools for the Future for the future, but the Conservative party is not giving that guarantee. Only the re-election of my hon. Friend can ensure that those schools are built for his constituents.
Why do the Government undermine schools that exclude pupils by sending some of them back to the same schools, thus putting at risk the education of all the children in those schools?
We do not do that at all. In a proper system, schools exclude pupils and pupils have an opportunity to appeal. Sometimes it is right for pupils who are excluded to be returned to their schools. That is a proper system, and when I was a deputy head teacher it operated quite well without undermining school discipline.
Given that today is international women’s day, will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the partners of deployed personnel who keep the home fires burning, and particularly to Friends and Families of Deployed Units, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year? Although the organisation was born in Plymouth, it now operates in a number of service communities throughout the country.
I do pay tribute to the families and especially the fathers and mothers of men and women who are serving abroad. I pay particular tribute to those who have lost sons and daughters in recent months. Their commitment to their children is something of which our country is hugely proud, and on international women’s day it is particularly important for us to recognise the contribution of the mothers of those serving in our armed forces.
Order. Patience brings its own rewards; I call Sir Nicholas Winterton.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.
The Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust believes a 13-year-old boy in my constituency who attends a secondary school and who has learning difficulties needs additional support at school, but the education authorities are not prepared to grant that support. What advice can the Secretary of State give me on how to put this matter right and give this young man an opportunity to make progress?
Obviously, I do not know the details of this particular case, but what I do know is that the Brian Lamb review was set up to try to make sure that parents get the information, support and voice that they need if they feel their children are not getting the proper support that they require. There are variations around the country in the ways in which local authorities support children with special needs, and particularly their parents, but the important thing to do is to make sure they get the support they need. I am sure that, as the constituency MP for the young man in question, the hon. Gentleman will do his best, and I will be very happy to help in any way I can.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor if he will make a statement on the circumstances of the breach of licence conditions by, and recall to prison of, Jon Venables.
I am most grateful for this opportunity to explain to the House the situation relating to Jon Venables. The background is as follows. In 1993, James Bulger, a young child aged two and a half, was the victim of a most horrific murder. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both then aged 10, were convicted of James’s murder at a trial at Preston Crown court in November 1993. They were given the mandatory sentence for murder by juveniles, namely detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The minimum tariff was originally set by the trial judge at eight years. That was increased to 10 years by the then Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Taylor, and then to 15 by the Home Secretary of the day, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Following a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in December 1999, the final decision on tariff setting was transferred from the Home Secretary to the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, who set a tariff of seven years and eight months.
Venables and Thompson were granted new identities, which were, and remain, protected by an injunction. They were released by the Parole Board on a life licence in June 2001. Various stringent conditions were attached, and they have been under probation supervision.
During the week beginning 22 February this year, officials in my Department learned of a compromise of Venables’s new identity. Subsequently, information came to light that Venables may have committed a serious breach of his licence conditions. He was recalled to custody the same day, and has since remained in prison. A Parole Board hearing will be held as soon as is practicable. Once we had established as much information as we could, we informed the bereaved parents of James Bulger of the recall, under the statutory victim contact scheme. My Department later issued a brief statement to the press regarding Venables’s recall to custody.
As the House is aware, we have not provided full details about this case, beyond confirming that Venables faces extremely serious allegations. That is because the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions have advised that a premature disclosure of information could undermine the integrity of the criminal justice process, including the continuing investigation and the potential for a prosecution in the future.
I fully understand the concern of James Bulger’s parents and the wider public about this case, and, indeed, the frustration voiced by James’s mother, Mrs. Fergus, that insufficient information has been provided to her. As I indicated earlier today, I have been giving further active consideration as to whether it would be appropriate to provide more information, but I have concluded that that would not currently be in the interests of justice. If charges do follow, it is critical that it is possible to hold a fair trial—fair for the defence and fair for the prosecution. As I said on Saturday morning, our motivation is solely to ensure that extremely serious allegations are properly investigated and that justice is done. No one in this country would want anything other. If any offender on a life licence is charged with a serious further offence, a thorough review of the supervision must be carried out—in any event, I will give the House further information as soon as I can.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting the question and for giving, as a result, an opportunity to the Justice Secretary to make a statement. He might on reflection conclude that he could profitably have explained earlier to the House the limits to what can be disclosed at this time because of the risk of prejudicing recall proceedings or a prosecution—nobody wants to do that. Explaining in summary the legal process, the time frame for the parole proceedings and the procedure used, and the grounds of recall, as well as giving a commitment to disclose more information once the relevant parole or prosecution decisions have been taken, in redacted form if necessary to protect Mr. Venables’s identity, could all help to avoid the frenzy of speculation that has arisen in this case.
All in this House will have a shared concern with the Justice Secretary to ensure that that speculation does not interfere with the course of justice. He may agree with me that the fact that he and the Home Secretary have given different comments to the media, which appeared somewhat inconsistent, does not help public confidence in the justice system. Will the Justice Secretary please, in response, try to cover at least some of these points now? Nobody needs reminding of the appalling circumstances of the murder of James Bulger—it shocked the country—but the role of Ministers is not to ebb and flow with media speculation.
Can the Justice Secretary now explain what licence conditions were placed on Mr. Venables? Can the Justice Secretary give a commitment to report to the House as soon as practicable on the action that the probation service has taken in response to every reported breach of licence by Mr. Venables since his release, so that the public can be assured that he was properly supervised? The Justice Secretary will be aware that there is now disquiet, including from Mrs. Fergus, that that has not happened. Can he also reassure the House that the grounds for not saying more at this stage constitute a practical need to avoid identifying Mr. Venables, given his new identity and the possible requirements of a trial process, rather than, as some sometimes fear, a broader creeping advance of privacy rights for criminals, which comes at the expense of public transparency? Does the Justice Secretary recognise how important it is for public confidence that justice is not only done, but seen to be done? In discharging what are often very difficult ministerial responsibilities the Justice Secretary is fully entitled to our understanding, but he needs to explain those difficulties to the House if he is to obtain its support.
Let me respond to the points that have been made. I think that I am well known for always being ready to come to this House. This matter was under very active consideration by both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service throughout last week, and I do not believe that it would have been appropriate for me to have come to the House at that stage—I am very happy to be here today. As for actions that I could have taken to avoid what the hon. and learned Gentleman calls the “frenzy of speculation” by the press, I must say that no statement by me in this House would have avoided that.
I have already explained, as I did this morning on the radio, that the Home Secretary and I are in exactly the same place on this. What he said last Wednesday was the same as that which I have said. What he said was simply to explain that there was a criminal justice process in prospect and that it was very important, as I have just said today, not to prejudice that. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about the licence conditions. Some of those were standard—attached to any offender on a life licence—and some were specific to the case of Venables and Thompson. For example, neither of the offenders could make any contact with the other and, self-evidently, they could make no contact whatever with the family of poor James Bulger. Both were wholly excluded from the Merseyside area, and there were other conditions attached.
On the grounds for not being able to say any more, this has nothing to do with what the hon. and learned Gentleman called a “creeping advance” of privacy for defendants; it is about protecting the possibility of a future prosecution and trial process, and I think that the whole House understands the imperative of doing that. I fully understand the frustration not least of James Bulger’s parents, Mrs. Fergus and Mr. Bulger. Mrs. Fergus, in comments made on the television this morning, accepted that although she is obviously very anxious to have full information, she does not want that information to arise prematurely in a way that could prejudice any future criminal justice process, and that is exactly the position that I hold.
May I offer my full support to the Secretary of State for what he is trying to achieve in this case? The case of James Bulger will obviously arouse strong emotions even 17 years on, but does he agree that the rule of law is more important even than those emotions, and is certainly more important than the commercial interests of competing tabloid newspapers? Does he agree also that in a case such as this, in which for all we know there might be a not guilty plea in a jury trial, there is a grave risk of severe damage to the public interest if there is premature release of prejudicial information? People have been saying that there is a right to know, but does he agree that there is no right to know everything immediately?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support in this case. This is about the rule of law, but the rule of law is there not as an abstract but to protect everybody, above all the victims of crime and especially the bereaved victims of the most horrific of all crimes—murder. Yes, of course, it also protects the accused. No charges have yet been laid; still less has a trial taken place and a conviction followed. What we value in this country—what everyone must value—is trial by a fair judicial process, and not by any other means.
The Bulger family are my constituents, and I spoke to Jamie Bulger’s uncle, Jimmy Bulger, earlier this afternoon. Understandably, the family are feeling very distressed indeed about what has taken place, mainly in the media, over the last week or so, and of course about what might underlie those reports. Their concern is that, as soon as possible, as much information as possible as to what breaches of the licence may have taken place—and for that matter, what offences may have been committed—is brought into the public domain. At the moment, the problem is that there is so much speculation that it is only adding to the distress of the family, and is not bringing a prosecution or any other legal action any nearer to a conclusion.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Of course I accept that the parents of James Bulger deserve, and should expect, the maximum information that is possible. The difficulty is the one that I have already explained. I am making arrangements to meet Mrs. Fergus and Mr. Bulger, James’s parents, and that meeting will, I hope, take place this week. I will then explain as much as I can, but there are inevitably limits on what I can say unless and until a decision is made about charge.
Order. As right hon. and hon. Members know, I always try to accommodate as many of them as possible. I would love to get everybody in, but I need short questions and short answers.
Does the Secretary of State, who has acted correctly to protect the trial process, recognise that there are many cases in which newspapers, if they are not careful, make it more difficult, or perhaps impossible, to convict guilty people?
Yes, I do, and that is something on which newspaper editors need to reflect. The consequence of coverage—which is a matter for their decision; that is not for any politician to suggest—may be the opposite of what they intend.
Jon Venables, Robert Thompson and their families lived in my constituency at the time of the murder, which took place in my constituency, so it is indelibly imprinted on my mind. Does the Secretary of State agree that there are whited sepulchres among the media who are seeking to whip up public disquiet and almost a hysterical reaction to the issue? If they are successful, is that not likely to be counter-productive, and will it not ensure that there is not the thing that we would all wish to see—that is, a fair trial for Jon Venables, if that is appropriate?
As I have already said, there are important responsibilities on the press in such situations. We want—we have to have—a trial process that is, as I say, fair for the defence and the prosecution. Justice is never served if, as a result of prejudicial reporting in advance of any prosecution and trial, the trial cannot proceed, and someone who might otherwise have been found guilty is acquitted before the trial starts.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any case in which a person who has been given a new identity has been tried under that new, and thus assumed, identity? Is it not inevitable in those circumstances that the original identity will be disclosed in the trial, making a fair trial extraordinarily difficult, and is that a factor that will weigh with the Crown Prosecution Service when it determines whether to prosecute?
I am not aware of any case of the kind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman describes. I should say that the number of offenders who have been granted a new identity is just a handful, so the possibility of there having been any trial is very small indeed. If there is a trial, it will be for the prosecution and defence initially, and then for the trial judge, to determine what arrangements need to be made for that trial to be conducted fairly.
Should not the genuine thirst to know the facts in a case of this sort be quenched by proper investigation and the facts coming out in front of a court of law? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we perhaps need to review the legal requirements that are in place to protect the likelihood of successful prosecution in this day and age, when 24/7 news and constant blogging run far ahead of the known facts?
That would be a matter for others, and I would not want to suggest that, as a result of the very unusual circumstances of this case, new laws should be introduced. Generally, the arrangements for reporting allegations work reasonably well; I think that that is the view of the Law Officers and the courts. This case is wholly unusual because of its notoriety and the exceptional circumstances of the offenders.
I do not think that my question could possibly prejudice a successful prosecution. Can the Justice Secretary assure the House that no person has been killed or seriously physically injured as a result of the matter that is being investigated?
I have seen no allegations of that kind.
The Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary are absolutely right not to jeopardise any future prosecutions, because an abandoned trial would be the worst thing that could happen, but at the same time, will the Justice Secretary assure me that he is trying to meet as fully as possible the needs of the Bulger family, which must be considerable at this time, which will bring back all the memories of what happened all those years ago?
Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), I do, I hope, understand the profound concern and frustration of Mrs. Fergus and Mr. Bulger—James’s parents. I also feel frustrated, because I would like to be in a position where I could tell them as much as I know, but I do not believe that that would, at this time, serve their interests any more than it would serve the interests of justice.
The whole House will probably take the view that Lord Chief Justice Woolf’s tariff of less than eight years was inadequate. That notwithstanding, I think that the Justice Secretary has taken exactly the right stance. He will undoubtedly come under great pressure in the next few weeks on this issue and I hope that he will adhere to his intention to ensure that there is no prejudicing of any trial and, no matter how despicable the individual involved, he will protect the identity from accidental as well as deliberate release so that we do not see lynch-mob law in this country, even in the prisons.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The safety of this individual in the prison system is also a consideration that we have a duty to consider. Indeed, it is under active consideration. On the wider issue, the right hon. Gentleman was in the House in 1999 and 2000 when I had to make two statements about the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. It was well known that I would have preferred the tariff setting to have stayed with the Home Secretary of the day, but the decision—which, by the way, was nothing whatever to do with the Human Rights Act, which was not even in force at that stage—had to be accepted, as was recognised on all sides.
The Justice Secretary spoke of the need for a thorough review of supervision. To the extent to which he is able to comment, has concern been raised in this case about the probation services and their supervisory role?
I do not want to anticipate any review. I was pointing out that if there were a charge, a mandatory serious further offence review would automatically follow. If there is not a charge, I shall give consideration to the situation and report to the House.
I am most grateful to colleagues for their co-operation, which enabled everybody who wanted to get in to do so in a timely fashion.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are always determined to ensure that Ministers have every opportunity to put the record straight when they might inadvertently have misled the House. I believe that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families might inadvertently have misled the House when he denied the fact that 45 children out of the 80,000 eligible for free school meals made it to Oxford and Cambridge. By what means can the Secretary of State put the record straight? I am sure that he would not want to allow anyone to be under any misapprehension as to the real state of affairs.
None of us wants to be under any misapprehension at all. I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his point of order and I am sorry to have to disappoint him but, as things stand, my strong impression is that the point that he has raised is not a point of order but a point of debate and arguably even of frustration. There is a genuine difference of opinion between the intellectual Titans on the Opposition Front Bench and on the Government Front Bench on this important matter. The hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, observed earlier that Ministers are of course responsible for everything that is said in this House, including its length or brevity, and he was right about that. I do not think that the Secretary of State, at this stage, is in any sense required to issue the clarification that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but he is—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must calm himself; I do not want him to suffer. I do not think that any clarification is required but the hon. Gentleman is a persistent fellow and I shall give him one more bite at the cherry.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not a matter of debate or dispute, but a matter of record in Hansard, in a parliamentary reply given by the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property. Now that you have had the opportunity to be reminded of that fact, will you ensure that the Secretary of State similarly has the opportunity to tell the House that he got it wrong?
I think the hon. Gentleman is a little confused and I want to release him from his confusion. The answer is twofold—[Interruption.] Order. I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman; I am sure that he will want my help. First, Ministers are responsible for what they say and it is not for me to adjudicate on the quality of a ministerial answer. Secondly, I say in all charity to the hon. Gentleman, whom I am doing my best to help—I hope he wants my help—that if he feels strongly that he has been wronged and if he feels aggrieved about that and wants to write to me about it, citing the relevant references and so on, he is of course perfectly at liberty to do so, as other shadow Ministers have done many times. I shall look forward to reading his words with eager anticipation.
Crime and Security Bill
[Relevant document: The Twelfth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Crime and Security Bill; Personal Care at Home Bill; Children, Schools and Families Bill, HC 402.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples
‘For section 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (destruction of fingerprints and samples) there is substituted—
“64 Destruction of fingerprints and samples
(1) Unless provided otherwise in this section, where fingerprints, impressions of footwear or samples are taken from a person in connection with the investigation of an offence, the fingerprints, impressions of footwear or samples or any DNA profile may not be retained after they have fulfilled the purposes for which they were taken and shall not be used by any person except for purposes related to the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of an offence, the conduct of a prosecution or the identification of a deceased person or of the person from whom a body part came.
(2) In subsection (1) above—
(a) the reference to crime includes a reference to any conduct which—
(i) constitutes one or more criminal offence (whether under the law of a part of the United Kingdom or of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom); or
(ii) is, or corresponds to, any conduct which, if it all took place in any one part of the United Kingdom, would constitute one or more criminal offences; and
(b) the references to an investigation and to a prosecution include references, respectively, to any investigation outside the United Kingdom of any crime or suspected crime and to a prosecution brought in respect of any crime in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.
(3) A DNA sample must be destroyed—
(a) as soon as a DNA profile has been derived from the sample, or
(b) if sooner, before the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which the sample was taken.
(4) Any other sample to which this section applies must be destroyed before the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which it was taken.
(5) Fingerprints, impressions of footwear and DNA profiles are not required to be destroyed if they were taken from a person convicted of a recordable offence.
(6) Where any fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample has been taken from a person who is arrested for or charged with a sexual offence or violent offence, the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall not be destroyed—
(a) in the case of fingerprints or impressions of footwear, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the fingerprints or impression were taken, such date being the “initial retention date”; or
(b) in the case of a DNA profile, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the DNA sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken, such date being the “initial DNA retention date”; or
(c) if an application is made to the Court under subsection (7), until such later date as may be provided by subsection (8) or (10) below.
Provided always that if the person is convicted of a recordable offence, subsection (5) shall apply.
(7) On application made by the responsible chief officer of police within the period of three months before the initial retention date or the initial DNA retention date as the case may be, the Crown Court, if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, may make an order amending, or further amending, the date of destruction of the relevant fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile.
(8) An order under subsection (7) shall not specify a date more than two years later than—
(a) the initial retention date in relation to fingerprints or impressions of footwear or
(b) the initial DNA retention date in the case of a DNA profile.
(9) Any decision of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 21 days of such decision.
(10) A fingerprint, an impression of footwear or a DNA profile shall not be destroyed where—
(a) an application under subsection (7) above has been made but has not been determined;
(b) the period within which an appeal may be brought under subsection (9) above against a decision to refuse an application has not elapsed; or
(c) such an appeal has been brought but has not been withdrawn or finally determined.
(a) the period within which an appeal referred to in subsection (9) has elapsed without such an appeal being brought; or
(b) such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or finally determined without any extension of the time period referred to in subsection (8);
the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible thereafter.
(12) Subject to subsection (13) below, where a person is entitled to the destruction of any fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample taken from him or DNA profile, neither the fingerprint, nor the impression of footwear, nor the sample, nor any information derived from the sample, nor any DNA profile shall be used in evidence against the person who is or would be entitled to the destruction of that fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample.
(13) Where a person from whom a fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample has been taken consents in writing to its retention in the case of a fingerprint or impression of footwear or the retention of any DNA profile—
(a) that fingerprint, impression or DNA profile as the case may be need not be destroyed; and
(b) subsection (12) above shall not restrict its use;
(i) no DNA profile may be retained on any child under the age of 10 years; and
(ii) consent given for the purposes of this subsection shall be capable of being withdrawn by such person upon making written application to the responsible chief officer of police or person authorised by the Secretary of State for such purpose whereupon such fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible following receipt of such written application.
(14) For the purposes of subsection (13) above if shall be immaterial whether the consent is given at, before or after the time when the entitlement to the destruction of the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile arises.
(15) In this section—
“DNA profile” means any information derived from a DNA sample;
“DNA sample” means any material that has come from a human body and consists of or includes human cells;
“the responsible chief officer of police” means the chief officer of police for the police area—
(a) in which the samples, fingerprints or impressions of footwear were taken; or
(b) in the case of a DNA profile, in which the sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken;
a “sexual offence” or “violent offence” shall mean such offences of a violent or sexual nature as shall be set out in any order made by the Secretary of State with reference to this section.
(16) Nothing in this section affects any power conferred by paragraph 18(2) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 or section 20 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) (disclosure of police information to the Secretary of State for use for immigration purposes).
(17) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(18) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (17) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”.’.—(James Brokenshire.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 5—Destruction of fingerprints and samples—
‘(1) The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 64A insert—
“64B Destruction of fingerprints and samples etc.
(1) Subject to subsection (2), where a sample has been taken from a person under this Part, unless such a person has given consent in accordance with section 64(3AC), all such samples and all information derived from such samples shall be destroyed as soon as possible following a decision not to institute criminal proceedings against the person or on the conclusion of such proceedings otherwise than with a conviction.
(2) Subsection (1) above shall not apply where the record, sample or information in question is of the same kind as a record, a sample or, as the case may be, information lawfully held in relation to the person.
(3) For the purposes of this section, criminal proceedings shall not be deemed to have concluded until the earlier of—
(a) the lapse of any applicable appeal period, and
(b) a decision not to appeal such proceedings.
(4) Material falls within this subsection if it is—
(a) fingerprints or impressions of footwear taken from the person in connection with the investigation of the offence;
(b) a DNA profile derived from a DNA sample so taken;
(c) photographs falling within a description specified in the regulations; or
(d) information derived from DNA samples so taken from a person.
(5) For the purposes of this section—
(a) “photograph” includes a moving image, and
(b) the reference to a DNA sample is a reference to any material that has come from a human body and consists of or includes human cells.”’.
New clause 6—Retention of voluntary samples—
‘(1) The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 64(1A)(b) insert—
“(c) any other provision in this Part does not prohibit or restrict their retention or require their destruction.”.
(3) For section 64(3AC) substitute—
“(3AC) Where a person from whom a fingerprint, impression of footwear or sample has been taken consents in writing to its retention—
(a) that sample need not be destroyed under subsection (3) above;
(b) subsection (3AB) above shall not restrict the use that may be made of the sample or of any information derived from it; and
(c) that consent shall be treated as comprising a consent for the purposes of section 63A(1C) above; provided that—
(i) no sample or information derived from any sample may be retained on any child under the age of 10 years; and
(ii) consent given for the purposes of this subsection shall be capable of being withdrawn by such person upon making written application to the responsible chief officer of police or person authorised by the Secretary of State for such purpose whereupon such sample and any information derived therefrom shall be destroyed as soon as possible following receipt of such written application.”’.
New clause 7—Repeal of section 82 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001—
‘Section 82 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 is repealed.’.
New clause 9—National DNA Database Reviewer—
‘(1) Within 12 months of the coming into force of any of sections 14 to 21, the Secretary of State shall appoint a Reviewer to be known as the National DNA Database Reviewer.
(2) Subject to subsection (4), the National DNA Database Reviewer shall keep under review—
(a) the exercise and performance, of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by section 64ZI(5) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;
(b) the exercise and performance of the powers conferred by section 64ZK of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;
(c) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by Article 64ZI(5) of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989;
(d) the exercise and performance of the powers conferred by Article 64ZK of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989;
(e) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by paragraph 14F(5) of Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000;
(f) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by paragraph 14G of Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000; and
(g) the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred or imposed by section 18(3E) of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.
(3) Within 12 months of his appointment, and every 12 months thereafter, the National DNA Database Reviewer must lay a report of the findings of his review before both Houses of Parliament.
(4) Each report of the National DNA Database Reviewer must include consideration of—
(a) the number of decisions taken during the proceeding 12 months period under each of the powers in subsection (2);
(b) the grounds for any decisions taken during any preceding 12 month period under each of the powers in subsection (2);
(c) an equality impact assessment of the exercise of the powers in subsection (2) over the preceding 12 month period; and
(d) an assessment of the operation of each of the powers in subsection (2).’.
Government amendments 8 to 10.
Amendment 30, in clause 6, page 13, line 21, at end insert—
‘15A Fingerprints and non-intimate samples may only be taken under sections 61(5A), 61(5B), 63(3ZA) and 63(3A) from a person at a police station.’.
Government amendments 11 to 13.
Amendment 3, page 28, line 20, leave out Clauses 14 to 21.
Amendment 29, page 28, line 20, leave out Clauses 14 to 20.
Amendment 36, in clause 14, page 31, line 5, leave out from ‘offence’ to end of line 6.
Amendment 37, page 31, leave out lines 11 to 23 and insert—
‘(3) Subject to subsections (3AA) to (3AI), the material must be destroyed as soon as it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken or supplied.
(3AA) Where any fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile has been taken from a person under this Part who is arrested for or charged with a sexual offence or violent offence, the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed no later than—
(a) in the case of fingerprints or impressions of footwear, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the fingerprints or impression were taken, such date being the “initial retention date”; or
(b) in the case of a DNA profile, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the DNA sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken (or if the profile was derived from more than one DNA sample, the date on which the first of those samples was taken), such date being the “initial DNA retention date”; or
(c) such later date as may be ordered under subsection (3AB).
(3AB) On application made by the responsible chief officer of police within the period of three months before the initial retention date or the initial DNA retention date as the case may be, the Crown Court, if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, may make an order amending, or further amending, the date of destruction of the relevant fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile.
(3AC) An order under subsection (3AB) shall not specify a date more than two years later than—
(a) the initial retention date in relation to fingerprints or impressions of footwear, or
(b) the initial DNA retention date in the case of a DNA profile.
(3AD) Any decision of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 21 days of such decision.
(3AE) Subsection (3AA) does not apply where—
(a) an application under subsection (3AB) above has been made but has not been determined;
(b) the period within which an appeal may be brought under subsection (3AD) above against a decision to refuse an application has not elapsed; or
(c) such an appeal has been brought but has not been withdrawn or finally determined.
(a) the period within which an appeal referred to in subsection (3AD) has elapsed without such an appeal being brought, or
(b) such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or finally determined without any extension of the time period referred to in subsection (3AC),
the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible thereafter.
(3AG) For the purposes of this section a “sexual offence” or “violent offence” shall mean such offences of a violent or sexual nature as shall be set out in any order made by the Secretary of State with reference to this section.
(3AH) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(3AI) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (3AH) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.
Amendment 38, page 31, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 35.
Amendment 33, page 37, line 26, at end insert—
‘(5) For the purposes of subsection (1), “for the purposes of national security” means for the purposes of investigating significant threats to the security of the United Kingdom arising from—
(a) terrorist activities;
(b) nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
(c) trans-national organised crime;
(d) global instability and conflict;
(e) civil emergencies; or
(f) state-led threats to the United Kingdom.’.
Amendment 34, page 37, line 26, at end insert—
‘64ZKA Approval required for retention for the purposes of national security
(1) This section applies where a chief officer determines that retention for the purposes of national security is necessary.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), the determination shall not take effect until such time (if any) as—
(a) the determination has been approved by the Information Commissioner; and
(b) written notice of the Commissioner’s decision to approve the determination has been given, in accordance with subsection (3), to the chief officer who made the original determination.
(3) Where subsection (2) applies—
(a) the Information Commissioner shall give his approval under this section to the authorisation if, and only if, he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the requirements of section 64ZK(1) are satisfied in the case of the determination; and
(b) the Information Commissioner shall, as soon as reasonably practicable after making that decision, give written notice of his decision to the Chief Constable.
(4) Any determination under paragraph (1) includes a decision that a determination should be renewed pursuant to section 64ZK(3).’.
Amendment 39, in clause 15, page 41, line 46, leave out from ‘offence’ to end of line 47.
Amendment 40, page 42, leave out lines 5 to 17 and insert—
‘(3) Subject to paragraphs (3AA) to (3AI), the material must be destroyed as soon as it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken or supplied.
(3AA) Where any fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile has been taken from a person under this Order who is arrested for or charged with a sexual offence or violent offence, the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed no later than—
(a) in the case of fingerprints or impressions of footwear, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the fingerprints or impression were taken, such date being the “initial retention date”; or
(b) in the case of a DNA profile, before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date on which the DNA sample from which the DNA profile was derived was taken (or if the profile was derived from more than one DNA sample, the date on which the first of those samples was taken), such date being the “initial DNA retention date”; or
(c) such later date as may be ordered under paragraph (3AB).
(3AB) On application made by the Chief Constable within the period of three months before the initial retention date or the initial DNA retention date as the case may be, the Crown Court, if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, may make an order amending, or further amending, the date of destruction of the relevant fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile.
(3AC) An order under paragraph (3AB) shall not specify a date more than two years later than—
(a) the initial retention date in relation to fingerprints or impressions of footwear, or
(b) the initial DNA retention date in the case of a DNA profile.
(3AD) Any decision of the Crown Court may be appealed to the Court of Appeal within 21 days of such decision.
(3AE) Paragraph (3AA) does not apply where—
(a) an application under paragraph (3AB) above has been made but has not been determined;
(b) the period within which an appeal may be brought under paragraph (3AD) above against a decision to refuse an application has not elapsed; or
(c) such an appeal has been brought but has not been withdrawn or finally determined.
(a) the period within which an appeal referred to in paragraph (3AD) has elapsed without such an appeal being brought, or
(b) such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or finally determined without any extension of the time period referred to in paragraph (3AC),
the fingerprint, impression of footwear or DNA profile shall be destroyed as soon as possible thereafter.’.
Amendment 41, page 42, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 46.
Amendment 42, page 49, line 29, at end insert—
‘(5) For the purposes of this section a “sexual offence” or “violent offence” shall mean such offences of a violent or sexual nature as shall be set out in any order made by the Secretary of State with reference to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.
(6) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(7) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (6) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.
Amendment 4, in clause 22, page 71, line 24, leave out from first ‘of’ to ‘which’ and insert
‘section [Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples]’.
Amendment 5, page 71, line 31, leave out ‘sections 64 to 64ZN’ and insert ‘section 64’.
Amendment 35, page 72, line 2, at end insert—
‘(6) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section must be laid before Parliament within 12 months of Royal Assent to this Act.’.
Government amendments 14 to 16.
Amendment 6, in clause 58, page 106, line 30, leave out subsections (4) to (8).
Amendment 7, page 106, line 30, leave out ‘20 to’ and insert ‘22 and’.
There is little doubt about the scope and powerful effect of DNA evidence. In many respects, the use of DNA has revolutionised policing. The ability to match tiny traces of DNA left at the scene of a crime by an offender with the DNA that is taken from a suspect has helped to solve serious crimes and to reduce the scope for miscarriages of justice. We agree that the use of DNA can be an important evidential tool in prosecuting crimes and bringing offenders to justice. The use of modern scientific techniques makes an important contribution to combating crime, but the use of that technology must strike the right balance between the promotion of the wider public interest and public safety, and the protection of important private-life interests, which are central to this debate, to the new clause and to the Government’s proposals in the Bill. Unlike the Government, apparently, we acknowledge that there are limits to both the effectiveness and acceptability of DNA use if it is taken too far.
The DNA database continues to grow at an exceptional rate. More than 32,000 profiles were added in November 2009 alone. Proportionately, we have the largest such database in the world. This country claims a pioneering role in the utilisation of DNA technology, and that is something that we can be proud of. In so doing, however, we have a special responsibility to ensure that the way in which it is used strikes the right balance regarding what is permissible when it comes to potential interference in people’s private lives. Until recently, the Government took the view that the indefinite retention of DNA profiles was acceptable. In their view, simply growing the DNA database for the sake of doing so was a policy objective in its own right. For the past year, they have been fighting hard to limit their commitment to following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the S and Marper case. The judgment ruled that the indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of those who have never been convicted of an offence was not in accordance with the relevant convention rights. It sums up the current viewpoint of this Government that even if someone volunteers their DNA, once it is on the national DNA database, they cannot get it removed except in exceptional circumstances.
In response to the Court’s judgment, the Government first said that they wanted to deal with the matter by order, out of the glare of full parliamentary scrutiny. Next, they said that they would retain data and profiles for up to 12 years. Now, under pressure, they have come down to a retention period of six years for those who have never been convicted of an offence. However, they remain obdurate about the basic principle of retaining data for as long as possible, regardless of what people have done or whether they were even charged, let alone found guilty. DNA that is taken from anyone who ends up in a police station following arrest will be stored by the state for six years just in case.
The number of profiles on the DNA database has certainly grown. The number of profiles stood at just over 2 million in 2003, and it is now well above 5.5 million. The full impact of the situation becomes clear only when one breaks down the figures in relation to the countries of the United Kingdom. Some 4 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland, nearly 5 per cent. of the population of Scotland and more than 10 per cent. of the population of England and Wales are affected. However, rather than there being an increase in the number of crimes detected, the reverse has happened. The focus on quantity rather than on the quality of the data retained has led to diminishing returns. The proportion of crimes detected by DNA has dropped. The figure two years ago was 0.76 per cent., and in the past year it was 0.67 per cent. Similarly, the proportion of crimes detected in which a DNA match was available was 36.5 per cent. two years ago, and 32.4 per cent. last year.
Is my hon. Friend making a distinction between crimes which are detected and cases which are carried forward with corroborative evidence based on DNA? In the latter, there is a very large number of corroborative evidence cases.
There is a distinction to be drawn between, say, detections and convictions. That is an important distinction to make. Indeed, the National Policing Improvement Agency recognised that in a previous DNA database report:
“It is important to note that the availability of DNA match intelligence may not have been causal in solving the crime as detections are achieved through integrated criminal investigation and not by forensic science alone.”
Such cases are often quite complicated, so although a DNA match may have played an important role, that of itself may not be the determining factor. It can only place someone at a particular point at a particular time. The Crown Prosecution Service will look for other corroborative factors in bringing its their prosecution case.
There have been other consequences of the Government’s database state policy approach. About a million people on the database have never been convicted, cautioned or even formally warned or reprimanded, as recorded by the police national computer. It is estimated that there are records of approximately 100,000 innocent children on the database. It is the impact that this has on those who feel they have been criminalised that is so damaging. As one person who wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) put it:
“The charges were dropped five hours later but I was informed that my DNA and fingerprints would remain on their files as though I was a common criminal. As a respected member of the community, holder of the British Empire Medal and a retired Army Officer I shouldn’t have to be put through this continual torment.”
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that the Government have moved since Second Reading. That is because of the pressure from all sides of the House. Does he accept that we are in this situation because the Government ought to have moved quickly on the removal of DNA profiles from the database? If that system had been working more effectively, we would not be in the position that we are in today.
That has been highlighted by what might be described as the postcode lottery, an issue on which I know the right hon. Gentleman has focused clearly. The fact that certain police forces are prepared, in exceptional circumstances, under guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers, to remove the profiles of those never convicted of and never charged with an offence, whereas other police forces will not remove any of those details, has drawn attention to the issue. However, the right hon. Gentleman needs to be careful. An individual must approach the police to have that record removed. There is a big difference between a robust system that reflects the concept that people are innocent unless proven guilty and proactively removes those profiles, and a system whereby profiles are removed only when an individual approaches the police with that request.
The make-up of the database has had a starkly disproportionate impact on minority communities. It is thought to contain the records of about 40 per cent. of black men in the UK. Some have suggested that when the focus is narrowed to young black men, the figure jumps to 70 per cent. That compares with 13 per cent. of Asian men and 9 per cent. of white men. The national DNA database and the approach taken to it are perceived to have criminalised minority communities and to have taken an almost aggressive stance towards them. I know, from the discussions that I have had, that the issue is of significant concern for a number of those communities.
More fundamentally, the measure fails to take account of one of the fundamental principles of our liberal democracy: the presumption of innocence before the law unless one has been proven guilty. That principle should be an important guiding factor in framing the debate on retention, rather than being an inconvenient anomaly, as the Government appear to view it, given their historical approach to DNA retention.
However, we agree with the Government on some things: DNA samples should be destroyed as soon as practicable, once a profile has been taken; when an adult has been convicted of a recordable offence, DNA should be retained indefinitely; and when consent to put DNA profiles on the database has been volunteered, the withdrawal of that consent should be possible. We have also long argued for the need to ensure that police can retrospectively take samples for a longer period after conviction, and from those convicted overseas. We are therefore glad that the Government have responded positively to that call, and we welcome their changes to improve the oversight and reporting of the national DNA database. I welcome also their amendments to clarify that arrangement and make it somewhat stronger.
I have been trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic. He is content for DNA to be taken for up to three years for serious offences, but not for up to six years, and I cannot quite understand the logic of the difference between the two, apart from the time scale given the judgment that has been made. I really cannot see his logic.
Well, we shall come to the judgment on timing.
I was just about to turn to retention, which is central to the debate, and the balance to be struck in terms of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I appreciate that the Minister and the Government take the reverse approach of wishing to retain data for as long as possible. That has been their historical approach, and they have made their position clear. We approach the issue from the alternative direction, saying that DNA should be retained for the minimum period that it is safe to do so. That is why we have drawn a distinction: we do not simply say that all DNA profiles of anyone arrested for an offence but not convicted should be removed; we strike that balance—that proportionate balance, as we see it—by having a period during which the DNA of those arrested for an offence but not necessarily charged or convicted should be retained.
There is a real difference between us on the retention of profiles, and the Minister alluded to it. The Government argue that, when someone has been acquitted of any wrongdoing, they should treat them as a future or potential suspect in a criminal investigation. Such people are supposed to be innocent in the eyes of the law, but the Government are suggesting a blanket period of six years, regardless of the nature of the offence, the crime that may or may not have been committed or whether anyone was found guilty.
The Government have sought to justify their position on two main grounds. Their “hazard rate analysis”, as they call it, compares the likelihood of re-arrest within a specified period following an initial arrest with the general propensity for arrest in the general population. The “arrest to arrest hazard curve” is the analysis on which the Government have sought to pin their six-year period. However, by doing so the Government conflate the fundamental difference between arrest and conviction. They use re-arrest as a proxy for having committed an offence, even though a second arrest may be as unsound as the first. They also fail to take account of what has been termed “the confirmation bias by investigating officers”—the fact that, once a person is known to the police, they are more likely to be considered a suspect when future offences are investigated. A bias in the statistics is created as a consequence.
The Government acknowledge that the analysis is based on extrapolated, rather than real, data, because they had only a three-year window to consider the data that were available. Therefore, estimated data on the general population was used, the extrapolated risk curve is quite sensitive to errors, and the lines are measured with some degree of uncertainty.
It is highly questionable whether this latest Home Office-produced research offers much more than the previous, incomplete research produced by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which the Home Office published in support of its previous policy of retaining DNA for 12 years. As Gloria Laycock, the director of the Jill Dando Institute, acknowledged, it was a mistake to publish that incomplete research, which was based on data to which it did not even have direct access. She said:
“That 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’.”
It is also interesting to note that the Information Commissioner has formed a different view from that of the Government on the interpretation of the hazard rate analysis data, stating that he
“remains concerned that the way this evidence is being interpreted at present does not provide an appropriate basis for the proposed retention periods.”
He suggests that a shorter retention period for those not convicted of any crime should be adopted than that advocated by the Government:
“The Commissioner does not consider that the evidence presented supports a general retention period of anything like six years.”
Since the Bill came out of Committee, I have been reflecting on what stands between us and the Government on this issue. It is not as neat as the question of three or six years’ retention; it is to do with the fact that policing has to be policing by consent. During the passage of the Bill, and in the build-up to it, the Government have not succeeded in getting the consent of the people, in the broadest sense, for their proposals. Police officers and police forces have too often given the impression that if they retain DNA it is because they have reasonable suspicion that someone has committed an offence or may commit an offence. The Government have failed to convince people that they have the public’s consent to what they are proposing.
Order. While it is always a pleasure to listen to the mellifluous tones of my constituency neighbour, that had about it the flavour of a mini-speech rather than an intervention.
A mini-speech perhaps, but one with some important points wrapped up in it as regards the need for policing by consent, the public’s confidence and trust in policing, and the way in which the national DNA database is operated. Indeed, senior police officers have made that very evident in saying that it is for us in Parliament to decide what is appropriate, while reflecting the need to ensure that there is that trust and confidence in policing as a whole. In many ways, that mirrors some of the points that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) has already made.
The second, and perhaps more emotive, justification that the Government have given for their approach has been based on individual cases, with the claim that certain serious crimes might not have been solved if an alternative approach to the one that they have advanced were adopted. However, careful examination of the facts of those cases shows that either they would have been detected and solved by virtue of our proposals in new clause 2 or there were other material factors that would have led to an arrest, DNA sampling, and the requisite corroborative evidence being obtained to secure a conviction.
Let us take, for example, the case of Abdul Azad, who was convicted of an appalling stranger rape that took place in 2005. His conviction was partly the result of DNA found under the fingernails of his victim. It was an appalling crime, but it is also an example of a crime in which the DNA profile would still have been available to the police under our proposals, as Azad had previously been arrested for violent disorder—a crime of violence.
Or let us take the case of Abdirahman Ali Gudaal, a Dutch national who was arrested on suspicion of robbery and went on to commit an appalling and shocking rape two years later. The Home Office thought that the case supported its arguments so strongly that it tried to count it twice in a letter of what were intended to be five good examples that it sent to members of the Public Bill Committee. In addition to trying to pass off one case as two examples as the result of an administrative error, another oversight was the failure to mention that the appalling rape took place in Gudaal’s bedsit flat. The Home Office’s own anonymised summary of the case also suggests that Gudaal was arrested after being identified by his victim.
If the Government’s proposals resulted in stopping one murder or one rape, would they not be worth while?
The point is that the Minister has sought to advance various individual cases to prove that our approach is somehow unreasonable and that we are in some way seeking to support the perpetrators of serious crimes. Actually, an analysis of those cases does not bear that out. In citing them, the Government are in many ways making our case for us.
I always hate to disagree with my hon. Friend, but he will know the point that I made in Committee about the case of D, in which I acted for the defendant. The rape occurred some 10 years or so before his arrest, and he was arrested only because of the DNA that was found on the rape sample.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for highlighting that case, as he did in Committee, but the Government will acknowledge that even on the basis of their proposals there must be a risk that someone may not be caught. There is always a case for balance and judgment.
Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that those who advance the one case of finding a rapist or other criminal as a result of DNA are actually making the case for everyone being on the DNA database? I am sure he would agree that that would be a very large step for us to take.
I would always hesitate to make law based on individual cases, but that in no way undermines the considerable traumas of the victims of the crimes that have rightly been solved using DNA evidence. However, the point is that such cases are complex, and forensics are often only one element in solving a particular case, so it is a mistake to present the matter in a stark way.
I was shocked by the Minister’s intervention just now. His form of logic would strip away all civil liberties and restrict any brakes on powers of the state that might ever, in any circumstances, have led to the prevention of a serious crime if they had only been in place. I cannot believe that we have Ministers who place so little value on our civil liberties and cannot see the fine judgment that has to be made in coming to a decision on such matters.
Perhaps it is the mindset that this Government have always had of always erring on the side of the Big Brother database state. In many ways they are making the case for universal inclusion on the DNA database, which is utterly unacceptable and, I know, is not the approach that even the Minister takes.
As I have said, there are complications. DNA forensics are often important in securing a conviction, but other material factors and lines of inquiry make a significant contribution. It is spurious to suggest that certain cases, such as those that have been adduced, would have gone unsolved, or that justice would have been denied, as a consequence of the proposals outlined in our new clause 1.
Let us take the case of Jeremiah Sheridan, which was relied on most recently by the Prime Minister. It was a particularly shocking case, as Sheridan brutally raped a disabled woman. In a complex case, he was subsequently caught, prosecuted and convicted because of the DNA that he left behind at the scene. The Prime Minister has claimed that the case would not have been solved if a revised approach to that proposed by the Government were adopted, but he misses the point totally. We should retain DNA that is left behind at crime scenes, and greater focus should be placed on the robustness of that part of the database. When a DNA profile is added to the database following an arrest for an offence, it should be checked against the cold-case database. If someone is subsequently arrested for a different offence and there is a DNA match, they should be prosecuted and the case should be solved.
If the Government’s case studies do anything, they underline the reasoned approach of our proposal, which properly reflects the need to ensure that DNA forensics are available to help the police to bring serious criminals to justice. However, there is a world of difference between maintaining the DNA from crime scenes and keeping on file the DNA of the innocent, just in case they might one day be re-arrested in connection with a crime.
That is the Government’s justification for their approach, but they should concentrate on getting their house in order. There should be much greater focus not simply on growing the DNA database of innocent people for the sake of it, but on obtaining the DNA of those already convicted of offences and those currently residing in Her Majesty’s prisons. I welcome the fact that the Government are finally taking that seriously in some of their proposals in the Bill. That might be a rather better starting point for tackling crime in future.
What is an acceptable period for the retention of DNA records of those arrested for, but not convicted of, any offence? We believe that a similar model to that used in Scotland has some merit. In Scotland, if someone is convicted of a recordable offence, their DNA profile is retained indefinitely, but if they are not convicted of an offence, their DNA profile should not be retained once it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken, save for crimes of violence or sexual offences. In the latter category, DNA profiles should be retained for a limited period of three years, with the possibility of an extension for a further two years with court oversight.
The Scottish model was reviewed by Professor James Fraser from the Strathclyde university Centre for Forensic Science in 2008. Despite what the Home Secretary has asserted, Professor Fraser’s terms of reference were wide enough to consider alternatives in other systems, and he recommended no material changes to the current system in Scotland. Lord Bach, the Minister’s colleague in the Ministry of Justice, acknowledged that:
“In determining the appropriateness of the current legislation, Professor Fraser considered data on reoffending rates and conducted a wide consultation. 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.”
We believe that an approach similar to that in Scotland should be adopted in the other nations of the United Kingdom, but with one important distinction, namely that the trigger for retention in cases involving violence or sexual offences should be arrest rather than charge.
We believe that that approach takes proper account of the competing interests of the individual against the collective need for protection from crime. It strikes the right balance between respect for an individual’s private life and the legitimate interests of the state in preventing and detecting crime. As the Home Office’s hazard rate analysis suggests, that is ultimately a matter of judgment. It is a judgment between retaining trust and confidence in the use of DNA materials, and trust and confidence in the police’s use of such forensics. It is also a judgment on how to treat those who have never been convicted of an offence, the rights of the state to interfere in the lives of others, and the need to protect the public from crime.
The Government have sought to make the issue a political dividing line. So be it. That will expose how they have in many ways played fast and loose with the facts of sensitive cases, and how even now they cling to the view that the state needs to be intrusive and invasive, and that it needs to know as much information about all of us as it can, regardless of proportionality. It will also expose how the fundamental principles of innocence and guilt are almost inconsequential to the Government, and how they continue to delude themselves that draconian powers will mean a safer and more just society.
That is question of judgment, and on that and so many other issues, the Government’s judgment is flawed. They are on the wrong side of the line and the wrong side of the argument, and increasingly, they are failing to uphold the security that they claim to support.
I am delighted that we are able to have a debate of this kind on this very important subject, bearing in mind that so many concerns about the Government’s DNA database proposals were expressed on Second Reading. To help the House, I should point out that today, the Select Committee on Home Affairs published our report into the DNA database. I apologise for not getting it to Members sooner, but we were keen to let the House know of our deliberations in time for this debate. We do not control Government business of course, so we did not know when Report would be. We met in what one might call an emergency session last Thursday to agree this report, and I wish to thank all the members of the Committee for their work.
The report was prompted by the concern expressed on Second Reading—and over the last few years—about the ever-growing DNA database. We can all agree on the facts—I certainly agree with the facts put forward by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire). There is no dispute that it is one of the largest—if not the largest—DNA databases in the world, and our concern is the way in which it has grown. The Government have often said that information should only be retained if necessary, and that must apply to the use of DNA profiles.
During our deliberations, we took evidence from several individuals, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and representatives of the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science. Among our most persuasive witnesses was Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of DNA profiling. When someone as distinguished as Sir Alec appears before a Select Committee and expresses the concern that he never anticipated that the DNA profile of innocent people would be kept on the database, members of the Committee have to listen carefully to him. The Minister was in the session just before or after Sir Alec gave evidence, and I think that he heard that evidence. I do not say that politicians have hidden agendas—many of our agendas are open and transparent—but when someone like Sir Alec says that such retention was not intended, we have to take that seriously.
The Committee had different views about the length of time that people’s DNA should be retained on the database. Some felt strongly that everyone’s DNA should be on the database. Some felt that the DNA of innocent people should not be kept on it at all—in other words, it should be removed almost immediately. However, there was general agreement that the Government had delayed unnecessarily following the decision by the European Court of Human Rights. We could have avoided this dispute if the Government had acted much more quickly.
If there is a need for consensus on Home Affairs issues, this is one of those occasions on which we should have reached all-party agreement, because this issue affects so many of our citizens. There is no dispute on either side of the House that, if DNA helps in the detection of crime—as we say in our report, there is no doubt about that—it must be used to do so. The point of contention is the worry about the ability of this Government or any Government to hold information about citizens and therefore to expand their possession of that information to the detriment of individual citizens. Balancing the rights of the individual and civil liberties with the interests of justice has to be done very carefully.
What one has to resolve is the prejudice to the individual of having their DNA on a national database. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the prejudice, but I am not clear what prejudice he is identifying, other than the fact that an innocent individual might object to retention. That is a real consideration, but it is not necessarily prejudice.
I would not say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in court every day, but he is there much more often than probably every other Member of the House, bar the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), and probably even more than all of us put together. The right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore speaks as an expert, and he knows when such expertise is necessary. However, there is a higher judgment. Our deliberations need to be guided by what is in the public interest, in terms of what the public would want. He sees the matter from a different point of view. He sees it as a lawyer—a very distinguished lawyer—where the expertise offered through DNA can prove either that his client is guilty or that he is not guilty. There is a different judgment to be made by Members of this House from those judgments to be made by lawyers. I say that with the greatest of respect for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whom I have known for many years, and for what he has said about such issues before the House.
However, the Government’s position—that we should retain the data indefinitely—is indefensible, yet they hung on to it for a long time. They could have created a great deal of good will among their own Back Benchers and the Opposition parties if they had retreated from that indefensible position much sooner. The Government then went for a longer period, which they subsequently reduced to six years. There were differences among those of us on the Select Committee on how long the period should be, but we came to the conclusion—this is set out in the conclusions that we have published today—that a three-year period probably strikes the right balance. We said that the period should not be less than three years—although it could be longer—but that three years was a reasonable length of time. If hon. Members know the personalities of the members of the Home Affairs Committee and their different politics, they will understand that achieving a unanimous report is quite difficult. Consensus is not easy on such issues, but there was a consensus that holding the data for six years was too long.
The Government need to look at that period for the very reasons put forward by the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Hornchurch. It worries me that the DNA of so many young black men is on the database. That cannot be right. We are talking about high percentages—between 60 and 70 per cent. in some age groups—but Ministers have given no explanation of that. They cannot expect Members of Parliament to go along with more and more of our citizens being put on the database just because of the colour of their skin. I have heard no explanation from the Minister as to why that is happening, nor have I heard about any research that the Home Office intends to commission to find that out. In discussing such issues, it is important that we should know why those things are happening. I raised that point with the Minister on Second Reading, right at the start of our proceedings on this Bill—indeed, I raised it before, when the European Court made its judgment—so he really needs to tell us now. He cannot just say, “Tut-tut, it’s very sad that this is the case, but we don’t know why it’s happening.” Why is it happening? These are matters of fact; they are not even matters of debate.
However, where the Minister has me—that is, where he has made enormous progress and been prepared to listen—is on the issue of innocent people trying to remove their entries from the database once they have been arrested, by writing in and saying, “Could we please have our DNA removed?”
During our deliberations we took evidence from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands). He told us about his experience after the death of an elderly relative whom he had not seen for many years, when, because he was related to that particular woman, the police came and took his DNA. He tried for a year and a half to get some explanation from the chief constable of the west midlands as to whether his DNA was still on the database and when it could be removed. The chief constable appeared before us when we were preparing the report, but he did not know the answer, even though the issue was in the public domain. He wrote to me recently and said, “Very good news: Mr. Hands’s DNA is not on the database.” Why did it take a year and a half, parliamentary questions, and the chief constable appearing before a Select Committee for the hon. Gentleman to get an answer?
That is where the Government’s problems lie. If only there was a much easier, more robust and more defensible way of dealing with the issue, the Government would not be in their present difficulties, with so many on their own Benches worrying about the issue. Those who are innocent should be able to write in, such as Mr. Jonathan Leighton, who gave evidence to our Committee. Why is his DNA on the database? He is a student from Oxford university. A protester had climbed up a tree because the local authority in Oxford wished to chop it down. Mr. Leighton was not involved in the protest, and all he did was to throw a bottle of water up to the gentleman because he was thirsty. He was arrested, and his DNA was put on the database and retained from that moment. If a system were introduced that made it easy for innocent people to write in, the Government would take the House with them on that.
I am delighted that the Minister has looked carefully at this issue, and he has come up with proposals that the Select Committee welcome. I hope he does not think that all our reports always criticise the Government, because they do not. The only bits that the media pick up are our criticisms of Government policy, but the purpose of Select Committees is to be robust so that the Government can do better. Otherwise, we would be like those who sat in the Kremlin before elections were run in the Soviet Union, agreeing with everything that the then Russian Government did. We have to point out to the Government where we think they have gone wrong, and I think that our method of scrutiny is pretty good. We always take evidence from Ministers, as we did in this case from the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson).
My right hon. Friend’s proposals are very welcome. Putting this matter on a statutory footing is the right approach. Innocent people—indeed, anyone—will be able to write in to the proposed body and say, “I’d like my DNA removed.” The body will issue robust guidelines, which is welcome, and there will be others besides police officers sitting on it. The Select Committee has asked to be consulted on the guidance, and we look forward to receiving assurance from the Minister that that will happen. Given the imminence of the general election, it would be nice if that could be done as soon as possible. We would like to do it before the House rises whenever it is going to rise, at the end of March.
The measures will help us to show the public that we are serious about dealing with the DNA of innocent people, and we welcome these important changes. The Minister has certainly answered some of the criticisms that I made on Second Reading, but he still needs to do some work on the time limit. Of course the police are advising him that six years is the right time limit, and that three years is too short a period, but I urge him to look again at this. If the system works, people such as myself will be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on time limits if we can end the postcode lottery—whereby those living in north Wales, for example, get a better response than those in Leicestershire—and if we can take the power away from the 43 chief constables. If such consistency can be introduced into the system, the Government will have done an enormous amount to deal with the criticisms that have been made since the European Court judgment. I look forward to receiving such assurances from the Minister.
I am always delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) who, as usual, has been speaking an awful lot of good sense. I am delighted that his Committee was able to reach a unanimous view on this sensitive issue, and I hope that the Minister and his officials were listening to the points that he raised.
I wish to speak to new clauses 5 to 7, tabled in my name and those of my colleagues. I outlined our position on the DNA database on Second Reading, and my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) did so in Committee. We believe that only the DNA of people who have been convicted of a criminal offence should be on the database. There should be a primacy of the presumption of innocence over guilt. DNA should by all means be taken following an arrest but, if no subsequent conviction is achieved, the data relating to that person should be removed from the database on conclusion of the investigation or criminal proceedings. That should be a simple rule with no caveats, and no ifs or buts: a dividing line between innocence and guilt.
The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and his colleagues represent a pragmatic compromise. There may be some doubt as to whether a two-year extension period is necessary; it may lead to function creep, whereby all samples are tacitly assumed to be kept for five rather than three years. On the whole, the Scottish model on which the Conservatives have based their amendments is not our first preferred policy, but it represents in our eyes—as one would expect, given that it was introduced in a Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration, in which the Justice Secretary was my esteemed colleague Lord Wallace of the other place—a much more palatable solution than the one proposed by the Government. If the Conservatives press their amending provisions to the vote, we would support them.
The Government have made no fundamental changes to their original proposals. They have made no compromises, although there have been token additions to deal with people convicted of offences overseas and to end the postcode lottery for removal from the database. Some of these are welcome. There should, of course, be a standardised approach to removal from the database and there can be no argument against having proper parliamentary oversight. The ends may not be to our liking, but the means must be as fair and as transparent as possible.
The Government amendments do not change the foundations of their approach to the DNA database, which is little more than a random hoarding of any data that they can get their hands on. The proposals, of course, still fail to address any of the concerns outlined in the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of S and Marper v. the United Kingdom about the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the database. How on earth can the Government suggest that these measures are “proportionate”, as they are required to be by the judgment?
The UK already has the largest DNA database in the world in proportion to our population, with the records of more than 5.5 million people on it, almost 1 million of whom have never been convicted of any crime; while almost one in two of all black men are on the database. There are real issues about the potentially counterproductive nature of a detection tool that is seen to be quite so discriminatory by ethnic group. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) cited the extraordinary difference in the figures for people on the DNA database between the separate nations of this country alone. It becomes even more severe, of course, when ethnic minority figures are taken into account.
The number on the database would surely increase under the proposed system of keeping for six years the DNA of people who have not been convicted of any crime, yet more than 2 million people who were convicted before the database began are still not on it. All we get from the policing Minister is the charge that the Government’s proposals might lead to some convictions, but what about all the convictions that are not taking place because the Government have not introduced an effective system for catching up with people who are convicted, who should be on the database and whose presence on it has the support of every political party?
The effectiveness of the DNA database as a tool for fighting crime is without any doubt whatever. It is important; the police want it; we support it. It is telling that the database is, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch pointed out, clearly set at a point of diminishing returns.
I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few moments.
The increase in the database is not leading to a corresponding increase in the number of crimes solved. In fact, there has been an enormous increase in the number of profiles held on the database from 2.1 million in 2002 to 5.6 million last year, but the number of detected crimes for which a DNA match was available—never mind whether or not it was pivotal in securing a conviction, which I suspect the right hon. and learned Gentleman is about to raise in his intervention—has fallen from 21,098 to 17,614 last year. Where is the proportionality called for by the European Court in this random accretion and increase in the DNA database coupled with a falling effectiveness and diminishing returns?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the proposition that because DNA provides such an important and effective detective tool, it is also in itself a deterrent in that almost any crime involving the physical presence of a person at a scene or someone coming into contact with another person will leave DNA? Is that not a deterrent to the commission of crime as well as a detective tool in the event that crime is committed?
Of course it is a deterrent, and of course any crime scene will be searched for DNA, which will automatically go on to the database and be used as part of the investigation. We entirely support that. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point is similar to a point made by the Minister earlier. The Minister said that as long as one single case was brought to justice, such action would surely be regarded as sensible. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that is not a requirement in law. The law requires, and the European Court has spelt out, that measures taken by the state should be proportionate to the objectives of the state and the protection of the public.
Many years ago, before 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall, I visited the Soviet union. An elderly lady would note all the times at which I went into or left my hotel room. If any member of the Soviet Government at the time had been asked whether that was a proportionate use of scrutiny, the response would have been that those with nothing to hide had nothing to fear, but I do not think—and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees—that we want such an intrusive state. It is simply not appropriate for the state randomly to acquire samples, and then profiles, of something as sensitive and as potentially intrusive into privacy as DNA on the basis of an arrest which may not lead to a conviction, as the person concerned may be entirely innocent.
The evidence provided by the Government to support the retention of the DNA of all innocent people for six years is an embarrassment to statistical science. 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. Further criticism came from none other than Professor Sheila Bird, a vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, who said that the consultation had damaged public trust in statistics and misled the House. The Home Office really has a lot to answer for.
More recently, confusion seems to have reigned across all fronts. Numbers have been flying around in connection with examples which the Government say prove beyond doubt that the DNA of innocent people should be kept for six years. The Home Secretary tells us that in 36 cases the DNA of innocent people not convicted of any crime was pivotal to the solving of cases involving serious violence and sexual offences. On 19 February I tabled a parliamentary question asking for the details of these cases, but, nearly a month later, I have still not received a response. If the evidence was so fantastically compelling, why on earth is the Home Office unable to provide a written parliamentary answer giving the details?
Some consultation seems to be taking place among the officials. I certainly hope that it is, because in my view it is rather important for parliamentary questions to be answered in advance of debates on legislation. It is a dereliction of duty for the Home Office not to come up with an answer. One would have thought that the Home Secretary would be more than willing to share the information, given that he quotes that figure at every available opportunity. What is the reason for his sudden reluctance?
We have received letters from the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism claiming to list five cases, but the number turned out to be only four owing to double counting. Another case, that of rapist Jeremiah Sheridan, has been cited by none other than the Prime Minister. In that case, DNA taken following Mr. Sheridan’s arrest for a minor offence in 2005 was later matched to crime-scene DNA from an offence committed in 1991. Nothing in my party’s proposals would prevent that from happening. Under our scheme, Mr. Sheridan’s DNA would have been taken at arrest in 2005 and held on the database until the decision was made not to proceed any further. During that time, officers would have been free to check his DNA for matches against cold-case samples held on the database. A match would have been made, and the original 1991 case would have been solved.
The really shocking aspect of the case of Mr. Sheridan is that the original cold-case DNA sample from 1991 was not uploaded to the database until a staggering 16 years later, in 2007, at which point it was matched to Mr. Sheridan’s. The failing here would not have been to have removed Mr. Sheridan’s DNA from the database when he was not convicted of a crime; rather, it was to wait 16 years to run the cold case data against the information on the database. I do not want to go over any more individual cases—as I have said, the enumeration of them has been singularly lacking from Justice Ministers and from the Home Department—save to say that of the millions of crimes committed each year, the Government struggled to come up with even five concrete examples to support their case.
Of more concern in terms of the evidence the Home Secretary recently told us was being peer reviewed is the Government’s constant conflation of re-arrest rates and conviction rates. I am not going to labour this point, because the hon. Member for Hornchurch made it very tellingly; I simply say that I entirely agree with his comments. The Government have come up with no evidence to convince me, and no evidence that should convince this House, that six years is a proportionate or necessary length of time to retain the DNA data of an innocent person, nor do I believe for an instant that the European Court of Human Rights will be persuaded. Were this sorry piece of legislation finally to reach the statute book, I believe it would be overturned again. Despite the positive aspects of the Bill—the latterly introduced measure to provide compensation to the victims of overseas terrorist offences, for example—Liberal Democrat Members cannot support these proposals, which loom so large over the remainder of the Bill.
I rise to speak to my Committee’s report on this part of the Bill and the amendments in my name that have been tabled on behalf of that Committee.
We have had extensive correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessors on the retention of DNA, most recently, of course, in light of the Marper case. It might be useful to remind Members of what the Grand Chamber said in that case, because that is the test the Government have to meet in how they approach this issue. The court said that
“the Court is struck by the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the power of retention in England and Wales. The material may be retained irrespective of the nature or gravity of the offence with which the individual was originally suspected or of the age of the suspected offender; fingerprints and samples may be taken—and retained—from a person of any age, arrested in connection with a recordable offence, which includes minor or non-imprisonable offences. The retention is not time-limited; the material is retained indefinitely whatever the nature or seriousness of the offence of which the person was suspected. Moreover, there exist only limited possibilities for an acquitted individual to have the data removed from the nationwide database…in particular, there is no provision for independent review of the justification for the retention according to defined criteria, including such factors as the seriousness of the offence, previous arrests, the strength of the suspicion against the person and any other special circumstances.”
That is the test laid down by the Grand Chamber, and the real question for us today is whether the Government’s proposals meet it.
I am concerned that in the Public Bill Committee the Minister said that the Government would consider the judgment and that the question is now
“how far we can push the boundary of the judgment in relation to our wish to have protection for the public.”––[Official Report, Crime and Security Public Bill Committee, 26 January 2010; c. 71.]
That implies a desire to push against the Grand Chamber judgment, and to see just how far the Government can go. That inevitably risks both future litigation if we are right up against the borderline—or, potentially, on the wrong side of it—and impacting unfairly, unjustly and unlawfully on the rights of many of our fellow citizens if their DNA is retained in circumstances that the Grand Chamber would not find acceptable.
We certainly welcome the Government’s decision to respond swiftly to the judgment in the Marper case, and the proposed scheme reduces the likelihood of DNA samples and profiles being retained in a manner that is incompatible, but we are concerned that proposals for retention, in respect of people who are arrested but not charged or convicted, on the basis of a blanket retention period remain disproportionate and potentially arbitrary.
I am particularly concerned about the question of stigma, which the Government seem to discount, but the Grand Chamber thought was rather important:
“it did consider that the stigma attached…for the purposes of assessing the impact on the individual for the purposes of Article 8 ECHR”
was an important factor. The Grand Chamber said that
“the inclusion of an individual on a list which treated him in the same way as a convicted person, and differently from a person who has never been suspected of an offence, would affect his own understanding of how the State chose to perceive him”.
I think that is important, because about 18 months ago one of my constituents, the mother of Robert Chong, came to see me after her son had committed suicide in July 2008 because of the shame of being put on the database after he was falsely accused of exposing himself to a woman. A cursory check of the CCTV tapes would have demonstrated his innocence; his only interaction with the woman had been when she swore at him on a station concourse. The impact on Mr. Chong was severe—his mother described it to me in some detail. He became withdrawn and he told his mother:
“I’m on the criminal database now, I have got a record.”
Eventually, he committed suicide. Whatever we do today will not resolve that particular case, because he is dead as a result of what happened in relation to DNA retention.
However, the case demonstrates how important the issue of stigma can be if we underestimate what we should do to try to put these things right. That is particularly the case in relation to children. We have separate provisions for them, but the provisions create significant risks of disproportionality. For example, a child convicted of two offences of shoplifting or minor criminal damage at the age of 11 or 12 could have his or her DNA profile retained indefinitely, and that cannot be right. The Government have a particular responsibility to justify the taking and retention of DNA samples and profiles from children. My Committee’s view was that, in the absence of further evidence to support the Government’s position, the proposed retention periods for the DNA profiles of children may be disproportionate and inconsistent with the requirements of the UN convention on the rights of the child.
My Committee is also concerned about the position on the DNA samples of innocent people arrested in connection with minor offences, because the Government make no distinction between arrests for minor and more serious offences. Our view is that the evidence is insufficiently robust to support the Government’s contention. We noted the Council of Europe’s recommendation, which indicates that the retention of DNA samples and profiles will be proportionate—even after conviction—only in the cases of more serious offences. We also noted that the research cited by the Government relates to conviction data and not to the likelihood that a person arrested in connection with a serious crime might subsequently be convicted of another offence of that type. Thus, there is no correlation in the evidence so far between the two—I think that that was the point being made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). Although the Government’s research supports the public protection argument for keeping more people’s details on the database, it does not illustrate that the interference posed to individual rights is proportionate and necessary.
My Committee found it disappointing that the Government have chosen not to draw any distinction between arrests in connection with serious violent and sexual offences, and those in connection with less serious offences. Under the Bill, an individual arrested in connection with the investigation of a minor criminal damage or public order offence will be treated in the same manner as an individual who is charged but not convicted in relation to a serious violent or sexual offence. We consider that that failure is likely to increase the likelihood that the proposals will be considered disproportionate and incompatible when the inevitable challenge later appears.
My Committee was particularly concerned about the provisions in relation to national security, which go way beyond what we think to be appropriate—they go beyond the six-year period. Where a chief constable thinks that something has a national security implication, even when the six-year period has expired the DNA can still be retained, and that can be done without notifying the individual concerned that it is being retained. Our first concern is that there is no definition of what national security is in these circumstances, so my amendment 33 tries to set out what a definition of national security considerations should be. In addition, no provision is made for any oversight of a decision by the chief constable on this matter. My Committee recommends that oversight should be carried out by the Information Commissioner and a DNA reviewer, in the same way that there is a reviewer on counter-terrorism matters, in the form of Lord Carlile, to examine retention that is carried out for the purposes of national security.
We also need to address the oversight of retention decisions. The exceptional cases procedure is in place, under which, if it appears to a chief officer that certain criteria are fulfilled, for example that the arrest was unlawful, that it had been carried out on the basis of mistaken identity, that samples had been taken unlawfully or that any other relevant circumstances applied, the DNA record should be removed. However, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has recommended that
“an independent body, along the lines of an administrative tribunal, should oversee requests from individuals to have their profiles removed”.
The Government take the view that judicial review would be a sufficient remedy for that, as they always seem to in this sort of case. Generally speaking, these cases will be very fact-specific.
We note from the case of Tsfayo against the UK that in those circumstances judicial review could not resolve a lack of independence. Our view, therefore, is that there has to be a statutory form of appeal should a chief constable not accept that a case falls within those exceptional criteria. I propose an amendment on behalf of my Committee to provide for an appeal to the Information Commissioner and, ultimately, to the Information Tribunal.
Overall, in light of our conclusions, we remain concerned that the Government’s proposals risk being indiscriminate and disproportionate. Without further concrete evidence to support the Government’s argument for a blanket six-year single retention period, there is a real risk that these provisions will lead to further judgments finding the UK in violation of the right to respect for private life. In our view, there are various approaches that could comply with the Marper judgment—for example, the Scottish model, which was described earlier—but we are very concerned that the proposals before us simply do not meet the requirements of the European Court.
This whole question raises some very troubling issues. It is one about which reasonable-minded people can differ quite dramatically. There is a division of opinion. On the one hand—this is the minority view to which I subscribe—DNA is an enormously important deterrent and detective tool, and that being so there is a strong case for a national database including all citizens. On the other hand, there is the view that it is a monstrous and serious intrusion into privacy, and therefore unacceptable. That is an argument that has to be taken into account even if one personally disagrees with it.
I think that we can all agree with the general proposition that DNA taken from crime samples should be retained indefinitely. That goes without saying and is very important. The question that should concern the House is the extent to which the DNA should be retained of persons who have come into the criminal network but who have not been convicted of serious crimes. That seems to me the central issue that the House should be considering.
At this point one is rather driven to first principles. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is not in his place because he raised rhetorically the perfectly proper question whether it would be right to have a national database embracing the DNA of everybody. That question needs to be considered; it has been articulated by very senior Law Lords in the past. I can speak only for myself. I hope that the House will accept that I am, generally speaking, on the liberal wing in these arguments. Speaking absolutely personally, I would have no objection to my DNA being on a database, albeit I have not been convicted of a criminal offence.
That general proposition has to be subject to three important provisos. One is cost; another is practicality; and the third is public consent. The fact that I personally might have a particular view in the end cannot be determinative of what we as parliamentarians should decide. I am quite plain that at the moment cost and practicality argue against a national database embracing all citizens. It would be immensely costly and very difficult to achieve, and for those two reasons is probably not acceptable at present. In any event—this is the true argument against, which is decisive—there is no public consent for a national database embracing everybody.
One goes to the next question. Assuming that one is not going to have a national database embracing everybody, one has to determine in a pretty unclear way, by pretty unclear criteria, what classes of people who have not committed serious offences should have their DNA retained on the database. We are being asked to fix a time with reference to no very obvious criteria. However, there are some proper conclusions that one can ultimately arrive at. Here, in the end, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), and indeed the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne).
I am guided on this matter primarily by what I think that the public want, and not necessarily by what I think is the correct conclusion. The public probably want a lesser, rather than a greater, period. If one asked the public in general—if one could ever pose such a question—whether six or three years came within the framework of what they thought proper, in respect of people not convicted of serious offences, they would argue in favour of the shorter period, rather than the longer period.
The public would probably say that the DNA of people who have not been convicted should not be retained. I think that there would be real anxiety were the public fully to understand that, under the Bill, if one is reprimanded or cautioned, one’s DNA will be retained; they might be somewhat surprised by that. Again, using the test of what I judge the public mood to be, and not my opinion, I think that the public would object to that.
I am quite sure that the public would demand much greater ability to remove DNA from the database, and would demand that that ability be national. In my constituency work, I am struck by the way in which it is sometimes easy for a citizen in one police force area to remove their DNA from the database, but not for a citizen in another police force area. I find that extremely difficult to justify.
To conclude, the issue is serious; I am conscious of how important a detective tool the database is, and if it is a detective tool, it is a deterrent—a point that I made to the hon. Member for Eastleigh. Then again, I have to recognise that the fact that I do not find the database intrusive into my privacy or deeply offensive is not determinative. The public have to have confidence in such instruments of policy, and they do not, I think, have confidence in the long-term retention of DNA of persons not convicted of serious offences. For those somewhat narrow reasons, I am driven to support the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, and that adopted by the Liberals.
I hope that this debate is not the end of the matter, in the sense that the subject is one on which the public should be engaged in continuing discussion. If one believes, as I do, that there is a case for longer retention—and perhaps for a national database covering everybody—we should engage the public in that debate. If they will not have it, that is the end of the matter; but they might have it if the argument is fully debated over a period of time, so I hope that this discussion will not be regarded, for years to come, as wholly determinative of the issue.
We are enjoined in both the Old and New Testaments to love justice, seek mercy and walk humbly with our God. An important part of the issue is justice and ensuring that justice is done. There is no doubt that DNA has enabled police forces across the country, through their cold case review teams, to bring to justice for serious offences of murder and rape people who would otherwise have escaped justice.
I was fortunate enough to spend 21 days with Thames Valley police as part of the police parliamentary scheme. I point out to Members of the House who ever have the opportunity of taking part in that scheme that I considered it very worth while. During that time, I spent a day with the Thames Valley police cold case review team, which, on the next day, was about to arrest a man for a rape that had allegedly been committed some considerable time before. I noted subsequently that that resulted in a conviction in the Oxford Crown court. If there had not been a DNA sample, that man would not have been brought to justice and, more importantly, the victim of that offence would not have had justice.
Although the total number of offences in which DNA leads to conviction may be statistically and comparatively small, it can lead to convictions in cases of considerable importance and can ensure that justice is done. I rather take the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). We all have a national insurance number that we are given when we are 16 or whenever we first apply to start work, which is a unique combination of letters and numbers that stays with us to the day we die. Our DNA profile, as opposed to a DNA sample, is, as I understand it, a unique collection of letters and numbers. I have no problem with the state’s having my national insurance number—of course it must have it—and I do not personally see any problem with its having the letters and numbers of my DNA profile.
The difficulty with this debate, which has been brought forward very clearly by the Select Committee’s report and by contributions made by colleagues from all parties this afternoon, is that there is not public consent to the proposal because there is an understandable feeling, as was evidenced by the rather tragic constituency case raised by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), that having one’s record on the DNA database means that a value judgment is being made that one either has committed an offence or has the propensity to commit an offence in the future.
There have been occasions when the police have given the impression that although they might not have managed to secure a conviction or a charge on that occasion, they think that the person involved did it and are going to keep their DNA on the database. That, coupled with the difficulties that people have had in having their DNA profile removed from the database, has tended to erode public consent in what the Government are trying to do with this part of the Bill. Perhaps there is a message for police forces throughout the country that when they secure convictions through the use of DNA or when that use helps to lead to convictions, they ought to give that greater publicity. There might not be sufficient recognition of the contribution that DNA can make to solving crimes. There is no consent about the process.
There is an interesting point about the way in which the Bill has gone through the House. We have a Second Reading debate on the principles. We then have the Public Bill Committee, which now takes evidence from witnesses at the start of its proceedings. We took evidence from a number of people but we have now discovered that in parallel to our doing that work and the work of a Standing Committee, the Home Affairs Committee was engaged in carrying out an inquiry and taking evidence on this very specific point. For perfectly good reasons, which were explained by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, it has only been possible for the Select Committee to publish its unanimous report today. I doubt whether Members of the House, other than those who have been in the Chamber this afternoon, will have had the opportunity to know what the Select Committee recommended.
It seems to me that it is crucial for the hon. Gentleman to recognise that on both sides of the House no one is against the national DNA database. The vast majority of crimes that are solved using the DNA database are those in which there is a match of DNA at the crime scene to somebody who is a suspect for other reasons. All that will continue. The real issue, which he is not addressing in his remarks, is that of proportionality and of adding random numbers of people to the DNA database, without that being based on their guilt or innocence. That is the issue. Does he disagree with the European Court of Human Rights that the policy that the Government have been pursuing—and, I believe, the policy that they are also proposing today—would be disproportionate?
May I come to that point in a second? I gave way, but I shall just finish my point about the Home Affairs Committee. I suspect that there are few Members of this House, other than those who are taking part in this debate, who will know that the Home Affairs Committee, in a unanimous report, has said—the right hon. Gentleman did not read out his conclusion, but I think that it is important that it is put into Hansard—that:
“Decisions on retention periods must balance public safety against individual privacy. We are not convinced that retaining for six years the DNA profiles of people not convicted of any crime would result in more cases being cleared up—let alone more convictions obtained—than retaining them for three years. We therefore recommend a three year limit, and a draft amendment to the Crime and Security Bill to this effect is in the Annex to this Report.”
As everyone in the House would, I hope, agree, this is the sort of issue on which it is very sensible to try to get all-party consensus. It would be stupid to ignore the unanimous report of a Select Committee that is tasked with monitoring and scrutinising the work of the Home Office. It is a pity that, through no fault of the Committee’s, only on the last day on which the Bill will be debated in this Chamber do we have the opportunity of reflecting on what it has said. If the Government insist on using their majority to drive through a six-year period, I hope that when the Bill gets to the other place, our colleagues there will reflect on what the Home Affairs Committee has said so that we can try to get some consensus.
In reality, of course, the Bill will not become law unless there is consent across all parties, because of the general election and the wash-up period. That being so, the Government would surely be well advised to consider the Select Committee’s recommendations for the purposes of the wash-up.
My right hon. and learned Friend, who has witnessed even more wash-ups than I have, gives some sensible advice that I am sure will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench.
Let me come back to the point that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) made. I approach this issue in a slightly different way. The whole raison d’être of the Bill was the European Court’s judgment; that is why we are here. If it had not been for that, we would never have had a Crime and Security Bill, and all the other measures in it—from those on mobile telephones in prisons to those on wheel-clamping—some of which are very welcome, would never have been there. An important point that was made in Committee by me and others is that we have to be confident that whatever the Government do in the Bill will be judge-proof. I should have thought that, if anything, that would require the Government to err on the side of caution rather than go for a longer period that could mean that they end up back before the European Court.
Personally, I see no reason why anyone should be concerned about having their profile on the DNA database as long as the practice is applied broadly. I see that costs might discriminate against that, but if costs were not an issue I should not see any reason why we should not all have our DNA profiles on the database. I just do not see, from a human rights or a civil liberties point of view, why that should be a great issue. The state knows our national insurance numbers and many other details, and we now have biometric passports. In what way am I prejudiced by the state knowing that? It becomes an issue only if I think that I am being discriminated against because my data are being retained and my neighbour’s are not. If I think that my information is being retained simply because I am thought to have a propensity to commit offences and because I am therefore thought less worthy than my neighbour or my colleague, of course that will encourage resentment. That point has come through in the Select Committee’s report.
This is a fundamental issue. The hon. Gentleman says that it would not be prejudicial for all people’s DNA to be on the database, but the key principle is surely that the state should not take unto itself powers to intrude on our personal activities unless there are very good and proportionate reasons for doing so, and that case has not been made.
I am not sure that the state’s having my DNA profile would intrude on my personal activities. However, all this is otiose because I think we are of one mind on this point: whatever the Government do has to be judge-proof. The judges are against me on this, because they have decided that there must be more constraints. I am simply making my views clear. The judges have made things clear and I think that it is in everyone’s interest for the House to reach a conclusion that is judge-proof.
Let me summarise the arguments for reducing the period of retention. A unanimous report of the Home Affairs Committee urges the Government to adopt a three-year period. It must be common sense that the general principle of trying to find political consensus is in the best interests of us all. In any event, we are nearing the end of this Parliament and if we do not have general political consensus, the chances of the Bill getting through are limited, particularly because as we all know, the other place will almost certainly side with the Home Affairs Committee, rather than with the Government on the matter. Lastly, public opinion supports the Home Affairs Committee’s position and a three-year limit.
For all those reasons, I hope that even at this late stage, and bearing in mind that the Home Affairs Committee’s report came out only today, Ministers will contemplate accepting the amendments that reduce the period to three years. Sooner or later, they will probably have to do that if they want to get the Bill through, and it might be more sensible to do it now than wait until the wash-up period.
I very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and our Front-Bench team. The new clause is extremely important. Its purpose is to ensure that a limit of three years is imposed, instead of the period prescribed in the Bill.
We are moving towards a general election and the wash-up period. If one were to make an assessment of the progress likely to be made by the Bill, one would conclude it is highly probable that because of the important issues at the heart of the new clause and amendments, the Government will have an opportunity to think again about getting some of their proposals through when the matter goes between the usual channels. The three-year period is something to hang on to. It would mitigate the difficulties that we face in what is increasingly called the surveillance society.
I listened, sometimes with a slight weariness, to the repetitious or at any rate the enlarged deliberations of the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) which were churned out of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There are some distinguished members on that Committee, but I have the gravest reservations about our legislating simply because the Joint Committee on Human Rights is imbued with the idea that because it has the duty to monitor the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights, we should automatically pay special attention to that assumption.
The framework should be decided in Westminster. We are quite capable of deciding for ourselves what the right level is and what is proportionate. After all, most of the democracies in the world—many of the Commonwealth countries and the United States—have worked with us over many generations. We in this House are not so completely aberrant or so witless that we cannot come up with legislation that is in favour of protecting the rights of the individual. In general, we are moving towards a surveillance society and it is extremely important that we do not allow the benefits made possible by DNA samples, which I certainly admit, to intrude on the rights of individuals.
In a very fine pamphlet recently, Peter Oborne and his co-author pointed out that the European convention on human rights was drafted substantially by British lawyers and came under enormous political pressure from this House, precisely because we wanted to establish that sort of British basis throughout the continent, so which of the human rights set out in the convention does the hon. Gentleman desire to remove?
I just do not believe in written constitutions or in the charter of fundamental rights. I believe in the rights of the people, but they should not be entrenched and then adjudicated, in respect of sensitive political matters, by judges who, by definition, are not elected. I had a debate only a few days ago with Richard Gordon QC, who has just written a book called “Repairing British Politics: A Blueprint for Constitutional Change”. He calls for a written constitution, but his idea of constitutional supremacy is, unfortunately for him, dependent on the fact that all the matters in his constitution would be subjected to the European convention on human rights, the European Union and the judgments of the European Court of Justice.
I believe very strongly, and many others in this country would agree, that there are perfectly sound reasons, of which the new clause put forward by my party’s Front Benchers takes account, for disagreeing with the hon. Member for Dismore—[Interruption.] “Dismal” came to mind, but I must not go down that route. The hon. Member for Hendon simply falls back on what the European convention on human rights and the Joint Committee on Human Rights say, but it is not the function of this House to refer continuously to those abstract principles when we are quite capable. Historically, to answer the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), the fact that the convention happens to have been passed is not a justification for hanging on to it.
I noticed how my hon. Friend let go by the contention of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that everyone was for the convention. In point of fact, it was a highly contentious matter within Attlee’s Government. It was indeed drafted by British lawyers, but there was contention, and it was about a foreign Court adjudicating on matters that had always been at the heart of the responsibility of this House.
As ever, I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. He and I think almost identically on these matters, and he always adds some value to the arguments that we put forward on a mutual footing.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s views on proportionality in this case, but the fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, that we have to make these proposals judge-proof. Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) may think about the European Court of Justice and so on, we have to represent its views so long as its views govern the law in this country on these matters.
Regretfully, that is correct. That is why, when I was shadow Attorney-General, I recommended, and my party accepted, that we repeal the Human Rights Act. For all the reasons under discussion, we must be quite clear about the European convention. Geoffrey Robertson QC, a very distinguished lawyer who, as he said himself, is not a known Eurosceptic, recently made it clear in a very important Standpoint article that we had to review the status of the European convention on human rights, and, as I understood his article, that we should legislate in Westminster to ensure that we strike the right balance in such matters.
This is a very important provision and a very important new clause. The hon. Member for Eastleigh prattles on—if I may be allowed to say so, somewhat pejoratively—about proportionality, but the essence of proportionality is derived from that European convention.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as it allows me more time to prattle. He says that he is in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act, and we know that that is his party’s position, but the burden of his remarks appears to be that we should withdraw from the European convention on human rights. Is that what he is advocating?
Order. I am hesitant to intervene, but I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman responds he will relate his remarks to DNA.
In the context of DNA and the potential invasion of privacy, while allowing for the benefits of the system as a whole, length of retention time, public consent and the other parameters that have already been amply discussed by my hon. Friends, there remains a very serious question: what limits should we impose? I strongly believe that we should impose only limits that are consistent with what people in this country want. If they decided in a general election, or as a result of public consultation, that they would prefer to have Westminster deciding these issues and the time limits involved, that would indicate the degree of public consent that we have in making decisions here in this House. Much as I like the hon. Member for Eastleigh, with whom I have debated these issues many times over, God knows, 20 years or so, I strongly believe that in DNA matters, or any other matters of this extremely sensitive character, we should not employ abstract principles that are decided in European Courts but could just as well have been decided by our own courts on the basis of our own legislation. This comes down to the whole question of who governs Britain and what is our role as a Member of Parliament.
The new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) are very important. I return to the question of the wash-up and the extent to which we stand firm on these questions in the interests of our constituents. Our job is to protect them and to ensure that they get a proper and a fair deal, not an unreasonable subjection to principles of proportionality, or other principles, and a whole series of decisions that come from the Strasbourg Court. Nor do we want to find, as the charter of fundamental rights—the Lisbon treaty—begins to work its way into our legislative arrangements, that we are having to accept those principles.
I repudiate the arguments of the hon. Member for Eastleigh because they are based on abstract principles that are, I am afraid, inherited from a period that has long since gone by. We helped to write and produce the European convention on human rights—and, indeed, the charter of the United Nations—because in those days we were repudiating fascism and the surveillance society that went with it. All that came from our tradition, and that is what we in this House should stick to rather than having a kneejerk reaction in going back to principles that were enunciated all those years ago.
I thank colleagues for a useful and reflective debate on some important and key issues for the House as a whole. We had a long and detailed debate on these matters in Committee. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this debate for ensuring that those matters came before the House today.
If I can summarise, two clear positions have been stated from the Opposition Front Benches. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) said that he supports the three-year period for retention in relation to serious offences, based on the Scottish model. As I said in Committee and repeat today, we have a principled position from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who does not believe that the DNA of anybody not convicted of crimes should be kept. We have heard important contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who has brought to bear the conclusions of the Home Affairs Committee. I am grateful to members of the Committee for their consideration of these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) commented on the views of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and has tabled some amendments, to which I shall speak shortly. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made a thoughtful speech that summarised some of the dilemmas that we face in balancing the need to protect our citizens with the need to gain their consent, and in doing so in the legal framework within which we have to work.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made the case, in part, for a full DNA database. We need to ensure that that is considered, and there are arguments for it, but the Government have had to take a proportionate view and have settled on the position that is before the House today as meeting our legal obligations. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) talked about the primacy of this House in making decisions and expressed what I can only say are long-held concerns about the operation of these matters which are not new to anybody in the House.
There is honest disagreement about the DNA database, and I believe ultimately that the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Eastleigh are on the wrong side of the argument for the British public. We are trying to ensure that we take a proportionate approach that meets the legal obligations that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned and works within the legal framework that the hon. Member for Stone and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham talked about, but that ultimately protects the British public, deters individuals from committing crime and supports the prevention of crime by ensuring that we have a database that is operationally efficient. There is honest disagreement, but I believe that we are proposing a proportionate system and working within the judgments of the Council of Ministers on Marper. We are trying to ensure that the six-year period that we have suggested meets our obligations in a fair and effective way.
I shall speak in due course to Government amendments 8 to 16, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As I tried to explain in Committee, the Opposition amendments would remove the proposed framework for the retention and destruction of DNA and adopt a variant on the Scottish model. The hon. Member for Eastleigh would have a model that did not allow for the retention of matters relating to the DNA of innocent individuals at all.
I begin with Government amendments 14 to 16. We listened to the debates in Committee, as I hope the hon. Member for Hornchurch and others recognise. Issues that were raised there are partly reflected in the reports produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. I will consult my right hon. Friend’s Committee, but we have tried to ensure that we consider both the need for consistency and how individual approaches to the database can be made.
One key issue that has been raised, which is addressed in amendments 14 to 16, is ensuring that we do not have postcode lottery on the implementation of the proposals before the House. In tabling the amendments, the Government decided on a new early deletion procedure, with the National DNA Database Strategy Board being a single point of contact for both members of the public and constituency MPs instead of their having to go to individual police forces. That was a key issue in Committee, and I know that the hon. Member for Hornchurch was concerned about it. I hope that the amendments will ensure that we have consistency across the board in relation to early deletion. Once the board receives a request, the case will be handled by a central team, which will collate the case file, offer advice and consider, based on previous decisions, whether a deletion can be agreed to. If so, it will arrange for it to be implemented.
Amendment 14 will place the responsibility for those arrangements on the board, which, as the House will be aware, has existed since 2007. It will oversee the operation of the database and technical standards in relation to DNA. The board’s core membership will be drawn from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Home Office, but it will include independent elements such as the Information Commissioner, the forensic science regulator and the National DNA Database Ethics Group.
Government amendment 14 will also mean that chief police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must follow that guidance. It is crucial that the removal process is consistent, and I hope that the House welcomes that amendment.
On Government amendments 15 and 16, we listened to what was said in Committee with regard to parliamentary scrutiny over the board and the reports it produces. I thank the hon. Member for Hornchurch for raising that in Committee. Again, I believe that there is now a consensus to amend the Bill to allow that parliamentary scrutiny of the board.
Ultimately, there is a disagreement between the Government, and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers on these matters. New clause 1 and associated Opposition proposals return us to the fundamental questions of the length of time for retention, and whether we achieve a balance for the protection of the community at large with the Government’s proposals or with the Scottish model, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch proposes.
We believe that we have the evidence and the support, that we meet our legal obligations and that the six-year retention period—regardless of the seriousness of the offence for which a person has been arrested—will lead to the prevention of crime, and ultimately and accordingly to the solving of crimes. That is important, and we have taken that view very strongly. As the House will know from discussions in Committee, we believe that rapes, murders or manslaughter cases in England and Wales have been matched to the DNA database and the DNA profiles of individuals who have been arrested but not convicted of any crime.
I say to the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Eastleigh that it is an issue of proportion.
Will the Minister tell me when he intends to answer my parliamentary question?
The hon. Gentleman will have an answer to his parliamentary question as quickly as possible, but we need to check the information for him to ensure that what I say in the House is correct. However, in 2008-09, 79 rape, murder or manslaughter cases were matched to the DNA database, and 36 were found to have a specific and direct value to those investigations.
It is very important that the House hears what the Minister just admitted. He admitted that the information on which he has been making his case has not been checked, which is why he has been unable to answer my parliamentary question.
The hon. Gentleman is making it up as he goes along. I have told the House that I will respond to his parliamentary question in due course. When I do so, I want to ensure that I check that the information in my answer is sufficient to answer his question. I am telling House today that 79 rape, murder or manslaughter cases in England and Wales were matched to the DNA database, and that 36 were found to have a direct or specific value to those investigations.
Do not just listen to me. The president of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde, has said that he believes that the database is of value in helping to secure criminal convictions, preventing crime, and in ensuring, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, that innocent people are acquitted of crimes, as they are on occasion. There is an honest disagreement between the Government, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, which I suspect will be tested in a Division very shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon proposes new clause 9, which forwards the underlying principle of independent oversight. As he is aware, we have given a commitment to look at the creation of an independent oversight role on such matters, which we are doing. I cannot accept his proposal today, but we are aware of the need for such oversight. We are considering whether to introduce amendments in due course to meet those obligations.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights is also behind proposed amendments 35 to 42, which would substitute the Government’s proposals for a Scottish model. My arguments on that relate to those I made to the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Eastleigh. We have had to make judgments on these matters, and I believe we have made them in support of crime prevention. I commend the Government amendments, but I ask the hon. Member for Hornchurch to withdraw his proposal, because I believe that it is not in the interests of the prevention of crime. The Conservatives are on the wrong side of the argument, and I hope the House rejects the hon. Gentleman’s proposals should he not withdraw them.
We have had an interesting debate on this important subject. The framing of today’s debate with the publication of the Select Committee’s report has been helpful in highlighting some of the issues, which were raised by the Chairman. It is interesting to note that the Committee did not support the Government’s approach to the six-year retention period. The Committee believes that that is too long—much of the other evidence supports that—and argues for a three-year retention period. I note the points that the right hon. Gentleman made about the disproportionate impact on minority communities, and we will need to maintain our focus on that issue.
I respect the approach taken by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and the purity of his logic, although we see the need for pragmatism in striking the balance between the interests of citizens and protecting them from the risk of crime. I support the points that he made about the evidential approach that the Government have taken and the holes in their analysis.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) set out clearly the problem of stigma that can occur in relation to the retention of a DNA profile and the impact that that might have on an individual. That stigma has been rightly highlighted in several cases, and the House will be concerned by the individual case that the hon. Gentleman brought up this afternoon and the tragic circumstances involved.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) makes the case in relation to a universal database, although I would mention the issues of cost and practicality. I take a different view when it comes to the benign nature of the state. I do not agree with the universal approach, but I do agree with my right hon. and learned Friend about the need for DNA forensics and proper cold case databases so that information can be matched speedily and effectively. It is an important detection tool, and he also mentioned the deterrent effect. Crime scene forensics and DNA records must be retained, so that they can be matched against DNA profiles taken on arrest for unconnected offences.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) highlighted the issue of justice, and that is why we support the use of DNA forensics in the detecting of crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. That overlaps with some of the points made earlier in the debate, but I am clear that the use of the DNA database should be for the detection and prosecution of crime and for no other purpose. A universal database of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests would be disproportionate, for reasons of cost and security. The Government do not have the strongest of records when it comes to keeping information safe, and that would be even more of an issue if the database were to be extended as my hon. Friend suggests.
I appreciated the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) in making the case for the basic period of three years and about the primacy of Parliament. He mentioned his concerns about the surveillance society, which is a wider issue albeit connected to several of the contributions we have heard in this debate.
I acknowledge some of the changes that the Minister has made following our discussions in Committee on oversight and the scrutiny by Parliament. He has also recognised the need to be able to take samples from visitors from overseas should it be discovered, once they are here, that they have committed serious offences overseas. I welcome the changes that the Minister has brought forward, but I return to the issue of balance and judgment. We must take a proportionate approach to the retention of DNA records for those who have never been convicted of an offence. We must respect the basic principle that someone is innocent unless proven guilty, and we must not discount the stigma that can be attached to someone if those principles are breached. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House on new clause 1, and see whether we do in fact respect those fundamental principles that I and my colleagues hold dear.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
8 March 2010
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
New Clause 3
Alcohol disorder zones
‘(1) The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit sections 15 to 20.’.—(James Brokenshire.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 23, in clause 55, page 101, line 20, leave out ‘it necessary’ and insert
‘the making of an order under this section desirable’.
We turn now to an area of policy and law that is very different from that of DNA retention, which we have just debated. We shall now discuss provisions to control alcohol licensing and try to address the problems resulting from late-night drinking that many of our communities experience, including the costs borne by the police and local authorities in dealing with binge boozing. The first question to ask is whether there is a problem, and I think that we can all say from the complaints that we receive from our constituents that the answer is yes, and that the costs of dealing with it are increasing.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending an evening on the streets of London with paramedics from the London Ambulance Service’s booze bus and officers from the Metropolitan police’s clubs and vice unit, whose duty is literally to pick up the pieces resulting from a night of drink-fuelled excess on the streets of the capital. I said that it was a privilege to do this; it was not a privilege to see some of the scenes that I saw that night, but it was a privilege to see the professionalism, dedication and sympathetic approach that those professionals brought to bear when dealing with the problems associated with late-night drinking. I saw some of the physical situations that people—principally, but not exclusively, young people—got into, along with their need for medical help and the crime issues that arose from their behaviour. That was a real reminder of the continuing problems of late-night drinking that affect many of our communities, and of the pressures that are placed on our emergency services into the early hours of the morning.
In the context of our new clause, which proposes the deletion of certain provisions on alcohol disorder zones in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, it is relevant to reflect on the cost of these problems to society as a whole. The continental-style café culture that was promised when the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced was certainly not evident during my time spent in the centre of London, which lasted into the early hours. It is also far from evident in the many communities blighted by drink-related nuisance and violence, and by self-inflicted health issues, especially for those whose night on the tiles ends up being a night on a stretcher in the local accident and emergency department.
I was told during my visit that the London Ambulance Service handled about 60,000 alcohol-related emergency calls last year. I was given the leaflet that is given to every person whom the service assists, which informs them that every 999 call-out to someone who has had one drink too many costs about £200. That figure does not take into account police costs, or the other costs linked to clearing up the mess and dealing with the nuisance directly attributed to binge boozing. There is clearly a financial hangover that all of us are having to bear.
The costs of alcohol to society are becoming ever clearer. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the number of finished admissions of patients with an alcohol-related diagnosis increased from 644,000 to 945,000—a rise of about 47 per cent. Alcohol was a factor in almost 42,000 cases of children under 18 being admitted to English hospitals in the past three years, and figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of alcohol-related deaths has increased by 47 per cent. since 1997. Young people are drinking twice as much as they did in 1990. Last year, there were 973,000 violent attacks in which the offender was under the influence of alcohol, and 57 per cent. of all assaults involving minor injuries are linked to alcohol.
It is in that context that the Government proposed their solution to the problem: the alcohol disorder zone. That measure was so complicated and unwieldy that it took three years to implement it, and it took three goes at getting the relevant statutory instrument right in order to bring it into law, nearly six months later than the powers were said by No. 10 to have been brought into effect.
What has happened since the alcohol disorder zone regime was introduced? The shadow Home Secretary asked the Home Secretary in a parliamentary question how many alcohol disorder zones had been enforced, and the simple answer was:
“There are currently no Alcohol Disorder Zones (ADZs) in place. ADZs came into force in June 2008 and the Home Office has been clear that an ADZ should only be used as a measure of last resort, after all other tools and powers have been tried.”—[Official Report, 9 February 2010; Vol. 506, c. 905W.]
They are clearly such a measure of last resort that no one has used them at all.
What went wrong? It is worth considering what was said when the measures were introduced. The House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee noted that:
“Although the policy is optional, given its complexity we wonder how many local authorities will actually take it up, and we draw the Regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that they may imperfectly achieve their policy objectives.”
The Local Government Association, representing the councils that were supposed to benefit from this additional measure in their toolkit, stated that it had
“serious misgivings about this policy”,
and noted that
“ADZs will prove to be a costly, complicated and unwieldy tool for local authorities, particularly the costs involved in preparing and implementing an ADZ and the additional burdens involved in attempting to recover these costs.”
The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services warned that local authorities were
“likely to be open to all sorts of challenges e.g. from challenging the level of intervention tried before considering an ADZ designation; down to challenges over exemptions and discounts. It seems highly unlikely that this piece of legislation will ever be used.”
Despite those siren voices, however, the Government carried on regardless.
The reticence to bring in an ADZ is perhaps a reflection of the fear that doing so might make matters worse by increasing the perception of crime and abusive behaviour in an area. The way in which the measure works involves a formal consultation process and the designation of an area as an ADZ. In so doing, it might be felt that attention is being drawn to the fact that it is a problematic area. I can understand the reticence shown by local authorities that do not want to say, “Our area has a problem, and it is an alcohol disorder zone.” That might explain the unwillingness to come forward and implement the measure. This should have been taken into account when considering whether the process would be usable.
The risk of displacement must also be taken into account. Once an area has been identified as an alcohol disorder zone, problems could simply be displaced to other areas in an unmanaged way. ADZs could also earn the badge of being a magnet for trouble, and designating an area an ADZ could make matters worse if that happened. There is also an assumption that problems can be confined to one area without properly taking account of problems such as the pre-loading of alcohol. Alcohol that led to troublesome or violent behaviour could well have been consumed in the home or at a different location outside the designated zone in which the problems occurred.
It is also a matter of the associated bureaucracy, as there has to be an assessment of the cost of baseline services in the area in question, which is unlikely to fit neat boundaries. Another problem is the unrecoverability of charges under the preliminary action plan stage that needs to be gone through before a local authority is able to designate an area as an alcohol disorder zone, which it must do before being able to charge licensed premises in that area to meet the costs assessed under the action plan and under the baseline assessment.
If we consider the issues of stigma, bureaucracy and all the costs that local authorities will have to bear in seeking to introduce an ADZ, it is not too surprising that no one has bothered to introduce one. As we pointed out at the time, the reality is that ADZs are unwieldy, unworkable and unwanted. In large measure, they are a back-of-an-envelope solution to a complex problem and simply will not deliver any change to the problem of alcohol-fuelled crime, over which the Government have presided, which occurs principally in the early hours of the morning. We will discuss later other provisions in the Bill that are designed to control licences for the sale of alcohol in the early hours of the morning.
In many ways ADZs have been overtaken by events, leaving huge scope for uncertainty and legal challenge. In my judgment, as I said at the time of their introduction, they represent poor law, which does this House and this Government no credit. The irony is that, apparently, the Government are still considering their use. We have learned that there are road shows going around to remind local authorities of their various powers to control alcohol and of the wonders that are these alcohol disorder zones. There has even been some suggestion that the Government might look to modify the regulations somewhat, by subjecting them to further fine-tuning. Frankly, I think that that is a waste of time and resources on a failed idea. The proposal to tinker with the drafting in the vain hope that it will have councillors beating a path to Marsham street, clamouring to become the first recipient of an ADZ are, in my judgment, somewhat far-fetched. It is simply not going to happen.
Instead, the Government would be better advised to look at a different approach to seeking to recover the hidden costs attributed to the late-night economy. Rather than looking at a zone or geography, they would do better to think about the operating hours themselves. If an off-licence, bar or club wishes to remain open beyond a specific hour, a cost or levy should be attached to that. Equally, in the interest of better government, deregulation and the desire to keep the statute book uncluttered, we believe that it is time for the Government to admit the policy disaster zone that ADZs have always been. That is why we would repeal the relevant sections of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, to which the new clause would give effect.
Amendment 23 covers a slightly different point. The Government are seeking to introduce measures to give local authorities a right to ban licensed premises from opening between 3 am and 6 am. The basis for that approach is in part to cover some of the problems associated with the late-night economy that I have already highlighted. For example, the police are under increasing strain in the small hours of the morning dealing with alcohol-fuelled crime, while the hard-working staff of A and E departments literally have to pick up the pieces of drink-fuelled excess.
The Government have known about those issues for around three years, but until now, they have done absolutely nothing about them. In the Home Office document, “Violent crime, disorder and criminal damage since the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003”, which was published in July 2007, rising levels of criminal damage were indicated, with the report stating:
“The number of offences happening between 3.00 am and 6.00 am were consistently higher in each of the four three-monthly periods after the introduction of the Act compared with the equivalent periods in the previous year.”
The study noted a 22 per cent. increase in all offences committed between 3 am and 6 am. This evidence of offending was also drawn to our attention in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003, which was published in March 2008. It stated:
“Violent crime occurring in the small hours of the morning has grown”.
Until very recently, the Government thought that these problems had absolutely nothing to do with the Licensing Act itself. As recently as January this year, the Home Secretary was quoted as saying that 24-hour licensing was “not the problem”. Yet we now have measures in the Bill to stop 24-hour licensing if a local authority considers it necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives, comprising the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm.
Relevant to this specific amendment was the press release of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of 4 February 2010, which stated:
“Councils would need to show that the restriction was necessary to prevent crime and disorder or public nuisance or to promote public safety.”
The question is, what obligation does this place on councils? Is it to happen if they consider it necessary, or does it need to be demonstrated with objective evidence? Judging from the Minister’s response in Committee, certain objective tests would have to be satisfied so that a local authority would have to hit a particular hurdle to be able to introduce these measures in the first place. Given that 24-hour drinking was, apparently, not the problem in the first place and given the issue of whether drinking occurs before the 3 am deadline mentioned in clause 55, it might well be difficult for a local authority to make the necessary demonstration.
Information about the number of outlets open at this time in the morning is also important. When an assessment was made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in March 2008, it found that about 5,100 premises had 24-hour licences. It then becomes a question of how we break that down in respect of demonstrating the problems that a local authority would need to have in order to meet the hurdles prescribed in the Bill. Of that number, about 3,320 were hotel bars, which have always been able to serve their guests alcohol for 24 hours; 920 were supermarkets and stores; and 470 were pubs, bars or nightclubs. That offers a slightly different flavour and different context to the issue, particularly when the DCMS said of those 470 pubs, bars and nightclubs that had 24-hour licences that “only a handful” operated on that basis. If it is only a handful, and if this legislation is intended to be directed at that handful, it seems that local authorities will have a devil of a job trying to meet the hurdles that appear to be put before them.
If we consider the statutory regulations that might sit behind the Bill should it come into law, we have certainly seen in the past that such regulations have tended to fetter rather than help local authorities in exercising such discretion as they may have in respect of the application of licensing laws. I certainly do not place too much hope in having regulatory guidance in place to sit alongside the Bill that would help to provide the assistance or comfort that local councils or local authorities need to utilise the very power that the Government seem to want to give them ostensibly to assist them in the management of the problems that occur in the small hours of the morning. It comes back to the fact that the problems themselves are likely to have been caused much earlier in the night. Would it not be better to ensure that local authorities have a much stronger ability to set closing times and have the very discretion promised to them when the Licensing Act 2003 was brought into effect?
Through the amendment, we are seeking to be helpful by explaining what discretion might be applied by councils in the utilisation of the Bill’s powers. We want to ensure that communities have a stronger say when it comes to licensed premises that are opening in the small hours in their areas.
It is clear from what I have seen on the streets of London and elsewhere that serious problems are involved. The emergency services are being pressed at a time when there may not be enough police officers, paramedics and medical staff on duty to deal with those problems. I think it incumbent on the Government to ensure that this measure is used, otherwise we will be back where we were with alcohol disorder zones. We will end up with a measure that will not make the difference that our constituents want to see by dealing with the binge drinking, and the alcohol-fuelled violence and crime, that blight far too many communities throughout the country.
I hope that the Minister will reflect on the spirit in which the amendment was tabled, and will try to ensure that this power can be used. I must caution him that, as currently drafted, the clause will go the same way as the alcohol disorder zones: a power that was intended to benefit communities and local authorities will never actually be adopted.
Although alcohol misuse was discussed at some length in Committee, I feel that more time should have been devoted to an issue of such importance. I realise that this is a catch-all Bill containing many valuable provisions that require a full airing, not least those that we have discussed today and those on which I hope to speak later, but alcohol misuse is a huge problem.
For most people a social drink is something to be enjoyed moderately as one of life’s pleasures, but sadly, for a host of reasons, it is misused by all too many. Alcohol is a substance that can indeed give pleasure, but its potential for harm and damage is phenomenal. In recent years the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol misuse, of which I am vice-chair, has taken evidence from a variety of organisations, which has made clear to us the damage done to individuals and communities.
I fear that alcohol misuse is one of those cultural issues that may be peculiar to northern Europe. We seem to have a fascination with alcohol that goes beyond enjoyment of a pleasurable evening. It represents almost a rite of passage for our young people, although unfortunately in the case of some the rite of passage continues into their forties, fifties and sixties. It appears to be almost compulsory for people to go out in the evenings and drink not just in accordance with their own capacities or even to excess, but way beyond that to a point at which problems arise. Those problems may be social—it may be a case merely of upsetting people—or they may involve violence and acts of wanton criminal damage. There may be incredible violence against other individuals, and it all seems to be fuelled by people’s inability to know where their alcohol limits lie.
That is a shame, because the overall rate of crime is falling and, according to the independent crime figures, the chance of becoming a victim of any type of crime is lessening. However, because our television screens are full of programmes showing horrendous alcohol-related acts of violence against property and persons, the perception of crime is still very high and continues to be at the top of most people’s agenda. I am sure I speak for all Members when I say that that is made clear to us both in our constituency surgeries and when we are out and about talking to our constituents from day to day. Most people associate the sight of someone on a street corner drinking a can of beer during the day with a heightened fear of crime.
In the context of the Bill and in a wider context, we must recognise that alcohol misuse is a cultural issue. There has been a welcome attempt to introduce, with the best of intentions, a café culture featuring the relaxed attitude that our southern European neighbours seem to adopt. That was an admirable aspiration on the part of the Government, but it should be set against our northern European culture. We know of the history of great halls where people sat around drinking to excess, and when we travel across the water we see that some of our near neighbours have huge problems with alcohol misuse. There is no particular reason for me to pick on poor Norway, but despite its high alcohol prices, it has problems with alcohol misuse. The issue of prices was raised in Committee, but we need only travel the short distance to Norway to see that that approach will not work on its own. We must explore all manner of ways of addressing the cultural issues, which is what the Bill does.
I am sure that we have all seen posters in our communities describing the impact that alcohol misuse can have on individuals. Staffordshire police and Stoke-on-Trent city council have extremely good posters highlighting the ways in which it can affect people, not least the possibility of ending up in a police cell for the night—quite apart from what happens to the victims of alcohol-related crime.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) spoke of his experiences on the streets of London with members of the police and paramedics. Like, I suspect, many other Members, I too have been out with the police, and with what was the West Midlands ambulance service and is now the Staffordshire ambulance service. I have been to the constituency of my good and hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher).
Hanley is a popular night spot on Friday and Saturday nights and, indeed, at other times, with various pubs, clubs and entertainment venues in and around the city centre. I have observed the work done by paramedics there. In an extremely effective pilot exercise, a MASH-style tent was set up in a car park just outside the city centre. Rather than being taken to the accident and emergency department at University Hospital of North Staffordshire, people who had had too much to drink and had injured themselves—or, more worryingly, had had too much to drink and injured others—could be taken to the tent for treatment.
I was most impressed when I talked to the dedicated people who worked late shifts on Friday and Saturday nights, and saw the work that they did. I was interested to learn from them that things generally did not begin to hot up until 2 am at the earliest. It was at 3 am, they said, that problems really started to come to their attention. Until then, crews were dealing with other issues and getting themselves ready. As I saw for myself, as the night progresses, things go from fairly slow to very busy indeed.
On patrol around the city centre with the Staffordshire constabulary, I saw the problems caused by people coming out of nightclubs. The introduction of staggered times in other parts of the country has proved very effective. For a number of years, members of the police force who asked for it before the change in the legislation have been telling me how welcome it has been. That staggering—if the House will pardon the pun—is better than everyone leaving clubs at the same time.
As we travelled around, the police would point out certain clubs—I will not name names—and say, “This one is particularly well run; there are good door staff, and they make sure things are run properly,” or, “This one is less well run; we know we’ll be called out to it several times in the night, because there will be problems.” As we went around, it became obvious that the police knew their patch intimately. They knew exactly what to expect, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night, and which premises they would have to visit. As we have an excellent police service in Staffordshire—and north Staffordshire—its officers were pro active. They went out and talked to the door staff, and identified early on where there were going to be problems. Again, however, the police service knew that those problems were likely to escalate from about 3 am onwards—and that was, indeed, the case.
Let me now move from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central to my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South. I have been out with the response team there. Again, I travelled around with them in their cars and we were called to incident after incident. I want to pay tribute to all the officers, in particular those from Longton police station. It is one of the busiest police stations in the entire Staffordshire area, and its officers do a marvellous job. Having been out on duty with them, I can attest that the early hours of the morning is the period when the volume of calls goes through the roof, and they find that they are out responding to a stream of incidents. Many of them, especially after 3 am, were alcohol-related, as they had told me they would be.
I know we will come on to the issue of domestic violence later, but that is often fuelled by alcohol. Officers know that, come 3 am, they will be called to domestic violence incidents, and they will frequently be at the same addresses. They also know in advance that many of them will have arisen because alcohol has been consumed throughout the evening, which has resulted in things coming to a head early in the morning.
I have also been out with the Operation Sanction van as it tours around the constituency. It is an extremely good operation. It has been run over many months, going out and identifying hot spots where there is drinking—and especially under-age drinking—late into the night that is causing trouble, nuisance and a great deal of distress for constituents. That police operation was extremely good, and very well received by residents.
Turning to the experience of residents, I listened intently to the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) on local authorities’ use of the raft of powers at their disposal, such as the designation of an alcohol disorder zone. Local authorities are sometimes hesitant to use these powers, and there is a whole host of reasons for that. It is not necessarily that things are complex. I have seen evidence that Stoke-on-Trent city council was hesitant in respect of using section 13—of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001—notices; it required the police to fill in reams of completely unnecessary paperwork. Fortunately, over time—and with intervention from the then elected mayor, Mark Meredith, working closely with the police and his own departments in the city council—that process was streamlined so that when section 13 notices were required, they could be brought in extremely quickly. The cause of such hesitancy among local authorities is not necessarily that things are bureaucratic or particularly burdensome. Often, they are simply hesitant to use a power until they have used it. That is human nature, of course; until any of us has actually done something for the first time, we are hesitant about doing it.
In terms of late-night drinking, late-night opening and alcohol disorder, there are some interesting proposals on charging organisations. There is an issue in respect of organisations—clubs, bars, pubs or hotels—that are located in areas that might be hit by the proposals, however. Some of them will be extremely well run and will take their responsibilities extremely seriously, but even though they are behaving in a highly commendable fashion and the cause of the problems lies elsewhere, they might be penalised by having to meet charges for policing and pay the local authority. The cause of the problems might be that other pubs or clubs are not so well run and are not taking their responsibilities seriously or, as the hon. Gentleman said, that people have pre-loaded—they have started their night out before they even go out. Some people go to the local off-licence or supermarket and buy in very strong beer and other alcoholic drinks, and then get half-cut before they even step out of the front door. We might stop off-licences and supermarkets selling some of the full-strength beers; perhaps we should allow only pubs to sell beverages of such a high alcohol content. That might have the knock-on effect of getting folks back into the pubs, instead of drinking at home or on street corners, as is, unfortunately, often the case. We also need to look at how to ensure that supermarkets and off-licences share the costs that the pubs, clubs and hotels may well end up having to pay.
In Committee, in response to proposals of mine, Ministers kindly responded on the issue of designated public protection orders. That ties in closely with the alcohol disorder zone issue. In responses in Committee on 23 February 2010, the Government set out where they felt the designated public protection orders, as they relate to alcohol, could meet the concerns of local residents. They might meet them in particular when tied to the use of petitions in respect of the duty on petitions under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister comes to respond, he will be able to give some clarification on the public using that petition duty under that Act.
I would also like to hear a little about the late-night alcohol licensing limits—closure between 3 and 6 am and the 2009 Act. In situations where a local authority has not sought pubs and clubs to close between 3 and 6 am in a certain area, will the public be allowed to use petitions to require them to seek closure? Another concern that has been raised is that the general public do not feel that their voice is heard, particularly in respect of alcohol misuse and the ability to have premises closed where they feel they are operating without any due respect for the local community in which they operate. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give me the clarification I seek about designated public protection orders and alcohol misuse, and also about late-night licensing closure orders between 3 and 6 am so that the public feel they have a say on that.
Sadly, the issue of alcohol misuse and the cultural implications of our northern European nature will take a long time to address. We can do a lot through legislation, but a lot of it is also about effecting culture change and changing the idea that people do not have a good night unless they cannot remember it. We need to make sure we address these issues, and I welcome any proposals that add tools to the toolbox of local authorities and the police, to help in addressing this important issue.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), who speaks a lot of good sense on this issue. Let me first deal with amendment 23. The Government’s introduction of the new power for local authorities confirms that the Government have failed to get a grip on the culture of binge drinking. I agree with what he has been saying about the fact that doing so is complex, but it is key if we are to deal with the associated crime and disorder, as any of us who have been out on a Friday or Saturday night with our local police force will be able to testify. The new alcohol provisions in the Bill give local authorities the power to impose blanket bans on the sale of alcohol after 3 am, but to do so on the basis of a justification that such a ban is “necessary”. The amendment proposed by the Conservatives would change the wording to “desirable”, and the Liberal Democrats would have no problem with that. Although there are no longer statutory limits on this under the licensing laws, in theory local authorities—licensing authorities—can curtail hours of sale to prevent crime and disorder, for public safety reasons, to prevent public nuisance and to protect children from harm. This provision is a reinforcement of the powers available to local authorities. We can see that in certain circumstances it might be useful, and we therefore support it.
New clause 3 would, in effect, abolish alcohol disorder zones. It is clear that they were another example of the Government governing by press release without considering what local authorities really wanted or needed to tackle the problems that they face. The fact that no local authority has applied to create an ADZ tells us everything we need to know about the effectiveness of this particular legislation.
Does it not surprise the hon. Gentleman that the Government never held any proper consultation with local authorities in order to discover whether this was a power that they wanted? Does not one usually ask people whether they want a power before one announces that the power is to be given to them?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that in a rational, well-ordered world where Ministers were doing things in the correct way one might well suppose that a consultation process would be a good start to make before the drafting of legislation. However, as he may well have heard me say before, we have had 67 criminal justice Bills and nine immigration Bills since 1997, and 3,400 new criminal offences have been created, and the way in which the Government operate on these matters is to use legislation as a glorified press release, rather than as something that will have a little longer shelf life. The ADZs are another example of that playing to the gallery, and as the Liberal Democrats are very much in favour of removing legislation that is completely unnecessary, we will support new clause 3.
This has been an informative, if short, debate, in which there has been some agreement and some disagreement about whether these proposals deserve the support of the House. First, may I pay tribute to the work of and comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), who spoke authoritatively this evening, as he did in Committee, in a fair and balanced way? He demonstrated again—as if he needed to—why he is such an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament. He highlighted the problems in his area and pointed out the significance of alcohol in our culture, both negative and positive. He also highlighted the way in which MPs are able to involve themselves in these important matters for their constituents—I am sure that applies to most hon. Members in the Chamber this evening—and see at first hand the problems that prevail.
If the House will allow me, I will answer directly the two points that my hon. Friend made before I deal with the broader points raised by the hon. Members who lead for the Opposition parties in this area. My hon. Friend asked whether the public can influence decisions on late night orders. He may be aware that at the end of January we introduced the right of local councillors to act as interested parties, and nothing would prevent Members of Parliament from acting on behalf of residents in raising these matters.
My hon. Friend asked a specific question about petitions. I am able to confirm that where a petition is presented it could be used as the basis for a designated public place order and that local authorities are required to consider a petition under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. I hope that that gives him some reassurance.
I wish now to discuss the wider point. Let me first state that there is a degree of common view—if not unanimity—about the fact that alcohol does create problems in our local communities and that we need to tackle the problems robustly. We need to be tough, but we also need to recognise that no single measure that can be introduced will act as a silver bullet. We have to put into context the powers that have been introduced and how they have been used to date, because the reality is that the level of alcohol-related crime has fallen by a third since 1997. We are not complacent; we are determined to take action to reduce the level of alcohol-related crime and disorder further, particularly when it involves binge drinking and under-age drinking. Of course we want to minimise the violence, antisocial behaviour and health harms that come with the abuse of alcohol, but we also want a balanced approach that allows the law-abiding to go about their business and to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly. We have introduced a host of measures, including ADZs, that have a role to play, but the reality is that 28 per cent. of the population perceive that alcohol-related disorder is either a fairly big or big problem in their area.
I very much agreed with the Minister’s point about the importance of cutting alcohol-related violence. Could he tell the House what the Home Office is doing to ensure greater co-operation between accident and emergency departments and local police forces to give anonymised patient data allowing police forces to do hot-spot intensive policing, which, as we know from the experience in Cardiff and other cities, has cut woundings by 40 per cent? This is a key part of dealing with these alcohol-related problems. Given that just a year ago only one fifth of hospitals were co-operating, what progress has been made?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because progress is being made. One of the issues that is being addressed right across the country, particularly in crime and disorder partnerships and particularly where the Home Office and the police are working closely with local authorities and agencies, is not only the health risk that alcohol poses, but the way in which health data can be used to inform this process. This approach is playing an increasing part in many more local partnerships’ problem solving: they are getting a better grip on what the problem is like in their area and how they measure it. People are realising that although enforcement action is important—that is why the police must always be on the front line on this issue—a number of agencies have a role to play. It is a sad fact that in tackling not only alcohol-related disorder but knife crime it is often the health service that sees things at first hand for the first time; they see the people who have been caught up in these things, both the victims of crime and its perpetrators. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that what he describes is very much part of the work that is being done on tackling not only knife crime but a range of matters, including alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder.
That brings me to the issue of ADZs. New clause 3 proposes that sections 15 to 20 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 should be repealed. They give local authorities powers, in consultation with the police, to designate in their area an ADZ. To pay for additional policing and other enforcement activities they can impose charges on premises and clubs within the zone that sell or supply alcohol, as specified by the Secretary of State in regulations, and the regulations were introduced in June 2008.
I say to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) —we have debated this point many times—that there are, as he knows, no alcohol disorder zones yet. He seeks through his amendment to remove the power to set up alcohol disorder zones because there are none yet. Despite that, they are an important power available to local authorities, and it would not be correct to remove that power.
Can the Minister tell the House of discussions that he has had with local authorities in recent months indicating that any of them intend to take up the power?
There have been discussions precisely on that point to ensure that some of the criticisms about bureaucracy made earlier in the debate do not apply. Let me be frank: as the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) said, local authorities are not seeking to stigmatise their area, and they are certainly not looking to add costs to the evening economy, particularly as many businesses are feeling the squeeze of the recession. However, it would still not be correct to accept the new clause and remove the power to create alcohol disorder zones.
Local authorities and enforcement agencies have a wide range of tools and powers available to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, and it is up to them which they use. As I said, there is no single power than can be used to address the problem alone. Front-line agencies require a wide range of powers to tackle the problem. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work of front-line staff and agencies in that regard, and I support his comments. There are many good examples across the country of areas where problems associated with the night-time economy are well managed.
Because alcohol disorder zones are a last resort, and are to be used only when all other avenues of persuading licensed premises to adopt a more responsible approach have failed, I believe that they still have a role. In our discussions with local authorities about why they have not created alcohol disorder zones, they have said that it is precisely the existence of that last resort that has encouraged them to look again at the alternative powers available to them. Therefore, alcohol disorder zones do not have to be introduced in order to have an influence: because they involve cost, they focus people’s minds on ensuring that they do everything that they can to tackle the problems in their area. In that regard, the fact that local authorities have not felt the need to use that power of last resort is testament to the good work that is being done in many areas.
I wonder whether the Minister can give me a single other example in legislation in which a power is presented on the basis that it will never be used but is valuable because its role is to exist but never be used. I know of no other such case in government.
I apologise. Clearly I have not explained to the right hon. Gentleman exactly what I am saying. I am not saying that that is the only purpose of alcohol disorder zones. If anyone said, “We intend to set up an alcohol disorder zone because we believe it’s necessary to deal with the conditions in our area,” we would applaud that. We are saying that not only does the power have a practical purpose—if a zone were introduced, it would raise additional revenue to pay for policing and other measures—but in the 18 months it has been available it has had an influence in many town and cities throughout the country. I do not discount for one minute the possibility that someone may come forward and say, “Having looked at and tried all the available powers, we want to set up an alcohol disorder zone.” I cannot say that that will not happen, and the right hon. Gentleman does not say that either.
Can the Minister confirm that no local authority is currently expressing any interest in applying these powers?
Local authorities, licensing authorities and the police express an interest in using a full range of powers. The hon. Member for Hornchurch criticises the work that Home Office officials and the police do, day in day out, throughout the country in the areas worst affected by alcohol-related disorder, to decide which powers are most applicable and how to use them better. That may involve explaining that the last resort is an alcohol disorder zone, and if that is something that local authorities should be considering, I am sure that it forms part of the discussions. The hon. Gentleman calls the measure a waste of time, but I can assure him that a number of local authorities, including my own, which at the moment is led by his party, welcome the opportunity to have support from the Home Office and the police in making better use of the powers that are available. I do not accept that it would help us in any way to remove the power to create alcohol disorder zones from the statute book, particularly to go down the route suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the stigma of having an alcohol disorder zone. What about the stigma of an area shown in the newspapers and on the television, and seen by the residents themselves, that has the kind of evening economy that does a disservice to our town and city centres? That has a stigma too, and that is why local authorities should be looking to use every power available.
I turn now to amendment 23. Clause 55 allows local authorities to introduce an order to limit the opening times in their area between 3 am and 6 am. The hon. Gentleman knows that when the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced, the commitment was given to keep the situation under review and, if necessary, to take further action. For the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, there is an issue with what happens between 3 am and 6 am. We are taking this measure so that if the emergency services are stretched, or the police are saying that further action should be taken, there is a power to close not one but a number of premises.
Does the Minister intend this to be a mainstream measure, or is it, too, intended to be a measure of last resort?
It is entirely up to local authorities. If they want to hold it in abeyance while they consider other powers and discuss them with licensed premises, that is entirely a matter for them. I should have thought, from the comments that the hon. Gentleman has made in these debates and elsewhere, that he would see some benefit in giving local authorities discretion. However, the point of amendment 23 is not to give local authorities discretion; it aims to change the nature of the debate. It would lower the threshold that must be met before a licensing authority may decide to make an order. If the amendment were accepted, the discretion of the licensing authority would be broadened and the test would be more subjective and less evidence-based.
Clause 55 was drafted in accordance with the better regulation principles that are central to our policy on regulation. I remind the House that they are: proportionality, which means that regulators should intervene only when necessary, that remedies should be appropriate to the risks posed and that costs should be identified and minimised; accountability, which means that regulators must be able to justify their decisions and be subject to public scrutiny; consistency, which means that rules and standards must be joined up and implemented fairly; transparency, which means that regulators must be open and must keep regulations simple and user-friendly; and targeted, which means that regulations must be focused on an identified problem and minimise side-effects.
Amendment 23 moves us away from those principles in a way that the House would, I believe, find totally unacceptable. The first principle is proportionality. I emphasise the words “only intervene when necessary”, because it is the word “necessary” that the hon. Member for Hornchurch asks us to remove from clause 55. I find that surprising, given that as recently as October last year, his party published, with great fanfare, a policy paper outlining the approach to regulation that a Conservative Government would adopt, if elected. The paper was snappily entitled “Regulation in the Post-Bureaucratic Age”. It cites the better regulation principles, which I outlined, as the starting point for the policy of Conservative Members. It includes the words:
“Regulators should only intervene when necessary.”
I ask the hon. Member for Hornchurch, who seeks to take the word “necessary” out of clause 55, whether that policy no longer applies. Did he not discuss the amendment with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who promoted the policy as recently as October, or is this another example of muddle at the heart of Conservative policy making?