House of Commons
Monday 19 March 2012
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
With permission, Mr Speaker, before I respond to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I should like to apologise for the unexpected absence due to a family emergency of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), and for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who is in Northumbria, representing the Government at a memorial service for PC David Rathband. I had the privilege of meeting PC Rathband, who was a brave and fine police officer. He is a huge loss to the police service and his local community and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our condolences to his family.
On border controls last summer, as the House is aware, I commissioned the chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine, to conduct an independent investigation into the unauthorised suspension of border checks during that period. The Vine report revealed unauthorised suspensions of checks, poor communication and poor record-keeping since 2007. I have accepted all the report’s recommendations and we have appointed Chief Constable Brian Moore to lead a new border force as an operational command separate from UKBA.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. Do not the Vine report’s devastating conclusions that border checks were downgraded more than 2,000 times last summer on the instructions of the Immigration Minister, without even the Home Secretary having been consulted first, and that fewer people were stopped at Heathrow airport and other ports last year compared with 2010 show that the tackling of illegal immigration became completely dysfunctional last summer under this Government? Will not the fight against that be further undermined by the cutting of 6,500 staff within the UK Border Agency?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, and he put some things into his question that I challenge. First, the Immigration Minister did not instruct that certain checks should be suspended last summer. The hon. Gentleman tried to put quite a lot into his question in relation to the impact of border security checks on illegal immigration. I have to say that it would be a lot easier to take questions on immigration from the Labour party if it had not left this country’s immigration system in such a mess when it left government.
Will the Home Secretary inform the House how many EU migrants have visited the United Kingdom since the summer of 2011 as a result of the economic difficulties in the eurozone? What contingencies has she put in place should there be a part or full collapse of the euro?
The latest figures for migration from various parts of the world that have been published are publicly available but they do not go up to the date that my hon. Friend has requested. We are aware of the issue of EU migration, which is why when we came into government we committed to ensuring that any future new member states entering the European Union would have transitional controls placed on them—something that the previous Labour Government failed to do for those early new entrants to the EU such as Poland.
Having effective border controls means preventing the wrong people from coming in and removing undesirable people from this country. The Home Secretary has just come back from Jordan, where she met the King. She was given cast-iron guarantees about the treatment of Abu Qatada were he to return to Jordan, so why is Mr Abu Qatada still in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman makes certain claims for what happened when I was in Jordan. We had very positive and constructive discussions with a number of representatives of the Jordanian Government and I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting the King. Further work is being undertaken by the lawyers as we speak. As I have said before to hon. Members, my intention is to ensure that when we are able to deport Abu Qatada as we all want to be able to do, we are able to make that deportation sustainable.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is really shocking that we have had a relaxation of our border controls from 2007 onwards about which Parliament was never told? Will she confirm that since that came to light she has been taking action to reintroduce the concept of border security for our country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the Vine report indicated that there had been problems with border controls since 2007—a fact that, sadly, Members on the Opposition Front Bench seemed unable to recognise when the Vine report came out. We have, indeed, reinstated full border security checks—that is absolutely right and proper—and we have taken action to make sure that by separating the UK border force from UKBA it can concentrate on the issue of establishing and maintaining proper security at our borders.
I, too, convey apologies to the House, from my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, who is with the Policing Minister in Northumbria at the memorial service for PC Rathband. As the Home Secretary rightly said, he was a very brave police officer, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and his colleagues in the Northumbria police. It just goes to show that, for a police officer, harm’s way can come in many different guises.
On 9 November last year, the Minister for Immigration said:
“this pilot was a success”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 358.]
As it was such a great success, will the Home Secretary repeat the pilot this year, and if not, why not?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well, because this was reported to Parliament when I made a statement on the chief inspector’s report on security checks, that the initial figures that we were given last year about the summer pilot did indeed show some success, in terms of the seizure of items such as drugs. However, when the chief inspector came to look at the whole issue, he discovered that there had been some other unauthorised relaxation of security checks, and that the recording had not been complete; it was therefore not possible to give a full evaluation of that pilot.
Since April 2007, the National Policing Improvement Agency, not the Forensic Science Service, has administered the national DNA database.
In announcing the closure of the Forensic Science Service, the Minister for Immigration said:
“A competitive market can help drive down prices and improve turnaround times”—[Official Report, 17 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 58WH.]
Last month, a contaminated DNA sample led to the wrong person being charged with rape, and next month the manufacturing consumables DNA database will be destroyed because the private sector does not have the necessary research infrastructure. What will the Minister do to ensure that we maintain our world-beating forensic capability, both for research and criminal justice?
The hon. Lady referred to a specific case which she is no doubt aware the forensic science regulator is investigating. There is absolutely no indication that the case is linked in any way to the transition of services from the Forensic Science Service to commercial providers. She highlighted the need for certain electronic records to be maintained; as part of that transition, electronic records held by the FSS will transfer to the National Policing Improvement Agency by the end of this month. She asked about innovation; it is still very much part of the work that we are looking to forensics providers to do. That is why that is in the contract, and why we will follow through on recommendations.
In 1999, Michael Weir was convicted of the murder of Mr Harris. The only link to that crime was DNA found on a glove of Michael Weir’s. Michael Weir’s DNA was taken after he was arrested on a drugs-related charge that had been discontinued two years earlier; he had been discharged. Will the Minister confirm that under the Government’s new plans for DNA retention, Michael Weir’s DNA sample would no longer have been on the database, and Mr Harris’s murderer would never have been brought to justice?
My hon. Friend has consistently argued for the indefinite retention of DNA profiles. We certainly recognise the importance of DNA in solving crimes. It is rarely possible to say that convictions could not have been obtained without DNA evidence, although of course the availability of DNA evidence can frequently help to focus an investigation. We have been clear on ensuring that those convicted of crimes remain on the DNA database indefinitely, and speculative searches are undertaken on each occasion.
May I press the Minister a little further on the high-profile rape case that collapsed due to sample cross-contamination at LGC Forensics? Also, a New Scientist survey shows that three quarters of forensic scientists expect that the coalition’s closure of the FSS will cause more miscarriages of justice. Will the Minister outline the steps that he is taking to ensure that the integrity of the criminal justice system is not undermined by a lack of confidence in the available forensic science services?
We have absolute confidence in the provision by forensic service providers, and I know that the hon. Lady accepts that private providers are well equipped and well able to offer services to police in future. On her specific question in respect of the individual case, I repeat that the forensic science regulator, Andrew Rennison, has launched an immediate investigation into the case. The initial investigation suggests that this is an isolated case. Although we will learn any lessons to be learned from the formal inquiry, there are no indications at this stage that it undermines the use of DNA or private providers providing services to the police.
4. What recent assessment she has made of the level of applications for production orders by police forces. (100220)
Production orders are a valuable tool for the police to use in the investigation of serious crime, but are issued only after careful scrutiny by a circuit judge. Information on the number of production orders made by individual police forces is not collated centrally. We have not, therefore, made any assessment of the level of applications.
The use of production orders by the police, such as in the case of Dale Farm, has the potential to increase risks for journalists as they are, in effect, seen as informers, as well as undermining journalistic independence. The National Union of Journalists is worried that the use of such orders is becoming more common. Will the Minister meet me, other concerned MPs and the NUJ to discuss the issue?
I understand that the National Union of Journalists has mounted an appeal in the courts against the granting of a number of orders, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is difficult for me to comment on the specifics. Our understanding is that only a small minority of production orders are used to obtain journalistic material. The vast majority are made in relation to financial information. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I will look into the specifics that he highlighted.
The Government report on ending gang and youth violence published last November sets out a long-term, evidence-based programme to tackle gang and youth violence. The approach combines the early identification of children and young people most at risk of being drawn into gangs, providing ways out for those wanting to leave a gang, and tough enforcement against those who continue with a violent lifestyle.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Ealing has been identified as one of the 30 top hot spots for gang problems. Our local borough serious youth violence team is already hard at work. Can the Minister update the House on what more the Government are doing to tackle knife crime, especially among young people?
The Government’s position is clear. Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence. The Home Office has committed £18 million of funding for 2011-13 to support the police, local agencies and the voluntary sector to tackle knife, gun and gang-related crime. As my hon. Friend says, Ealing has been identified as one of the 30 most affected areas. That is why it is one of the areas selected to receive additional support. It has been allocated more than £230,000 in provisional support, and I know that that money will be well spent.
My hon. Friend touches on an important point. It is clearly not just about attacking the offences and identifying the offenders—it is trying to stop them offending and joining gangs in the first place. That is why support for parents and families is at the heart of this programme. We have established an ending gang and youth violence team led by a detective chief superintendent from the Metropolitan police. The team will have access to advisers from a range of backgrounds, including community activists, local authority specialists and voluntary organisations, so that we can get to the roots of the problem as soon as it starts, long before the children join a gang.
Does the Minister accept that among those who are most vulnerable to being drawn into gang activity, as well as being radicalised in various ways, are those who have spent a short period in custody? Will the Minister focus on making sure that those who come out of short periods of custody are targeted effectively so that they are not drawn into such activity?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. That is precisely why we are not just treating this as a purely policing matter, but drawing in local authorities, voluntary organisations and other specialists, so that that kind of positive intervention to keep people on the right track and off the wrong track can be part of our overall strategy.
Will the Minister update the House on the progress and uptake of gang injunctions and, in the light of that update, advise us on whether the Home Office is reconsidering its plan to abolish antisocial behaviour orders, which also have a role to play in tackling gang culture?
I think that the hon. Lady will recognise that ASBOs felt like a good idea at the time but did not work and straightforwardly failed. Far too many ASBOs were breached, and increasing numbers of them were breached the longer time went on. I am sure that the policy was devised with the best intentions, but it did not work, which is why we have moved on to other policies that will be more effective in combating antisocial behaviour and gang-related violence.
As the Home Secretary told the House last month, crime remains too high. That is why we are reforming the police so that they are free from unnecessary paperwork and free to fight crime. The national crime mapping website, police.uk, now provides the public with street-level information about crime and antisocial behaviour on a monthly basis, allowing them to obtain crime and policing information in a more accessible way.
My constituents are extremely concerned about the increase in crime, as outlined in the British crime survey, which shows an 11% increase in crimes against the person, including theft, robbery and violence against the person. When will the Home Secretary prioritise cuts against the cuts in police numbers?
I think I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. When we look at police forces such as his, Northumbria police, we see that they have taken some really important steps to make savings and efficiencies while cutting crime at the same time. Rather than criticising the efforts of police forces such as Northumbria, which has seen a 15% fall in violence against the person, we should be supporting the steps they are taking to find efficiencies and dealing with the problems left by the previous Government.
I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to join me in congratulating Derbyshire police, as crime in Derbyshire continues to fall, detection levels are at a record high, my constituents’ satisfaction with the police has gone up each year and they are meeting their savings targets.
I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend on working closely with his local police force. As he has highlighted, the important thing is how police officers are used. Better deployment, better shift patterns, reduced bureaucracy and increased scope for officers to use their professional judgment are steps that many forces are taking and that this Government support.
As far as crime is concerned, does the Minister’s boss, the Home Secretary, accept that policing, particularly on the front line, should be done by the police? The suggestion that private security firms should undertake some of those responsibilities for West Midlands and Surrey police forces is simply unacceptable: policing should remain the responsibility of the police.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman appears to criticise the role of the private sector and looking at ways of providing innovative services, because I know that the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), applauded and welcomed that type of innovation when in government. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that where warranted officers are needed for those services, that is absolutely what will happen. Surrey and West Midlands police forces are engaged in looking at innovation in back-office services.
Despite the Opposition’s scaremongering, visible front-line policing in the Thames Valley has risen by more than 11% in the past two years, while recorded crime has fallen by 11%. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Chief Constable Sara Thornton and her team on demonstrating that it is possible to reduce crime while cutting bureaucracy and cutting budgets?
I certainly do congratulate Chief Constable Sara Thornton. Thames Valley has increased its visible policing, patrol and neighbourhood officer public reassurance, and that is an example of how efficiencies and a more focused approach can be provided while cutting crime.
Police Forces (Collaboration)
I welcome the increasing levels of collaboration between police forces and expect more forces to consider how to work together to make improvements and to save money. The Government have estimated that forces could save £350 million per year by collaboration on procurement and from IT. Further substantial savings could be made through collaboration in back-office functions.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and indeed I am similarly relaxed. In 2009 the current shadow Policing Minister said that he was not only very “relaxed” about collaboration between police forces and the private sector, but that police forces had Labour’s “blessing” to do it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that collaboration between police forces, and indeed between police forces and other bodies, to get much-needed efficiencies is welcome at any time but is now essential in these challenging times, as we try to protect front-line police services and clear up the financial mess left by the Labour party?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is of course right that at all times police forces look at what efficiencies they can make, and at what collaboration they can enter into, to ensure that they are able to increase and improve the service that they provide to the public, but while forces are having to make budget cuts because of the deficit that was left by the Labour Government, that is even more important.
Can the Home Secretary tell us why the collaboration between West Midlands police and Surrey police on the long-term privatisation of large parts of the police service, including some core functions, is going ahead before the election of police and crime commissioners? Surely she sees that that undermines, potentially, the commissioner’s role in setting the strategic direction of the police force.
Police forces throughout the country are rightly looking at collaboration, but there are different ways in which they can do so. West Midlands and Surrey police forces are looking at innovative ways in which they can bring in the private sector to ensure that they are able to make the savings that need to be made while delivering the service that the public expect them to deliver. It is important that police forces have been looking at the matter for the past two years, and in advance of the election of police and crime commissioners, because frankly we could not wait to start the job of clearing up the mess that was left by the previous Government in terms of the deficit.
It is of course for the police and crime commissioner to set the budget and the strategic plan for any police force. We have put in place the opportunity for police and crime panels to question and challenge decisions made by the commissioner, but of course it is the commissioner who sets the precept.
I am happy to confirm to my right hon. Friend that only police officers have the power of arrest. They will continue to patrol the streets, to respond to 999 calls, and to lead investigations. The public expect the police to be experts in catching criminals, and that is what we want them to be. We do not want them to be experts in human resources or IT, which are entirely the sorts of areas that can involve collaboration with the private sector.
Of course, collaboration and sharing of good practice has been going on for very many years, including in national resilience. Would the Home Secretary not do better to put in place the collaboration arrangements that she talks about so fondly before making cuts of 16,000 in front-line policing?
Police forces up and down the country are doing what is necessary to make the savings that we are asking them to make. They are transforming the way in which they provide policing and rightly looking to ensure that the private sector can be brought in where that will increase efficiency and save money. A Labour Government would have cut police spending and reduced police budgets. Nobody on the Labour Front Bench has said that they would intend to reverse the cuts in police spending. It is about time that the Opposition stopped opposing every opportunity that we are giving the police to ensure that they can save money from back offices and get the police out on the streets.
On 29 February, we announced changes that will break the link between coming here to work and settling permanently and ensure that only those who make a significant economic contribution can stay. In future, most skilled workers will need to be paid a minimum salary of £35,000 to settle here.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support, and I can give her that assurance. The new measures will be no different in this regard from any other immigration route. She and the House may be aware that we have now reached 11,000 arrests of criminals, including murderers, rapists and illegal immigrants, as a result of the processing of advance passenger information through e-borders. In 2011, in a clampdown on sham marriages, we carried out over 300 enforcement operations and prosecuted almost 230 people. That is the kind of tough enforcement that we need, and now have, to back up our immigration system.
Overseas domestic workers make a significant contribution to Britain’s economy, directly and indirectly, by allowing their employers to contribute to the economy. The changes to their visa that the Minister has announced put a large number of overseas domestic workers at risk of being trafficked, as we know from history. Would he be willing to meet me and representatives of Justice for Domestic Workers so that he can hear first hand about the impact that his proposed changes will have on overseas domestic workers?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis of what we are doing. We are returning this route to its original purpose—to enable visitors from overseas to bring their domestic workers with them to the UK. Domestic workers will be able to come to the country for short periods with their existing employer, but should also leave with that employer. Individuals living in the UK should recruit domestic help from within the resident labour force. There is no justification for allowing low-skilled jobs to be filled from outside the European economic area. It is wrong to assert that a right to settle and bring a family to the UK is the most appropriate form of protection from abuse. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady and the shadow Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is chuntering from a sedentary position, have simply got this wrong.
Does the Minister recognise the concern expressed by academics, universities and high-tech companies that this aspect of immigration policy and the rhetoric surrounding it is making it harder to attract and keep the best and brightest, who contribute so much to our society and economy? What assurances can he give to employers and their prospective employees that Britain will be open for the best and brightest?
I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance of the facts. We have made changes to tier 1 —the top end of the immigration system—to encourage investors and entrepreneurs to come to the UK. We have created a special new route for the exceptionally talented in the arts and sciences. At the same time as reducing immigration numbers, we are making a more selective system that will show that Britain is open for business and that the brightest and the best can make a great future in this country.
Assaults on Journalists
Information on physical assaults against journalists covering news stories is not available from the police recorded crime statistics held by the Home Office. Journalists have the right to do their job in a safe environment and, like all members of the public, are protected by the law. If they are assaulted, the crime will be investigated and dealt with by the police.
National Union of Journalists members are placed at risk when their material or sources are used by police forces through production orders. Does the Minister accept that journalists are independent news gatherers, not evidence gatherers for law enforcement, and that forcing them to hand over their journalistic material or sources places them at risk of attack? Will he agree to meet me and other members of the NUJ parliamentary group to discuss those matters?
As a former journalist and, indeed, a former member of the NUJ, I have every sympathy with journalists whose lives are put in danger. [Interruption.] The shadow Immigration Minister should not dwell on the fact that his Government organised for me to be arrested, because it was not their finest hour. I suggest that he withdraw that remark.
Last Wednesday, the Minister for Equalities launched “Challenge it, report it, stop it”, the Government’s new action plan for tackling hate crime. It sets out what we will do at the national level to help victims and professionals to challenge the attitudes that drive hate crime; give more victims the confidence to come forward; and make sure that the criminal justice system responds effectively when they do.
I am very concerned by recent reports that indicate that there has been a rise in abuse towards disabled people. Will the Minister confirm what the facts are behind the anecdotes, and what specific actions the Government are taking to address any rise in hate crimes towards disabled people?
I regret to say that my hon. Friend is correct. At a time when the reporting of other kinds of hate crime has declined, the latest figures, which are for 2010, show that the number of hate crimes against disabled people went up from 1,294 to 1,569. He is therefore addressing the right problem. It is the “report it” part of the action plan that I would point to, because more disabled people are reporting hate crimes to the police. We know that under-reporting is a huge problem, and one of the key themes of the action plan is to encourage more victims to come forward. We are doing that by allowing new ways of reporting such crimes, such as online and through third parties.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and to the Government for their attention to hate crime. He will be aware that learning-disabled people are often particularly reluctant to report such crimes because they feel that they will not be believed. What steps are the Government taking to encourage all professionals to take all accusations of hate crime from such victims seriously?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. That is why, as part of the action plan that the Minister for Equalities announced recently, the Home Office is funding organisations that support the victims of disability hate crime to find a way to make it easier for those who are particularly reluctant to report it to come forward.
17. What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft. (100233)
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in a statement to the House in January, we are taking legislative action to tackle metal theft, including raising the financial penalties for rogue dealers, banning cash payments for scrap metal and giving the police powers to enter unregistered scrap yards. That is part of a coherent package of measures, which includes enhanced enforcement through the funding of a £5 million national metal theft taskforce.
Rossendale and Darwen has been subjected to a spate of metal thefts, including from the mills and, on Thursday night, from a school in Lower Darwen. Will the Minister inform the House how quickly the cashless payment system will be introduced to stop this metallic crime wave?
I certainly recognise the impact that these crimes are having in communities up and down the country, and my hon. Friend highlights the problems in Rossendale and Darwen. Our amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill prohibiting cash payments will be debated in the Lords on Report tomorrow, and will come before this House in due course. The exact enactment date is subject to the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent, but we anticipate enactment later this year.
Forty Hall in my constituency is a 17th-century Jacobean mansion that is undergoing a £3 million refurbishment. There have been three thefts in the past year, including with violence against security guards. Speed of implementation is one thing, but will the Minister assure me that there will be speed of enforcement against criminals?
I accept absolutely my hon. Friend’s point about the need for strong enforcement, and I am sorry to hear of the problems experienced at Forty Hall in his constituency. A report was published today about threats to heritage sites. We have put forward £5 million for enforcement, which is already bearing fruit, with enforcement action taking place. For example, in the north-east more than 300 police officers and law enforcement personnel have visited scrap metal yards, £900,000 in cash has been seized, and a further operation—
Last month, a bronze eagle statue was stolen from the memorial garden at the museum of Army flying in Middle Wallop in my constituency. The statue was placed there to commemorate brave Army aviators who had served their country. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with the Ministry of Justice about sentencing guidelines for those who desecrate memorials to our servicemen and women?
My hon. Friend highlights the significant community impact that metal thefts and desecrations of war memorials and other historical sites have had, and the often irrevocable harm that can be caused. The Bill is being considered in the other place as we speak, and the sanctions in it can lead to an unlimited fine. We will look to follow that through with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice.
We in High Peak have also been victims of metal theft. Last November a popular tourist attraction, the Eccles Pike topograph, was removed from near Chapel-en-le-Frith. I am pleased to say that scrap yards in my constituency were given a clean bill of health during a multi-agency operation last year. Does the Minister agree that tackling metal theft by preventing cash for scrap without questions is the best way, and will be welcomed by the honest scrap metal merchants in my constituency?
Almost every Church of England church in my constituency has suffered metal theft. Will the Minister assure me that penalties for those found guilty of acts of metal theft will appropriately reflect the huge costs to local churches in seeking to repair damage, which far outweigh the scrap value of what is stolen?
Does the Minister not recognise that the public may be shocked that a cashless scheme might not be cashless under the Home Secretary’s proposals, which exclude mobile collectors? If they are exempt, that will create a huge loophole in the system. Does he not accept that resident householders have access to local recycling centres, local authority kerb-side collection and retail take-back and swap, and the option of going to a reputable dealer? Is the exemption not a giant loophole and an own goal?
I am afraid that that answer is not really good enough. On what basis has the Minister determined that an exemption from cashless payments should be made for itinerant collectors of scrap metal? Will that not drive a Steptoe and Son-sized coach and horses through the rules, and will not people such as his hon. Friends whose communities have lost metal in war memorials, gates and rails be appalled by the existence of that loophole?
I would never cast the shadow policing Minister in the role of Del Boy, but I would say to him that the provisions we have brought forward will ensure that those involved in door-to-door selling must trade through a registered scrap metal dealership. They will therefore be subject to the restrictions on cashless payment. That underlines the fact that those itinerant collectors need to be registered and approved by local authorities and police—another form or enforcement that needs to be focused on.
13. What discussions she has had with police officers on the powers they need to deal with repeated antisocial behaviour in residential areas. (100229)
We have had extensive discussions with the police and other front-line professionals on our proposals for simpler and more effective powers. Many recognise the need to improve the services to victims of persistent antisocial behaviour and we will work with a number of forces and their partners to trial our proposed community trigger this year.
We consulted on replacing 18 of the existing powers with six new ones, but I am concerned about stories of victims reporting problems and not getting any action. Community trigger will give people the opportunity to ensure that action is taken by the police or other agencies, and we will work with a number of leading local areas, including Manchester and West Lindsey, to pilot the trigger this year, offering a better service to victims and communities.
The antisocial behaviour injunction is a tool used by social landlords to clamp down on nuisance tenants. Those landlords have obtained legal advice that if the Government replace that tool, the likelihood is that they will be left, to quote from the legal judgment, “literally powerless” to act, possibly for years. Will Ministers therefore keep the injunction?
I am very well aware that injunctions are often used effectively by social landlords to deal quickly with ASB. We want to build on their success in our new proposals so that they can be available to other organisations. We recognise the vital role that landlords play in tackling antisocial behaviour and are committed to strengthening their ability to deal with it.
14. What steps she is taking to reduce levels of domestic violence. (100230)
The Government’s updated action plan for our strategy to end violence against women and girls was published on 8 March. We have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services until 2015. The plan also includes new actions to help to reduce domestic violence, including a one-year pilot to test a domestic violence disclosure scheme from the summer of 2012.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. On a recent visit to the Awaken team in Blackpool, I was told that there is a clear correlation between domestic violence against young girls in the home and future exposure to child sexual exploitation. As the Home Secretary builds her policy, will she bear in mind the importance of that correlation and ensure that she works on that with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has responsibility for children?
The Department for Education and the Under-Secretary specifically are represented on the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which I chair. I welcome the excellent work being done by the Awaken project in Blackpool. We support multi-agency approaches to tackling child sexual exploitation. Indeed, the child sexual exploitation action plan includes measures to ensure that the local safeguarding children boards lead on tackling child sexual exploitation locally with a variety of partners.
A study by Women’s Aid has shown that 230 women fleeing violence and seeking refuge were turned away from refuges in this country on a typical day last year owing to the lack of space. Does the Home Secretary agree that turning any woman away from a refuge is unacceptable, and will she give an assurance to the House that no woman seeking refuge from domestic violence will be turned away on her watch? Yes or no?
Of course we all want to ensure that women who find themselves having to flee from domestic violence are given the support that they need. It is not the case, however, that no woman was turned away from refuges in the past. However, we are taking a slightly different attitude to this issue in the domestic violence protection orders. One thing that has always concerned me is that the victim of domestic violence—all too often a woman—is often forced to leave the home while the perpetrator is able to stay in the home. The point of the domestic violence protection order is to ensure that more women suffering from domestic violence can remain in their own homes.
Last Thursday, I made a written statement announcing the publication of the final report of Tom Winsor’s independent review of police pay and conditions. We are determined to implement reforms that will help police forces to fight crime. That includes maximising officer and staff deployment to the front line, incentivising crime fighting not form-filling, and helping to open up police leadership to the most talented, whatever their background. With those aims in mind, I am now carefully considering Winsor’s detailed and wide-ranging recommendations, and will announce the Government’s response in due course.
This weekend there have been reports of heavy-handed police tactics, including the deployment of armed officers and the use of kettling against protestors engaged in a peaceful protest against the Health and Social Care Bill outside the Department of Health. Given that this evening there will be 25 or more peaceful vigils and protests across the country, including six in the north-east, has the Home Secretary asked the police to exercise restraint in the policing of these peaceful protests and demonstrations?
How peaceful demonstrations and protests are policed is an operational matter for the force at the time. We are absolutely clear that people should have the right to protest peacefully, but it is also clear that on separate sorts of issues, such as those we have seen elsewhere in relation to people invading territory or violence around demonstrations, the police should police that appropriately as well. However, I am pleased to say that the case on kettling in the European Court was won last week, so that remains available to the police.
T3. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Merseyside police on ending the freeze on police constable recruitment introduced under the last Labour Government and on now recruiting more constables as it shifts more money into the fight against crime? (100244)
T2. There is real concern across the country that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will lead to a patchy, postcode lottery in victims’ support services. Will the Secretary of State support ring-fencing the vital resources devolved to commissioners? (100243)
We are ensuring that there is a local voice in the services available to victims and in local policing. It is right that police and crime commissioners will, in due course, be able to commission victims’ services, thus reflecting what is necessary in the local area.
T4. Home Office figures show that between April 2010 and March 2011, more than 150 foreign nationals, previously held in immigration centres but then released into the community, went on to reoffend. What is the Minister doing to deport these individuals? (100245)
My hon. Friend puts her finger on an important issue, and I am happy to tell her that last year we removed more than 4,500 foreign national offenders, many of whom had perpetrated crimes. We believe that when a foreign criminal poses a risk to the public, they should stay in detention, and we always vigorously oppose bail, but the UK Border Agency has to act within the law. However, foreign criminals in the community awaiting deportation will be subject to stringent reporting restrictions, and every effort is always made to remove them from the country as soon as possible.
Why has the Home Secretary ruled out a free-post leaflet or candidate booklet for police and crime commissioner elections? Will she now heed the serious concerns raised by the Electoral Commission that internet-only access to candidate materials will disadvantage the poor, the old and those in rural areas—and, accordingly, help to address the poor turnout—or is that the intention?
We of course looked very carefully at the arrangements that we would put in place for making information available to voters in the police and crime commissioner elections. Instead of providing a free-post booklet to every household, what we are talking about is providing internet access. However, that does not mean that there will not necessarily be literature going out, because individual candidates will have expenses with which they will be able to make literature available; and indeed, it will be possible, from the internet access, to ask for written copies of the information that is available on the website.
T7. Will the Home Secretary consider producing a wide-ranging study of the effectiveness of community sports programmes run by organisations such as the Active Communities Network in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, particularly among young people? (100248)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the important role that sports activities can play in ensuring that young people are not drawn into, for example, gang activity. I was pleased to talk personally to the Premier League about its Kickz project, which is an extremely effective programme that I would commend to others.
T5. Given that the Home Secretary blames everybody but herself for the deterioration in policing in the west midlands, will she tell us how privatisation of certain parts of the police service will improve it, or who she is going to blame next? (100246)
The police service will remain a public service. The activities that require warranted officers will still be undertaken by warranted officers. However, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government who took some responsibilities away from warranted officers—such as detention, custody and escort jobs—so that the private sector could undertake them was not this Government, but his: the last, Labour Government.
T8. Will the Home Secretary congratulate Kent police, which has increased the number of front-line police officers, has 520 more neighbourhood police officers on the beat, has been cutting crime and doing a great job, and has written to me complaining bitterly about this nonsense about a reduction in first-line responders? (100249)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to commend the work of Kent police. By transforming the way it undertakes policing and by looking at issues such as shift patterns, Kent police has been able to increase neighbourhood police officers by 520, which shows that money can be saved while maintaining or improving front-line services.
T6. While the Home Secretary is congratulating Kent police, will she commiserate with the people of Greater Manchester, who, according to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, will see the biggest cut in the number of front-line police officers? In particular, will she explain why, other than the Metropolitan police, Greater Manchester police will see more officers disappear than any other police force in the land, despite the fact that it covers what is still a relatively high-crime area? (100247)
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the recent comment made by the chief constable of Greater Manchester. Referring to the police authority’s decision on the council tax grant, he thanked the authority for
“agreeing the budget which will allow us to start recruiting again and to continue to reduce crime and disorder.”
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. As he will have seen from the Prime Minister’s comments following his discussions with the President, discussions are taking place between this Government and the American Government about the extradition treaty, and I will report shortly.
T9. The number of passengers arriving at Liverpool John Lennon airport, which is Britain’s fastest growing airport, rose from 294,000 in quarter 1 of 2010 to 713,000 in quarter 3 of 2011. The vast increase coincided with the Home Secretary’s decision to open the doors of Britain without proper checks last summer. What guarantees can she give to the people of Liverpool that all 713,000 of those passengers had their passports checked? (100251)
I am glad that the local economy around John Lennon airport is flourishing and that more people are now using it. I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that, for the first time, full checks are now being operated at the border. As John Vine’s report showed, that had not been happening since 2007.
Victims of domestic violence seeking residential support in a refuge currently fall into the Government’s exception category and have their housing benefit paid directly to the refuge. That is important for the victims, and important for securing finance for the refuges. May I urge the Home Secretary to have discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that that arrangement can continue under universal credit?
The Home Secretary will recall that, following the riots last summer, there was widespread concern about the absence of policing, the police being outfoxed by technology, particularly BlackBerry Messenger, and an absence of intelligence. Following the Kirkin report, what will change, this summer and next?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising an important point about the policing of the riots last summer. Following the riots, I brought together representatives of the Metropolitan police, the Association of Chief Police Officers, BlackBerry, Twitter and Facebook to look at the use of social media and social networks during the riots. Further discussions are taking place between ACPO, the individual forces and those organisations to ensure that the police are in a better position to deal with the wealth of information that becomes available on those social networks.
Is the Home Secretary aware that there has been a reduction in reported crime in Bedfordshire, in spite of the budget cuts forced on it by the financial mess left by the last Government, and that there has also been no reduction at all in the number of front-line responders?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point about Bedfordshire police. I commend them for the work they are doing. He has highlighted that it is possible to make savings in police budgets while ensuring that the front-line service is maintained and, in some cases, improved.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) about Abu Qatada, we are now halfway through the three-month period set by Mr Justice Mitting for an agreement to be reached with Jordan. Does the Home Secretary expect to have met the deadline by the time we next meet for Home Office questions, or will Abu Qatada’s bail conditions have been revoked?
My reply to the right hon. Gentleman is the same as my reply to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). There have been two ministerial visits to Jordan; the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) has made one, and I have also done so. Home Office officials have been there separately as well. We are having positive, constructive discussions with the Government of Jordan about Abu Qatada, but while those discussions are continuing and while there are still legal issues to look into, I will go no further than that.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome Cheshire constabulary’s radical approach to delivering support through a multi-purpose business service centre, which will go live in April? It will meet the needs of the Cheshire and Northamptonshire police forces, and it is being delivered with the support of private sector partners.
I am very happy to support the initiative being taken by Cheshire and Northamptonshire police. This is an excellent example of innovative thinking and of creating collaboration between the private sector and police forces to ensure that better services are available, and that the police are better able to cut crime, which is what the public want them to do.
What is important at grass-roots level is that the police make decisions about what makes sense to make themselves accessible to the public. In some cases, that will mean closing long-standing separate police station buildings and locating the police in alternative provision, perhaps in town centres.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Major serious and organised crime knows no geographical boundaries, so will my right hon. Friend congratulate the five east midlands police forces on coming together and collaborating in order to tackle this menace more effectively and to save the taxpayer £26 million over the next four years?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those five east midlands police forces—I have visited them and spoken to them about this—are doing excellent collaborative work, not only on the tasks that they can undertake to reduce costs, but on improving their ability to fight crime.
Health and Social Care Bill
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I seek leave to propose that the House should discuss a specific and important matter that I believe should have urgent consideration—namely, whether the House of Commons should defer consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill until after the disclosure of the transition risk register. The other place is debating this issue imminently, and my colleagues and I thought it important for this House to have the opportunity to debate the matter, too. In just 24 hours’ time, this House will be asked to agree far-reaching changes to the NHS in England, drawn up, in large part, in the other place. As of now, however, Members find themselves in the highly unsatisfactory position of not being in possession of all relevant information needed to make a full and considered judgment on whether those changes should be allowed to proceed.
Reorganising the NHS at this time of financial stress might expose it to greater risk, and to establish the precise nature and scale of those risks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) submitted a freedom of information request to the Department for its transition risk register on this reorganisation. Along with colleagues on the Opposition Benches, we have consistently argued that this information be published to inform the public and parliamentary debate.
That is not just my opinion; it is the considered opinion of the Information Commissioner, who has had the benefit of viewing the transition risk register. He ruled that
“disclosure would go somewhat further in helping the public to better understand the risks associated with the modernisation of the NHS than any information that has previously been published.”
The commissioner’s ruling has, in turn, now been endorsed by the Information Rights Tribunal. Indeed, the tribunal was brought forward presumably so that its deliberations could be concluded in time for its decision to influence the debate in Parliament. Ten days on, we have had no substantial response from the Government to this ruling, save to say that they await the tribunal’s detailed reasons. We note that the Government’s ability to appeal is limited to a point of law, not to re-open the merits of the case.
This is not a matter of the rights and wrongs of the Bill. It concerns the fundamental principle of the primacy of the elected House of Commons and its opportunity for scrutiny. Parliament has a right to know before it is asked to make a final judgment that will have huge implications for every person in our country. Many people would feel it wrong if the Government were to use procedural devices to prevent the House from seeing the transition risk register before the Bill had completed its passage through Parliament.
This is the last opportunity for this House to urge the Government to publish the register. If this House allows this situation to go unchallenged or even to pass without comment, it would represent a major weakening of the role of this House in scrutinising the legislation before us. I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make this request and I hope you will look favourably on it.
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely whether the House should defer consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill until after disclosure of the NHS transition risk register. I have listened carefully to the right hon. Member’s application, and I am satisfied that the matter raised by him is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. I thus put the application to the House.
Application agreed to.
Order. [Interruption.] Order. The House is becoming too excitable. Let me say to the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) that he is a very senior citizen in the House, and that I look to him for a display of statesmanship. I appear to have looked in vain.
The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 20 March, as the first item of public business. It will last for one and a half hours, and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the application by the right hon. Gentleman.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that, last Thursday, a document—Cabinet papers from 1989 on the Hillsborough disaster—was leaked to the BBC. Many believe that the leak could only have come from a senior politician or a senior civil servant, or that the BBC itself must have had access to this sensitive documentation. There have also been suggestions that there may well be further leaks on a “drip, drip” basis, which will undermine the work of the Hillsborough independent panel. Given the urgency—
Given the urgency of the situation, Mr Speaker, perhaps you can offer me guidance on the most appropriate parliamentary mechanism to ensure that as many Members as possible have the opportunity, and sufficient time, to debate the intricacies of such a complex issue.
There are a number of answers to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. First, I do not give procedural advice to Members from the Chair. Secondly—as one wag has just observed from a sedentary position—it is open to the hon. Gentleman to consult the Standing Orders, and he could probably do so to his advantage. Thirdly, my genuine and constructive advice to the hon. Gentleman is that he should consult the Table Office about the variety of parliamentary devices that could be available to him, and could enable him further and better to pursue the matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the serious allegations that were made in the revelations referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), should a Minister not come to the House and explain that those allegations against the Liverpool fans at Hillsborough are themselves scandalous?
I do not intend to respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), but I think it would benefit the House if I made it clear that a leak inquiry has been initiated by the Cabinet Office. I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) in his point of order about the impact that a leak of this sort will have on what is a very sensitive matter in the context of ensuring that the full information is put together by the Hillsborough panel, and I believe that the information in any documents should be shown to the families first and should not be leaked to the press in any form. I repeat that the Cabinet Office is undertaking a leak inquiry.
Business without Debate
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
Terms and Conditions of Employment
That the draft Unfair Dismissal and Statement of Reasons for Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 6 February, be approved.—(James Duddridge.)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Employment Tribunals Act 1996 (Tribunal Composition) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 6 February, be approved.—(James Duddridge.)
Motion made, and Question proposed (Standing Order No. 118(6) and Order of 13 March),
Financial Assistance to Industry
That this House authorises the Secretary of State to undertake to pay, and to pay by way of financial assistance under section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982, sums exceeding £10 million and up to a cumulative total of £50 million in respect of a grant to the Business Angel Co-investment Fund, funded by the Regional Growth Fund.—(Angela Watkinson.)
Question agreed to.
European Union Documents
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),
Financial Services: Prudential Requirements
That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 13284/11 and Addenda 1 to 4, relating to a draft Regulation on prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms, No. 13285/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, relating to a draft Directive on the access to the activity of credit institutions and the prudential supervision of credit institutions and investment firms and amending Directive 2002/87/EC on the supplementary supervision of credit institutions, insurance undertakings and investment firms in a financial conglomerate, and No. 5876/12, relating to an opinion of the European Central Bank on a proposal for a Directive on the access to the activity of credit institutions and the prudential supervision of credit institutions and investment firms and a proposal for a Regulation on prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms; supports the Government’s view that to protect financial stability, avoid unnecessary international arbitrage and reinforce market confidence in EU banks it is crucial that the EU builds upon the G20 commitment to fully and faithfully implement the Basel 3 agreement and provides Member States with the flexibility to respond in a timely manner to systemic risks in their jurisdiction or to mitigate fiscal risk; and supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reform the UK financial sector and system of financial regulation in order to protect UK taxpayers’ exposure to future losses.—(Angela Watkinson.)
Question agreed to.
Protection of Freedoms Bill (Programme) (No. 4)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Protection of Freedoms Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 1 March 2011 (Protection of Freedoms Bill (Programme)), 16 March 2011 (Protection of Freedoms Bill (Programme) (No. 2)) and 10 October 2011 (Protection of Freedoms Bill (Programme) (No. 3)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.
2. The proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.
3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
Nos. 16 to 18.
One hour after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments.
Nos. 51, 52, 59, 68 and 133.
Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments.
Nos. 1 to 15, 19 to 50, 53 to 58, 60 to 67, 69 to 132 and 134 to 145.
Four hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments.
4. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
5. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(James Brokenshire.)
Question agreed to.
Protection of Freedoms Bill
Consideration of Lords amendments
Adding safeguards to powers of entry
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 16.
The amendments would provide that powers of entry may be exercised only with the agreement of the occupier of the premises in question or on the authority of a warrant, unless the authority using the power
“can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought.”
That restriction would be disapplied where the power of entry is being exercised by a trading standards officer, a constable or a member of the Security Service, or in pursuance of the protection of a child or vulnerable adult.
We are sympathetic to the objective underpinning the amendments. We all agree that powers of entry, particularly as they relate to peoples’ homes, should be subject to proper safeguards, but we believe that the blanket approach taken by the amendments is misconceived and, as such, could hamper legitimate enforcement activities and put lives at risk. The amendments are predicated on the basis that there has been an unacceptable proliferation in the number of powers of entry—some 600 such powers were created by the previous Government—and that in many cases there are insufficient safeguards attached to such powers. The Government share that analysis, which is why we have included the provisions in chapter 1 of part 3 of the Bill. The problem we have with the amendments is not their objective, but the blanket approach they adopt, even if it provides exemptions for a small number of specific bodies. We judge that such an approach would simply not work. One size, in this case, does not fit all, and the fact that the amendments include limited exemptions serves only to demonstrate that the approach taken, while it might appear superficially attractive, is incapable of withstanding close scrutiny.
In adopting the blanket approach of requiring in all cases the consent of the occupier or a warrant, the amendments fail to differentiate between powers of entry that support routine enforcement activity and those powers that protect the public from serious crime or from threats to life and limb.
The exemption for powers of entry exercised by constables is certainly helpful, but there is no exemption to cover the powers of firefighters to enter premises without consent for the purposes of protecting life or property; the gas official who enters premises to prevent or deal with gas leaks or explosions; the officer from the Serious Organised Crime Agency who exercises police powers and is, therefore, not caught by the exemption for constables; and veterinary inspectors who need urgently to tackle pandemic outbreaks of serious animal diseases such as foot and mouth.
What I can point the right hon. Gentleman to is the published list of the various powers of entry that we analysed, as it indicates that the total number of powers for all agencies is between about 1,300 and 1,400. That is obviously quite a significant number, hence the reason why in our judgment the analysis, the review and the measures in the Bill are appropriate, given that the proliferation has expanded considerably over the past few years. As I indicated, about 100 new powers of entry were created under the previous Government, hence the reasons for the measures in the Bill and why we feel that the mechanism contemplated by the Lords amendments does not quite fit or work in terms of what is required.
There will undoubtedly be other circumstances, not contemplated by the Lords in their amendments, in which an exception to the general rule should apply. The key point is that without examining each power individually we simply have no way of knowing whether the amendments add necessary safeguards to the overbearing powers of a state official or stymie the operation of a vital tool designed to protect the public.
Given the acceptance of the need for exemptions, it might be tempting simply to add to the list of those officials who are exempt from the requirement to obtain a warrant or the consent of the occupier, but that approach is mistaken. In recognising the need for exemptions, we should not then rush to apply blanket exemptions. Naming specific officials, in the manner of the amendments, grants such persons free rein to operate without the need to consider a warrant or the occupier’s consent, regardless of the purpose for which the officials are seeking to gain entry. That is too broad an exemption.
Interestingly, in the other place the Opposition supported the amendments, but are they really arguing that trading standards officers should, in all circumstances, be able to exercise their powers of entry without the consent of the occupier, or on the authority of a warrant? We shall have to wait and see what the official Opposition say in response to those points, reflecting on the debate that took place in the other place.
Such an exemption might also give that person immunity from the review we intend to undertake, and that simply is not desirable. We want to review all powers of entry, including powers exercised by constables and by trading standards officers, but the presence of such people in the situation under discussion proves unequivocally that the amendments do not work.
It has been suggested that amendment 17 offers the necessary flexibility by authorising entry without consent or a warrant
“where the authority using the power can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought”.
But such a provision would simply create confusion and uncertainty, as it would open up the exercise of a power of entry to legal challenge by an aggrieved occupier who might argue that the requirement to enter the premises in question would not have been frustrated if he had been asked to consent or if a warrant had been applied for.
I hope that my remarks make it clear that the Government are not simply inviting this House to disagree with the amendments and then leave it at that. As I have said, we support the principle that in the great majority of cases powers of entry in respect of domestic premises should indeed be exercised only with consent or on the authority of a warrant, but the way to achieve that is through the existing provisions in this part of the Bill. Clause 40, for example, allows us to add safeguards to powers of entry such as a requirement to obtain an occupier’s consent, providing reasonable notice, or getting a warrant before entering a person’s house. The new code of practice under clause 47 will govern the exercise of powers of entry and set out further safeguards to protect the rights of individuals and businesses.
The duty to review powers of entry under clause 42 will require Ministers to examine all the powers for which they are responsible and report to Parliament on the outcome of that review. The reports of these reviews will indicate whether individual powers are no longer justified and should therefore be repealed or retained but with the addition of better safeguards.
If the right hon. Gentleman refers to the Bill, he will see that the time period contemplated is two years, in order to allow proper consideration of all the relevant 1,300 to 1,400 powers of entry. This is not something that will simply lie in abeyance. The review of all powers must be completed within two years of Royal Assent, and we have said that we will report back to Parliament every six months to provide an update on progress, so there will be a steady updating process. I hope that that gives him comfort. I also highlight to him the Home Office gateway, which provides an ongoing check and balance in relation to new powers of entry, as well as the ability to review existing powers of entry that may be triggered as a consequence.
The review is a specific statutory requirement, and we are focused on ensuring that it is undertaken with all due expedition. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the requirements of the ministerial code and other requirements on Departments and Ministers to abide by the law. In addition, the ongoing six-monthly review that I mentioned will enable the House to maintain pressure on Departments to ensure that the provision is being properly adhered to and followed through with the intent and spirit of the Bill.
I point out to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) that we have made significant progress through the Home Office gateway, which considers all applications by Departments for new powers of entry. To date, 19 applications to create or amend powers of entry have been considered, and we have added greater safeguards in every case. Every power of entry in respect of domestic dwellings that has been approved through the gateway process has included a requirement that entry is obtained either with the consent of the occupier or on the authority of a warrant. We have also taken the opportunity to scrap a number of powers.
I hope that that reassures right hon. and hon. Members that we are serious about ensuring that powers of entry are subject to appropriate safeguards and that we are committed to rolling back intrusive state powers and strengthening the privacy of home owners and businesses.
When taken together, the gateway process and the measures that I have outlined add up to a significant commitment to tackle what we have recognised to be a significant infringement of the rights of home owners. I have also made it clear that we cannot, in every case, demand that entry is effected only with the consent of the occupier or on the authority of a warrant. I put it to the House that our approach will ensure that the necessary safeguards are put in place to protect home owners, while providing greater legal certainty and ensuring that the police and others can act swiftly to protect the public. I therefore have no hesitation in inviting the House to disagree with the Lords amendments.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this short debate.
Lords amendments 16 and 17 were supported in another place by Lord Selsdon. I welcome the debate about powers of entry and look forward to the Minister’s response to the points that I will put to him. When both I and Lord West were Ministers in the Home Office, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), commissioned him to write a review of entry powers. The report that Lord West produced was overtaken by events with the general election, but I will refer to it with regard to the matters before the House.
The genesis of the Protection of Freedoms Bill lies in a document published in 2010 called “Modern Conservatism: Our Quality of Life Agenda”. I hope that the Minister will not think this too harsh, but I thought that, on balance, it was a rather tawdry document and I disagreed with almost every word of it. I do not say that very often or very lightly. The Lords amendments, which were passed with the support of the Opposition in another place, as the Minister said, would hold the Government to account for what they said they would do in that document. It stated that a Conservative Government, who I accept are upon us, would
“cut back the intrusive powers of entry into homes. Public bodies (other than the police and emergency services) will require a magistrates’ warrant, and approval for such a warrant will be restricted to tackling serious criminal offences or protecting public safety.”
This is an area of private grief between Government Back Benchers in another place and the Government. The Lords amendments would allow the Government to deliver on one of their major promises. That is something that the Government have failed to do on many occasions.
The hon. Gentleman has walked directly into my fist. “Modern Conservatism: Our Quality of Life Agenda” stated:
“When he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown pledged to introduce a new liberty test to curtail powers of entry…He commissioned Lord West to undertake a review of entry powers. A final report by Lord West was supposed to be published by spring 2009, but has been continually delayed and kicked into the long grass.”
Lord Henley discussed that very point in another place, and the Minister referred to it today.
Clause 42, “Duty to review certain existing powers of entry”, places on Ministers of the Crown a duty to review relevant powers of entry within a relevant period, which happens to be two years. I may not be a great mathematician, but as I recall, we were criticised for kicking the matter into the long grass in 2009, yet now we cannot expect a final report until 2013 if the Bill receives Royal Assent. I ask the Minister and the hon. Gentleman whether that qualifies as kicking the matter into the long grass. I fear that it does. My noble Friend Lord West and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath were criticised for kicking the matter into the long grass by delaying the review of powers of entry. However, clause 42 seems to provide for the very delay for which the Minister criticised us when he was the Opposition spokesman.
In the spirit of due friendship that I offer the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on these matters, I hope he will reflect on the fact that had Labour remained in power, the review would have been completed within two years and then examined. Now we will have to wait until 2013 for it to be completed.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his attempt, which we hear so often from the Opposition, to rewrite history and demonstrate Labour’s commitment to liberty. There are Government Members who would have been delighted if measures on powers of entry had been introduced by now, but I put it to him that the Government’s caution merely reflects a mature and sensible approach rather than the more gung-ho tone that some might take towards liberty.
It was mature and sensible reflection when we were accused of kicking the matter into the long grass in 2009-10, when I was a Minister in the Home Office. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has planted his flag in the ground on this issue, because he is holding true to the Conservative manifesto commitment. I am genuinely surprised that there are not more Government Back Benchers wanting to hold the Government to account for why they are not fulfilling their manifesto commitment. Perhaps he will do that in due course.
My colleagues in another place supported the amendments, so that we could have this debate today and get the Minister’s comments on record. Concerns were raised, for example, about the term “trading standards officers”, which is not a recognised term. I would welcome him addressing those concerns.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) suggested, we have some concerns about the review provided for under clause 42. It places a duty on Secretaries of State to review the powers of entry for which they are responsible and report back to Parliament within two years of Royal Assent, following the necessary detailed analysis. As I said, we were accused of kicking the matter into the long grass, but the Government must consider 2013 shorter grass than 2011, which is when we would have had the review.
That aside, the purpose of the review under clause 42 will be to have each individual power of entry examined, to determine whether it is still required or whether it should be repealed, have safeguards added to it or be consolidated with similar powers to reduce the overall number. As we are already two years into the Government’s time in office and face the prospect of another two years before we hear back from the review, I do not believe I am far amiss in saying to the Minister and the hon. Member for Wycombe that the Government are potentially ducking the issue and leading the review into longer grass than we planned.
I would like some updates from the Minister on the points we have made. How long does he expect each Secretary of State to undertake the review? Does he expect the reviews from each Department to be completed before the end of the two-year period? Will he report back on the reviews en masse, when all Departments have completed them, or will he do so when individual Departments have completed reviews on their areas of responsibility?
Does the Minister expect to report back earlier than in two years’ time? As I have mentioned, what are the sanctions on Secretaries of State who do not meet the target? Will he report back on that? How does he expect Secretaries of State who have not met the target to report to the House? Can he guarantee that Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the review in full once it is published? Will he give some indication of how many legislative proposals on power of entry he expects to be reviewed and in due course repealed? According to the Conservative quality of life manifesto, there are 1,242 state powers of entry. Will the Minister indicate whether he has set targets for the outcome of the review? How many of those will be in place at the end of the review? Will he indicate how many of those powers of entry will in due course be on the bonfire that he promised in the manifesto?
The Conservative Government promised to cut back intrusive power of entry into homes. I am interested as to whether the Minister and his team will ultimately achieve that objective. We need clarity about the review. The Opposition will not support the amendments because we do not feel they are valuable, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response in due course.
The Minister’s opening remarks gave a degree of reassurance on the Government’s position, but I feel that the starting point should be that the forces of law and order and of the state should not as a matter of routine have the right to enter people’s houses. One of the most important freedoms that we enjoy as British subjects is that if somebody comes into our house without our invitation, it must be because some important crime has been committed, or there is some emergency or another immediate reason. The problem with the Minister’s reassurance is that there is always a suspicion that Governments do what is convenient rather than what is right, and that the bureaucrat always feels that it is easier to enter somebody’s home or office than to go through a complex procedure—to get a warrant or to obtain a justice of the peace’s authorisation—to go into somebody’s property.
I remember listening to a brilliant speech by the present Attorney-General when the Conservative party was in opposition and when pulling back on such warrants was our formal policy. As the Minister has done today, my right hon. and learned Friend went through the vast numbers of powers that have built up—600 have been introduced in recent years and there are as many as 1,300 in total. How minor some of them are. If a council inspector believes that there is a flea infestation, he can enter somebody’s home to see whether fleas are hopping about. That was introduced in the 1930s, so it is not part of the recent accumulation of powers, but it reflects a century of belief in the big state and of allowing increasing powers to the state to take steps that are more convenient than necessary.
This House is always here to protect the rights and liberties of the individual against the over-mighty Executive. Although I believe the present Government are undoubtedly the greatest Government in the history of mankind, it is none the less in the nature of Governments to try to increase the powers they have, because it is always more convenient to do so. One can imagine the advice from officials to Ministers—“Minister, it will be easier and quicker and save money if we do this”—but that must be weighed by the House against the historic and ancient rights that we have enjoyed and that are so important to us.
We have enjoyed these freedoms to the great benefit of our nation and prosperity. The feeling of security that people have in their home—the feeling that they can go about their lawful business in their home without the forces of the state coming in to question what they are doing or how they are living—has allowed us to become one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Those ancient freedoms have underpinned all of that not just in recent years, but over many centuries. We have always been one of the freest countries in the world and one that has protected the property and rights of subjects against an over-mighty Crown more strongly than other nations have been willing to do.
Although I have received—I think—sufficient reassurance from the Minister to support the amendments, I hope that the Government will carry out the review with the greatest urgency. Many people would have been more sympathetic to the Government’s view if, instead of just a rejecting motion, they had tabled an amendment with a bit more detail on the time scale, or perhaps a requirement that if the review is not finished in two years, any power that has not been reviewed must fall or be the subject of a warrant or the agreement of the person whose property is to be invaded.
I will end my brief remarks by reminding the House of the words of Pitt the Elder—known as the Great Commoner, that proud upholder of liberties in the 18th century. What he said should ring true today for all subjects of Her Majesty:
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter, the rain may enter—but the King of England cannot enter”.
That is a principle that we ought to uphold and fight for. The Government should push ahead as fast as possible to ensure that these 1,300 powers are cut right back purely to those that are essential in the fight to maintain law and order or to put out fires.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who eloquently reminds us that an Englishman’s home is indeed his castle and that it is vital that it be protected from an overactive state. I have great sympathy with what he said.
I support what the Government are doing in the review. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the shadow Policing Minister, that was the position of the last Government, even though, as we were reminded, the number of powers has been increased—by 600, the Minister said—in the past 13 years. I am sure that if he consults the relevant Hansard reports, he will see that I voted for most, if not all, of the additions. Had it not been for the general election, the noble Lord West would have completed his review. I too would like the review to be completed within the two years. It is easy for parliamentarians to set deadlines that they perhaps know cannot be met and put further burdens on Ministers, but it would be helpful if the review could be conducted within that period.
I am not sure by what mechanisms the review will be conducted. Will it be conducted by a joint committee of Ministers and will it include officials of various Departments? Clearly the Home Office will take the lead, but is there merit in commissioning—to use a word that will become of great interest to people—outside Government and allowing academics or practitioners to be involved in the process, so that it is not just Home Office officials but those who deal daily with the conduct of these matters? I would be interested to know how that will take place. It might help to speed up the review if it is taken out of Government and given to someone else to look at.
My second question relates to the update that the Minister is proposing the Government give Parliament. Will that be an oral statement by the Home Secretary or a written statement, and will it be an amalgamation of what individual Ministers have said or just one statement on behalf of the whole Government?
Finally, it would be helpful to know whether the Government intend not to initiate any new legislation that might affect this area until the review is over and has been published. Is it the Government’s position that, because an emergency or some unpredictable occurrence might require the use of emergency powers, we might have to enter this territory—that is, we simply cannot stop it happening—and increase the number of police powers or other powers; or is it their intention to say, “Let us pause and draw a line in the sand,” as the hon. Member for North East Somerset said, and to consider what has been done in the past, along with what they plan to do in future, before passing any legislation?
Apart from those three points, I support what the Government are doing, and I think the review will be very helpful indeed.
I, too, support the general thrust of Lords amendments 16 to 18, but I completely understand the Minister’s concerns about the effect they would have on the legislation.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) on the need for some sort of restatement of our fundamental liberty with regard to private property, which is one of the underpinning foundations of English law. To that end, my addition to the points made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friend is to ask whether we might have a restatement of that general principle. The amendment gives a negative statement about those powers that may not be used except in certain circumstances. I wonder whether, in their review, the Government might restate the general principle of the sanctity of property and of private property, so that that should be the bar by which all future incursions against private property will be judged, and so that exactly that kind of guard might be imposed on future Governments—a point to which my hon. Friend rightly alluded.
I am very much reassured by my hon. Friend the Minister’s assurance that the matter will be considered within the time scale promised. On previous points where further work by the Government was needed, he has given an assurance and delivered on it exactly as he said he would. I have no doubt at all that he will do so in this case, and his comments so far give me great confidence.
When I look at Lords amendments 16 to 18, my instinct is certainly to support them, but after many, many hours in Committee with my hon. Friend the Minister, I know that he has a thoroughgoing commitment to progress towards liberty, so I assure him of my future support for simplifying powers of entry. As I have said previously to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is in her place, when the knock comes on the door, householders should be able to know whether the person knocking has a right to enter, or whether they are permitted to refuse entry. However, having sat through both the Public Bill Committee’s evidence sessions and heard contributions from Opposition Members, I know that the Minister has met the forces of reaction. I encourage him not to succumb to reactionary opposition or to the notion that certain powers should be elevated over liberty in the interests of security or expediency. I am confident that he will be steadfast in the cause of liberty, so I will support the Government.
I rise to respond briefly to a number of the points raised. Let me assure my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and for Wycombe (Steve Baker) of this Government’s commitment and resolve to roll back the arms of the state that may seek to intrude into private life.
The measures before the House this afternoon are important. They underpin our focus on ensuring that powers of entry are proportionate, appropriate and respect the right to be able to enjoy one’s home without undue interference. The House will also recognise, however, that there are certain circumstances in which such intervention might be appropriate—to protect health, to prevent harm or to ensure that criminals are legitimately brought to justice. That is why we are undertaking the review that I have outlined this afternoon.
I assure the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) that I understand his desire to get on with this. We have said that we will report back to the House on a six-monthly basis, and I anticipate that that will involve a joint report on behalf of all the relevant parts of the Government Departments undertaking the review, to provide an update on the progress and the steps that are being taken. We intend the review to be Home Office-led and it will be undertaken in large measure by officials, but they will be responsible to Ministers, and I assure the House that Ministers will be driving the process forward, recognising the House’s strong feelings about the importance of liberty.
It was a bit rich of the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) to suggest that we were trying to kick this matter into the long grass and to defer or delay it. On the contrary, we are legislating through the Bill, we are taking action and we are setting out a clear process to roll back powers of entry, which grew enormously under the last Government. The fact that 600 new powers of entry were created during their period in office underlines the fact that due regard was not given to the implications of those measures. I am proud that this Government are introducing a clear mechanism to review the impact of powers of entry and the necessity of their remaining on the statute book or being made subject to further safeguards. The measures in the Bill will allow that to be done.
I very much welcome the support that has been expressed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House this afternoon. I know that the right hon. Member for Delyn will want to ask what target we have set, but I hope he has realised that we are not a Government who arbitrarily set targets. We will look at this matter in a measured, considered way and decide what is in the best interests of liberty and the protection of freedoms in relation to safety and security, as well as of the freedom from the intrusion of an overbearing state.
I sense that the Minister is about to finish his speech. Before he does so, will he try to answer the question that I put to him earlier? In the event of a Secretary of State not meeting the duty set out in clause 42, what sanctions would be available to address their failure to meet that target?
I think I have already answered the right hon. Gentleman’s questions fairly and squarely in terms of the statutory requirement on which I hope the House will legislate. I hope that that measure will go on to the statute book. The Bill represents a significant step forward—one that the previous Government failed to take during the 13 years in which they were creating 600 additional powers of entry. I note that he is seeking to push and challenge us on this, but I must point out that the Bill represents a significant step forward. Ministers will be bound by the provisions, and they will take the new responsibility extremely seriously.
I hope that the House is minded to disagree with the Lords in their amendments this afternoon. That in no way implies a lack of commitment, resolve or focus on the Government’s part to ensure that powers of entry are properly examined and, as appropriate, scaled back to ensure that they properly protect without intruding, and that they are not retained on the statute book if they are not necessary.
Lords amendment 16 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 17 and 18 disagreed to.
A New Clause
With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendments (c), (d), (e), (f) and Government amendments (g), (h), (i), (j), and (k) thereto.
Lords amendment 52, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 59 and 68
Lords amendment 133 and Government amendments (a) to (c) thereto.
The need for legislation to create a distinctive offence of stalking has been clear for some time. I therefore start the debate by welcoming the Government’s willingness to respond to these calls for such legislation. Our amendments reflect the need to ensure that this opportunity for progress is not missed and that the evolution of these proposals continues so that they can truly meet the needs of those we wish to protect.
To put this case, I want to set out why we consider that the legislation as currently proposed is limited in its ability to deliver this protection, and what we learn from that in scrutinising the Government’s proposals that are on the table. We all now know that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 has been unable to offer the protection from stalking required for its victims. It is estimated that there are currently 120,000 cases of stalking every year, but fewer than 4,500 were convicted of harassment in 2009; of those, only 565 were jailed.
The current legislation is not able to cope with stalking because these behaviours cannot be meaningfully defined by specific forms of contact. Rather, this is an offence about the impact of conduct or patterns of behaviour by those individuals who fixate on others and seek to cause distress, fear or alarm. The current legislation offers only the same tools that we have at present to deal with disputes between neighbours—and it has struggled to cope as a result.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 created two criminal offences of harassment and putting people in fear of violence, as well as providing for restraining orders, which are more well known, where a breach, in theory, can lead to an arrestable offence. We now know, however, that victims of stalking talk repeatedly about the frustrations caused by the police being required to see patterns of behaviour, examples of a breach or evidence that someone has repeatedly damaged property or acted in a certain way or created a fear of violence. Others have talked about the importance of training the police, magistrates and the Crown Prosecution Service to help them understand the range of acts that fall under stalking—including, especially, cyber-stalking. That is because it is a summary offence of harassment, and many felt that the police did not go far enough and did not allocate appropriate resources to investigating these cases, or frankly, that it was seen as simply not serious enough to warrant the effort. I shall return to the question of seriousness in a few moments.
It is little wonder that the recent inquiry into stalking found that 72% of victims were unhappy with the response they received from the criminal justice system, with the majority stating they had experienced stalking for over 18 months or more and through multiple forms of contact; yet only 47% said that their perpetrator was even charged. As Tracey Morgan, a key member of the inquiry panel into stalking has said:
“stalking is where domestic violence was 30 years ago. It’s seen as a joke; a celebrity problem. Victims are told they should be flattered by the attention”—
but we all know of the reality. We have heard the stories of people like Tracey whose lives were torn apart by a person who fixated upon them. We have heard of the ex-partners who torment men and women online and offline; we have heard of women such as Clare Bernal who was brutally murdered by her former boyfriend, despite warnings about his behaviour.
We know from other jurisdictions how having a specific offence of stalking can help to address these concerns. In the 10 years prior to the introduction of the offence of stalking in Scotland, Strathclyde police reported a total of 70 stalking-related prosecutions. In the first six months after legislation providing for a specific offence was enacted, there were 140 prosecutions in Strathclyde alone, and it is estimated that there will be between 500 and 600 in Scotland as a whole by the end of the year.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful point about Scotland. Scotland moved straight from “breach of the peace” legislation to legislation on stalking, so the comparison is quite dramatic. We in England and Wales are in a slightly better position, but the comparison is nevertheless invidious, which is why the proposed change in the law is so essential and welcome.
In order to establish whether the present proposals will deal with our concerns adequately, it is worth considering what has happened in Scotland as a result of the legislation providing for a specific offence, and also making comparisons with what is offered by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
On behalf of the House, let me thank those who have been campaigning on these issues, and who have led action both in the House and outside. Working with Protection against Stalking and the National Association of Probation Officers, the all-party inquiry into stalking— in which I know the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) participated—has tirelessly and persistently made the case for new legislation. I pay tribute to both those organisations, and to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), who is present, for all their work on the inquiry.
Although she was not able to be here today, I think that the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), deserves credit for putting the case for the legislation in September last year. She also stressed the need for stronger sentencing and police training to improve responses.
Finally, I think that we must all pay particular tribute to Baroness Royall, who, back in November, began tabling amendments to the Bill in the other place to introduce this law in some form and thus to force action on the issue. We can see that that tactic has worked. Ministers initially refused to accept the case, saying that the current legislation covered criminal behaviour of this kind, but their view has now changed, and that change is welcome. I note that Lord Henley himself acknowledged the work of Lady Royall in raising the issue.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent case. There has been a good deal of publicity and discussion on stalking over the last six or 12 months. Has my hon. Friend noticed any improvement in the attitude of police forces towards people who report stalking, given that such people have received no response in the past?
When I discussed the proposals with the police, they were anxious to ensure that we used this opportunity to get the proposals right. I welcomed their acknowledgment of concern about the way in which the legislation had been used to deal with the problems, and about the lack of training in what stalking might involve.
As a result of this pressure, we stand here today to debate not whether proposals are needed, but the strength of the proposals that are on the table. We can see how the proposals are evolving as the Government respond to people who have been campaigning. The new amendments—as opposed to the proposals that were put to the other place last week—reflect further movement in the right direction, given the Government’s initial response to Baroness Royall’s proposals.
It is in the spirit of ensuring that the Bill is meaningful and effective that Labour Members have tabled further amendments today. Having championed the need for legislation, we wish to ensure that this opportunity is not wasted. When we test the Lords amendment against the realities of the crime that we are discussing, and indeed the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), we still see difficulties. In particular, we fear that the amendment presents the appearance of progress while failing to deliver through its confusing demarcation between section 2A and section 4A offences. We also believe that it does not give the criminal justice system the full confidence that it needs to be able to address this crime in its many manifestations, whether through investigation, prosecution or conviction.
Our amendments (a) and (b) would ensure that the Bill would be what I call future-proof. When the Protection from Harassment legislation was enacted in 1997, Google did not exist. One of the compelling examples of the behaviour of the persecutor of Claire Waxman was the fact that he had searched for her name 40,000 times in a single year. The amendment reflects the need not only to train all who work in the criminal justice system to recognise that stalking can manifest itself in many ways, but to ensure that the legislation can keep pace with the innovation. As we have heard, many victims experience multiple forms of harassment, and do so many times before it is reported. These amendments would enable the Secretary of State to respond to the creativity of perpetrators and ensure that all those charged with protecting the public from these crimes are able to act. The inclusion of “inter alia” and the ability to include additional clarification will give confidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the magistrates courts that these kinds of conduct could in future be relevant to this offence.
If the Government will not accept the amendments, they must set out now, on the record, how they propose to ensure that the criminal justice system is able fully to comprehend and respond to the way in which fixations occur, both online and offline.
I am listening with great care to the hon. Lady’s argument about the use of the phrase “inter alia”. There may be a bit of an irony in using legal Latin to anticipate developments in respect of Google and Twitter, but I do not criticise her for that. The Lords amendment lists
“examples of acts or omissions”.
That is therefore a non-exhaustive list, so the problem the hon. Lady rightly identifies as possibly occurring cannot occur on the basis of any reasonable interpretation of the Lords amendment as it currently stands.
This is a point of genuine disagreement, because there is concern that what should be seen as a non-exhaustive list of behaviours and conducts for the offence of stalking will instead be seen as a list of the only such behaviours and conducts. We are trying to ensure both that training is given to all sectors of the criminal justice system and that there is clarification about the wide range of perpetrator behaviours that can be included. I gave the example of Google in order to argue that if the idea of cyber-stalking had been considered when the protection from harassment law was introduced in 1997, legislators might have recognised the need to address it. Given that we so rarely get an opportunity to draft legislation, it is important that we make any new laws as robust as possible, such as by ensuring that the Secretary of State can intervene. We believe that our proposal would offer an opportunity to address any concerns that might arise. Law makers might say, “This is a list of stalking behaviours and anything else isn’t stalking.” If the Government are not prepared to accept the amendment, they must explicitly state how they will ensure that this list does not become the only list of examples, rather than a starting point for our law makers.
Our amendments to Lords Amendment 51 go to the heart of the inconsistencies in the proposals. We challenge the retention of a section 2A offence of stalking and the creation of a section 4A offence of stalking, differentiated by the concept of seriousness. We welcome the fact that, in response to Baroness Royall, the Government’s position has moved from that of the amendments tabled in the Lords, which set out stalking as purely involving a fear of violence. The new provisions go much further towards recognising the need to be able to act against perpetrators without waiting for physical harm as well as the different ways in which this crime impacts upon victims, and that is certainly welcome. However, the strengthening of section 4A does not undermine the inconsistency created by the retention of a section 2A offence for stalking.
Under Government amendments (i), (j) and (k), section 4A will apply when someone has suffered
“serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on”
“usual day-to-day activities”.
Yet section 2A sets out a less well-defined offence of stalking that would secure a lower level tariff. That offence would be triable only in a magistrates court, with a fine or maximum penalty of just six months’ imprisonment. We believe that such a distinction between different offences and courses of action does not stand scrutiny. Specifically, it is unclear from the evidence of this crime what kinds of cases would fall under section 2A rather than section 4A. In respect of the wording of the new amendments, it appears that a distinction would be based on proving that someone has suffered a “serious” form of distress. Therefore, the Government must set out how that could be proved—for example, whether it would be similar to psychiatric injury, where we need a psychiatrist to say there has been a serious impact on the central nervous system. This also raises the prospect of medical records having to be disclosed, potentially giving more information to the stalker at court and also creating a higher burden to prove, so the CPS would again be less likely to charge under Section 4 and default to Section 2A, with the resulting lesser options for punishment.
We as parliamentarians should reflect upon whether we would ask the victims to have their lives altered as a marker of such seriousness. The survey commissioned by the university of Leicester for the Network for Surviving Stalking found that one third of victims of stalking said that they had lost their job or relationship or had been forced to move because of the stalking. Some 92% reported physical effects and 98% reported emotional effects, ranging from anxiety, sleep disturbances, anger and distrust to depression, self-harm and post-traumatic stress disorder. Half of all the victims had changed their telephone number; half of them had given up social activities; half of them had seen their performance at work affected; and a third of them had relocated. If the Home Secretary wishes to retain these divisions, she must tell us whether it is justifiable to ask victims to prove that their lives have been changed in such a serious way before we can offer them real protection. Does she not see the risk that the police could apply this “seriousness” test in choosing whether to investigate and secure a section 2A or section 4A offence, leaving victims in the horrific position of having to prove that their lives have been damaged in these ways in order to secure effective action against the perpetrators?
As many experts have pointed out, this distinction risks retaining one of the problems with the existing legislation: it is extremely unusual for someone to be found guilty under section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, with just 170 of the 786 people found guilty being given a custodial sentence. Some 53,000 harassment cases were recorded by the police in 2009-10, but in only 23 was a custodial sentence of more than 12 months given for breaching a restraining order and in just 27 was such a sentence given for putting someone in fear of violence. Under the current legislation, most perpetrators receive restraining orders on multiple occasions and yet still receive fines and non-custodial sentences. Both the National Association of Probation Officers and Protection Against Stalking state that they believe that
“similar outcomes will come from an analysis of court proceedings under 2A.”
Even if a case can be made for the retention of a “lesser” offence of stalking, the division also limits the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to respond to cases effectively by setting out two separate paths for the same crime. As NAPO and PAS have pointed out, allowing the offence to be triable either way would have two advantages. First, if evidence came out during a magistrates court trial indicating that the matter was more serious than first thought and may warrant a sentence of more than six months, the case could be sent to the Crown court for sentence. Secondly, many stalkers who do not threaten violence and who may be tried under section 2A for less serious matters are, nevertheless, highly persistent. Without the power to refer to a Crown court, such people could appear persistently in magistrates courts, being liable only for six months’ imprisonment and automatically released at three months —if they were tagged, they would come out after one month and continue their behaviour.
The amendments tabled by the Government maintain the risk that offences will not be adequately addressed, as at present, because they ask the CPS to choose between “lower-level” offences of stalking, as yet undefined, and those considered “more serious”. The challenge for all involved in addressing this offence will be to make such a distinction in any meaningful way as to merit it.
In contrast, our proposed amendments to Lords amendment 51 offer the opportunity to correct this situation so that confusion is no bar to ensuring that those who commit these crimes are given appropriate sentences. Our amendment (d) to Lords amendment 51 proposes a simple definition of stalking that could clarify the difference between “harassment” and “stalking” between neighbours who behave in unacceptable ways towards each other and the person who fixates on a former partner or someone they have never met but serves to cause them distress.
Our amendment (c ) to Lords amendment 51 would help to ensure that it is open to the criminal justice system to respond to these crimes by making them triable either way, thus introducing the possibility, alongside the lesser sentences the Government are offering under section 2A, of a sentence of up to five years. If the Government will not accept the amendments, they need to set out precisely what constitutes a “lesser” crime of stalking and how it would be distinctive from the crimes they expect to be prosecuted under section 4A. In particular, I ask the Home Secretary to put on the record clear examples of the different criteria they expect to be applied to justify this division and to ensure that criminal justice agencies are able to understand the intent in their proposals.
Finally, our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 52 deals with how these crimes are investigated and with the importance of ensuring that the police are able to act. It would restore a power of entry to the properties of those arrested for stalking without a warrant to ensure that evidence cannot be destroyed. The power previously existed for cases of harassment, but was removed as an unintended consequence of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, and many of us believe that this omission requires attention. Again, I highlight to Ministers the risks they are taking by creating two stalking offences, where one is indictable and the other is only a summary offence. Under their proposals, the police can enter a property to search only if the offence is indictable. The confusion between sections 2A and 4A could mean that officers hesitate in using this power to investigate matters relating to these crimes for fear of not finding enough evidence to meet the “seriousness” test. Seeking this power, and thus the possibility of investigation, would help to ensure that the police would not flinch out of confusion; those committing offences that the Government believe would fall into section 4A could be investigated without the police thinking twice.
Without this power, there is a very real danger of evidence being destroyed as others act to protect those arrested for this offence. The fact that it could take hours to secure a warrant allows that possibility—that time is valuable. Indeed, as we have seen with recent attempts to destroy evidence relevant to the prosecution of those involved in phone hacking, such behaviour is not theoretical. The fact that the police are currently able to search the property of a shoplifter but not to access the property of someone who has been arrested for stalking to seek further evidence—perhaps to see the shrine they have created or computer information on social networks—further reflects the difficulties our police will have with the measures as they stand in ensuring that they effectively protect victims.
I note that NAPO and PAS state that they support the amendment for two reasons. First, it would put a limit on the amount of time that the accused had to wait at a police station before being questioned and, secondly, it would minimise the chances of the perpetrator’s associates disposing of any evidence. We have come so far with this vital legislation and I hope that the Home Secretary will go further today. None of us wishes to start again with new legislation, but victims of crime desperately need our help. We have an opportunity to create laws and ensure that there is training in all aspects of our criminal justice system that will mean that one person will no longer be able to torment another human being in these ways. There are flaws in the current proposals which I hope the Government will address by accepting the amendments. The Opposition, who have been supporting the proposals, will support the Government if they do that and will hold them to account for any missed opportunities if they do not.
I shall be asking the House to agree with Lords amendment 51. I am pleased and proud to be standing here supporting and speaking to amendments relating to the introduction of new criminal offences for stalking. Some years ago, I secured an Adjournment debate in the House about the tragic case of Rana Faruqui, the daughter of my constituent Carol Faruqui. Rana was stalked for some time. Sadly, the police did not pay attention to the instances of stalking that she reported to them and, as a result, Rana was ferociously murdered by the individual who had been stalking her. Since that case came to my attention, I have personally believed that we need to do more to take the issue of stalking seriously, so I am glad that we are debating this issue.
It is fair to say that when the then Government introduced the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, they believed that it would cover stalking and be adequate but we have seen over the years that it has not been taken as seriously as Members across the House would wish. Stalking is an appalling crime, both in itself and in the distress that it can cause an individual. It can also lead to physical violence and has, sadly, led to the death of the individual being stalked in cases such as that of Rana Faruqui. When I have spoken to stalking victims, they have said that some police officers are very sensitive to the issue of stalking and handle it very well and appropriately—dealing with it properly—but, sadly, others do not see the seriousness of the offence in the way that we would wish them to.
The Home Secretary will have heard my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). In the Home Secretary’s discussions with the police, have they begun to understand the sensitivity of stalking and that it is very difficult for someone to report it? It is at that interface at the police station that things can all go terribly wrong or well depending on the training and sensitivity of the officers concerned. Is the Association of Chief Police Officers aware of that and has she been able to discuss the matter with ACPO?
I have had some opportunity to discuss this issue with ACPO and those representing victims of stalking. Their comments are similar to what victims of domestic violence say to me. If an officer has been trained specifically in the identification of stalking and dealing with a stalking victim, then they, like an officer who has been specifically trained to deal with a domestic violence victim, understand the context and the issues that the victim is facing. Officers who have not had that separate training might not understand these issues. There are certainly matters that need to be addressed in terms of how the police look at stalking. I hope that the creation of stalking offences will be part of the process of ensuring that all officers recognise the importance of the issue.
I welcome the amendment, but does the Secretary of State agree that the public’s severe lack of confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to deal with stalking is a major problem, and that legislation, while welcome, is not the whole solution? We also need training for officers; that is the only way that we will improve officers’ reactions when victims of stalking come forward, increase public confidence, and increase earlier reporting of stalking.
My hon. Friend makes a valid and important point. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I hope that the creation of the legislation and the offences will, in itself, send out a message, but of course that has to be backed up by training. I also hope that we can ensure that the public generally recognise the importance and significance of stalking as an offence, and the distress and problems that it causes to an individual who is being stalked. I remember holding a discussion on the subject with a number of people, and a victim of stalking made the point to me that when she first came forward to say that she was a victim, someone she knew said to her, “Oh, aren’t you lucky?” Nothing could be further from the truth, and we need to change that attitude.
That is an important point. We have seen how long it has taken the police to treat domestic violence as seriously as it should be treated. The Home Secretary’s comments show that victims are sometimes told that it is nice to receive that sort of attention. There is also the issue of the police not treating stalking seriously; it is only in very serious cases, where death may result, that we address stalking as the important issue that it is.
Of course, what we want is for the issue to be addressed properly earlier; we want victims to have the confidence to come forward, knowing that what they say will be taken seriously, so that the matter can be dealt with properly before it gets to the point of physical violence, or indeed, as the hon. Gentleman says, before the death of the individual who is being stalked.
From time to time, my right hon. Friend and others raise issues relating to ensuring that matters are on the police and crime commissioners’ agendas. Bodies representing victims of stalking will, I am sure, do all that they can to ensure that candidates for the post of police and crime commissioner are well aware of the issue and therefore take it into account when looking at policing in their force area.
This is, of course, the first opportunity that the House has had to discuss the issue in the context of the Bill, so I want to take a moment to set out the background to the Lords amendments. Last year, the Government consulted on whether the law needed changing to introduce a new offence of stalking. The consultation closed in February, and the majority of respondents said that a new specific offence was needed. Separately from the Government’s consultation, an independent inquiry, chaired by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), also concluded that the law needed strengthening better to respond to the concerns of victims of stalking. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his inquiry team for all that they have done to raise the importance of the issue; he has done that regularly in the House, too. I also commend the hard work done by the National Association of Probation Officers and Protection Against Stalking, who have, entirely rightly, been championing victims’ rights for some years. I hope that they have seen that the Government have responded to that.
Following the Government’s consultation and the independent inquiry, we amended the Bill in the other place to provide for two new free-standing offences—stalking, and stalking involving fear of violence—which will sit alongside the existing harassment offences in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The new offence of stalking in proposed new section 2A of the 1997 Act will be tried in the magistrates court, with a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000, or both. The new offence of stalking involving fear of violence in proposed new section 4A will be triable either way—in the magistrates court or the Crown court. If tried in the Crown court, it will have a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.
The changes that we have introduced also give the police a new power of entry for the new section 2A offence of stalking. The more serious either-way offence of stalking involving fear of violence automatically attracts a power of entry. It was clear from our consultation discussions that the police want the power to search for equipment used by stalkers so that they can gather the evidence necessary to secure convictions and prevent stalking behaviour from escalating. We have listened and responded.
There has been widespread support for these changes. Last week I received a letter from a victim of stalking, who said:
“The action your government has taken will change the lives of thousands of people for the better—and save many. Thank you for treating this crime with the seriousness it deserves.”
Our amendments mean that for the first time, we will have specific offences of stalking. However, I know there have been suggestions that we should also recognise the emotional suffering that victims of stalking experience. That is why we tabled Government amendments (g) to (k) to Lords amendment 51 and Government amendments (a) to (c) to Lords amendment 133. Those amendments will widen the section 4A offence to incorporate behaviour that causes the victim serious alarm or distress that has a substantial effect on his or her day-to-day life.
This change will mean that when a stalker causes their victim, for example, to take alternative routes to and from work, when the victim is afraid to leave the house or when they have to ask their friends or family to pick up their children from school because they are afraid of running into their stalker, this could count as behaviour that attracts the more serious section 4A offence and therefore, on conviction on indictment, a maximum five-year sentence. The message could not be clearer—anyone who ruins someone’s life with their stalking should expect to be severely punished. I know that NAPO and Protection Against Stalking have been involved in the development of these changes and I am grateful to them for their contribution.
Let me take some time to deal with the amendments in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which are virtually identical to the ones that were tabled in another place. Amendment (b) to Lords amendment 51 relates to new section 2A(3) of the 1997 Act which sets out a list of examples of stalking behaviours. I say to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who introduced the debate, that “examples” is the key word here. That is what they are intended to be—examples of stalking behaviours.
Amendment (b) seeks to add a catch-all to this indicative list of behaviours and would allow the Secretary of State to add behaviours to the list of examples. As I said, the list is intended to be illustrative only; it is not intended to set out all the types of stalking behaviour that might be exhibited. We want to ensure that it is wide enough to capture any behaviour, including stalking conduct, that has not yet been developed. The hon. Lady is right. It may well be that there are means of stalking that we cannot yet think of which will develop over time. It is right that we have within the legislation the ability to take account of those, should they develop.
The reason I think it is important not to create a catch-all provision or take a power to expand the list, but to set it as a list of examples, is that we have deliberately made it non-exhaustive. As soon as one tries to set everything down in the legislation, one risks the opportunity for individuals to find ways round the definition that has been set down in the legislation. What is important here is that the Bill says, “These are the sorts of behaviour that come into the category of stalking,” but if we try to be too rigid in setting it out, I fear that that could have a negative rather than a positive effect.