I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In November, this House passed a Modern Slavery Bill to tackle the appalling crime of modern slavery, to pursue and prosecute those who trade in human beings for profit, and to protect and support victims. Modern slavery is just one of the many manifestations of serious and organised crime, and while organised criminals operate globally, the effects of their crimes reach deep into our communities, shattering lives and affecting us all in different ways: the pensioner who loses his life savings to a sophisticated scam; the family who have their home burgled by someone addicted to drugs; the internet user who has their credit card details stolen; the person who buys goods such as alcohol or medicines and discovers they are dangerous fakes; and people who find their insurance premiums inflated because of fraud. Organised crime can also relate to the disgusting and devastating sexual exploitation of children.
There are over 5,500 organised criminal groups operating in the UK, with 36,000 people engaged in organised criminal activity. Organised crime is thought to cost this country at least £24 billion a year, and the cost to the UK from organised fraud is thought to be around £9 billion. It is a threat with many impacts, which must be fought on many levels. Yet, in 2010, when the Government came to power, it was clear that the response to serious and organised crime—both in policy and operational terms—was woefully lacking. So alongside our programme of radical police reform, we overhauled the response to serious and organised crime.
The strategic policing requirement now makes it clear to chief constables and police and crime commissioners that they need to work across force boundaries to address national threats, including those from organised crime and cybercrime. We have strengthened regional organised crime units so that there is an effective and cohesive response at a regional level; we have legislated to break down barriers to information-sharing between law enforcement agencies, and to toughen up penalties for those trading in illegal firearms; and in 2013 we launched a new crime-fighting body, the National Crime Agency, with the powers and mandate to task and co-ordinate law enforcement organisations and assets. In its first year of operation, the NCA led and co-ordinated numerous operations, leading to the arrests of 2,048 people in the UK and 1,181 overseas, and 415 convictions. It seized nearly 213 tonnes of drugs and over 700 firearms, and safeguarded or protected over 1,300 children. On the same day as the NCA was launched, we published our serious and organised crime strategy. It details the action we expect from across Government, agencies and partners in order to drive our collective and relentless response to organised criminality.
Building capacity and capability at a national, regional and force level is vital, but we must also ensure that the NCA, police forces and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to bring offenders to justice, to deprive criminals of the proceeds of crime, and to prevent them from engaging in further criminality.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way so early in her speech. As she knows, I support the creation of the National Crime Agency and the Select Committee has recently taken evidence from Keith Bristow on his first year in office. Given the failings of the Serious Organised Crime Agency—or, to put it another way, the failure of SOCA to meet the expectations and ambitions of Parliament and Ministers—does she feel the NCA is on the right track and enough has been seized, given the figures given to the Committee and the figures she has given today and the fact that she puts the amount of serious and organised crime at £24 billion?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the support he has shown for the National Crime Agency. I think that the agency is on the right track. There is always more that can be done, but the NCA is obviously building up its operations and capabilities. One crucial difference between the NCA and SOCA is the way in which the NCA operates with police forces around the country. There is also a clear intelligence hub at the heart of the NCA, which means that operations are being focused on the most harmful threats. In every case, a decision is taken on whether it should be a collective operation, an individual force operation or an NCA operation, and on what assets should be brought to bear in those operations.
I shall talk about those aspects of the Bill that will strengthen our ability to get hold of criminals’ assets, as that forms an important part of the work that is being done. Criminals want to make a profit out of their activities, and the more we can do to disrupt them and to access that money, the better. Of course, there is always more that can be done. Parts 1 to 4 of the Bill deal with ensuring that we are able to give the NCA and other agencies the powers that they need to bring offenders to justice, to deprive them of the proceeds of crime and to prevent them from engaging in further criminality. Under this Government, asset recovery has been stronger than ever before. We have recovered around £746 million of criminal assets. We have returned some £93 million to victims, and denied the use of £2.5 billion-worth of assets that have been frozen by the courts. However, we can and must do even better.
I fully endorse the provisions of the Bill that will make it easier to attach assets resulting from criminal behaviour. The Home Secretary referred earlier to pensioner scams, of which there have been many in my constituency recently, as well as in other parts of north Wales and in Cheshire. Sometimes we have the Cheshire police, the Greater Manchester police and the North Wales police all investigating the same crime. Surely we need better co-ordination if we are not to waste effort in such an unproductive way.
The way in which the National Crime Agency operates involves a decision on how best to deal with any particular organised crime group that comes to its attention. The agency works with individual police forces as well as with the regional organised crime units to ensure that assets are being used as effectively as possible against the organised crime groups. I am not saying that a situation such as the one the right hon. Gentleman describes could never happen, or that different forces are never involved in investigating the same crime. However, before the NCA came into being, we set up an organised crime co-ordination centre to consider precisely that issue. We do not want anyone to slip through the net, but we also do not want police officers operating against an organised crime group to be put in danger because of the operations of another force. There might be more work to be done in this regard, but there is now a much greater ability to co-ordinate, particularly through the regional organised crime units.
On the point about co-ordination, we must also remember the incentive scheme that encourages the many bodies involved to investigate and to confiscate the proceeds of crime. Has the Home Office reviewed that scheme yet to see whether it needs to be revised, as was suggested to the Public Accounts Committee last year? Given that the Home Office receives 50% of those assets, despite having no operational role in the process, does the Home Secretary envisage a change being made to that percentage?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are continually looking at that issue. Indeed, the Criminal Finances Board, under the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), has looked into it.
I want to talk about those parts of the Bill that will enable us better to access criminal assets, because that is an important part of what we do. As I said, organised criminals are primarily motivated by profit, and we need to be able to do all we can to strip them of their ill-gotten gains and send the message that crime does not pay. In part, this is about more effective enforcement, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has responsibility for dealing with modern slavery and organised crime, is currently overseeing the implementation of our plan to improve the recovery of criminal assets. We must also ensure that organised criminals are not able to exploit loopholes in our legislation to frustrate asset recovery and avoid the reach of the law, which brings me to the proposals in the Bill.
Part 1 of the Bill makes a number of significant changes to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. First, we are lowering the threshold for granting a restraint order—the means by which a defendant’s assets are frozen. It will now be easier to secure a restraint order immediately before effecting an arrest as the test for both will be aligned, thus removing the window of opportunity for a defendant to dissipate his or her assets. Secondly, we are halving the maximum amount of time that may be allowed by the court for payment once a confiscation order is made. That will mean that the victims of crime will receive recompense more quickly, and it will also further deprive criminals of the opportunity to live off or conceal their assets.
The whole point of what we have been doing, in aiming to improve our ability through the Bill to get at assets and the other work being done by the Minister with responsibility for dealing with modern slavery and organised crime, which I have described, is to ensure that every part of the legislation we have is being operated fully and properly. [Interruption.] Well, the number of orders for over a particular sum of money has in fact been about the same for the past couple of years. The shadow Home Secretary is raising a point about the legislation that the Labour party put in place—the 2002 Act. What I am saying to her is that we have looked at how these things operate to see whether we might operate them better, and I am describing to the House precisely how we are improving that.
The point is to make sure that legislation is enforced; we all support improvements to legislation but we also want to know that it is being enforced. Can the Home Secretary explain why the number of restraint orders used to freeze assets dropped from 1,878 in 2010-11 to 1,368 in the most recent figures? Frankly, her commitment to tackling the problem of the proceeds of crime looks rather weak if all she is prepared to do is change laws but never actually enforce them.
The number has been dropping year on year but it is understood—the prosecution agencies believe that this is the most likely explanation—that that is due in part to the Court of Appeal judgment in the 2011 case of Windsor v. the Crown Prosecution Service. The Court ruled that suspicion that the defendant had benefited from criminal conduct was not sufficient grounds under existing legislation to grant a restraint order. That is a legal interpretation of the previous legislation—the 2002 Act—and how it was being operated by the courts. We are reducing the test from a “reasonable cause to believe” that the defendant has benefited from criminal conduct to a “reasonable suspicion”. We believe that will enable restraint orders to be applied at an earlier stage of the investigation. We have identified that a piece of legislation, as it has been operated by the courts, has had an impact that has led to a drop in the number of restraint orders, so we are addressing that in the legislation we are putting forward. I said that I would give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), so I will now do so.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, and I welcome these measures to seize assets resulting from ill-gotten gains. As she has pointed out, the whole principle behind the measures is to ensure that crime does not pay. Will she assure the House that offenders are not able to avoid having their assets seized simply by absconding from the judicial process, by skipping bail for example? Will she assure us that that issue will be tackled?
Perhaps it would be helpful to the House if I went through the other measures in the Bill that will strengthen our ability to deal with how, under existing legislation, offenders can sometimes make efforts to hide their assets or to ensure that their assets are not available. There are a number of areas in which we need to ensure that those assets can be accessed so that somebody cannot do what my hon. Friend has said and avoid having their assets seized.
As someone who has prosecuted these matters in the Crown court and dealt with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 on many occasions, I believe that reducing the test to one of suspicion will have a considerable and positive impact on the Crown’s ability to secure more funds. Lowering the standard to that extent will clearly allow the judges greater recourse to restraint orders.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing his experience with the House. As I said earlier, it is clear that there is concern from the courts about the operation of the existing legislation, which is why it is important for us to clarify the situation so that it is easier to issue restraint orders at an earlier stage. It will now be easier to secure a restraint order immediately before effecting an arrest, as the test for both will be aligned.
The third point about accessing assets is that the courts must have the necessary powers to ensure that a confiscation order is paid. The Bill will allow the courts to impose any restrictions or prohibitions they consider necessary as part of a supplementary “compliance order”. In particular, courts will be required to consider whether to impose an overseas travel ban on the defendant. That partly answers the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford raised earlier.
Fourthly, we are extending the powers currently available to the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies to investigate the amount and whereabouts of assets—for example to enter and search premises under warrant—so that they can also be used to trace assets once a confiscation order has been made.
Fifthly, we are increasing the time in prison facing those criminals who default on the payment of higher value confiscation orders, so as to deter offenders from choosing to serve time in custody rather than paying up. At the upper end of the scale, namely confiscation orders for more than £10 million, someone who defaults on payment will now face 14 years in prison compared with the current five years. That will act as a very real incentive to payment. We will review the impact of that change on offender behaviour and, if, as we expect, it leads to a greater proportion of higher-value orders being settled on time, we will consider using the order-making powers in the Bill to strengthen the default sentences for other lower-value confiscation orders.
Finally in relation to part 1, we are bringing forward the consideration of third-party claims from the enforcement stage to the confiscation hearing. Although there are undoubtedly third parties who have a legitimate interest in assets that may be used to satisfy a confiscation order, it is often the case that spouses and other third-party associates of the defendant will submit late claims with the deliberate intention of frustrating and delaying the confiscation process. The Bill will enable the court to make a binding determination of third-party claims at the point at which the confiscation order is made, allowing the enforcement of the order to proceed more efficiently.
Just before my right hon. Friend moves on, I understand why there are provisions in the Bill for confiscating assets without a conviction being needed—she has made a very powerful case for that—but, given that the provisions are quite powerful, will she also outline what she is doing to protect the civil liberties of those involved?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for declaring that the provisions in the Bill are quite powerful. The whole point is to try to increase our ability to deal with these issues. Obviously, judgments have to be made about any of the issues with which we are dealing, but until now it has been possible for people to use third-party assets and timing loopholes to ensure that their assets cannot be accessed. They can put the finances that they have made as a result of their organised crime out of the reach of the authorities.
It is important that we tighten that and increase our ability to confiscate the assets of crime. Decisions will be made by courts as part of these processes and they will be properly considered in relation to the individuals concerned, but I am also concerned about the civil liberties of all those who are the victims of organised crime. I think that it is our job to try to ensure that we reduce organised crime as much as possible, and dealing with the assets and profits of organised crime is one way of sending a clear message to criminals and ensuring that they desist or that it becomes less attractive for them to undertake such activities.
The Home Secretary said something interesting about default sentences a few minutes ago. She said that if, as the Government expect, the provision raises money, they will extend it to sentences for those who owe less than £10 million. She will be aware that her party has today produced a rather dodgy dossier claiming to cost a Labour proposal that assumes that changing default sentences does not raise any extra money at all. Does she therefore think that her own dodgy dossier is nonsense?
The right hon. Lady will have to try harder. We have indeed issued a document today that shows that the Labour party has committed to £20.7 billion of extra spending in one year alone, 2015-16. That means extra borrowing and extra debt for the future. It is no good her trying to rubbish the figures in that document. They are very clear, they have been tested and they have gone through the proper processes. The only dodgy figures come when Labour Front Benchers make all sorts of claims without funding their spending commitments.
In part 2 of the Bill we are strengthening the provisions of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to ensure that we have robust legislation in place to tackle cybercrime. In particular, the part creates a new offence so that the most serious cyber-attacks are appropriately punished—for example, those on essential systems controlling power supplies, communications or fuel supplies. Such cyber-attacks are already an offence under section 3 of the 1990 Act and attract a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. We do not believe that that adequately reflects the harm that can be caused and the new offence therefore provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment when a cyber-attack leads to loss of life, serious illness or injury, or serious damage to national security. When the attack results in serious economic or environmental damage or social disruption, a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment would apply.
Targeting and convicting those involved in the wider organised crime group, such as corrupt and complicit professionals, can prove difficult under current legislation. Part 3 seeks to address that. It creates a new offence of participating in the activities of an organised crime group. Such activities may include services such as transporting persons or goods and providing storage facilities or, indeed, professional legal or accountancy services. Those who do that might know or at least reasonably suspect that their services are contributing to the activities of an organised crime group but choose to turn a blind eye and prefer to pretend that the business is entirely legitimate, asking no questions while taking their share of the rewards in the criminal enterprise. We must use all possible means to disrupt and dismantle organised criminal groups. The threat of prosecution and a sentence of up to five years will discourage complicit professionals and others who help such groups to function.
Offenders must be brought to justice, but wherever possible we must prevent people from being drawn into serious and organised crime and deter them from re-engaging in criminality. Civil preventive orders have proved effective in preventing, restricting or disrupting a person’s involvement in serious crime. To support such interventions, part 3 strengthens the framework governing serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions. Extending serious crime prevention orders to Scotland will bring the benefits of a unified regime across the whole UK. Updating the criteria for the granting of gang injunctions, which currently can be used to address only gang-related violence, will support early interventions to tackle gangs involved in the drugs market. That will allow gang injunctions to be used more widely to break down gang culture and help gang members to exit those destructive groups.
Part 4 deals with an aspect of the illegal drugs market wherein organised crime groups substantially increase their profits from the supply of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, by adulterating the raw product with cutting agents. Typically, drug gangs use lawfully available substances, such as benzocaine, which mimic some attributes of the illegal drugs, but there are currently no bespoke powers available to law enforcement agencies to seize, detain and destroy such cutting agents. Part 4 addresses this gap. The process will be subject to appropriate judicial oversight to ensure that the interests of any legitimate owners of suspected cutting agents are properly protected.
Part 5 takes us into different territory. Here, we seek to strengthen the protection of children and vulnerable women. Crimes against children, especially very young children, are particularly heinous, and all the more so when they are perpetrated by the very people—their parents or carers—who are supposed to protect, nurture and love them. There has been a bespoke offence of child cruelty since 1868. It is now enshrined in section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, but the language of the offence is, in places, clearly antiquated. The Bill therefore updates section 1, in particular to make it explicit that the offence covers cruelty that causes psychological, as well as physical, suffering or harm.
I commend this part of Bill, which I know has cross-party support, including from the Solicitor-General, the late Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, who played an active part in its promotion, me and others. I welcome the updating of the Victorian language of the previous legislation and the extension to non-physical harm, but is this not an appropriate opportunity to go further and update the language on wilfulness? As I understand it, even after clause 65 is passed, the word “wilful” will remain in the legislation. Should we not take this opportunity to remove the word “wilful” and to make it clear that it should equate to recklessness? That already applies in case law and it should also apply in statute.
I believe that the proposals we have put forward are appropriate, but my hon. Friend makes a serious point, which I assume reflects some of his legal experience. I am willing to take that point away and have a further look at it, but I think the proposals in the Bill as we have set them out are sufficient to ensure that we are able to update the offence on the statute book and make sure it covers all types of harm to young people.
May I suggest that, because this is a complex area and there are questions about recklessness and wilfulness as well as neglect, the Home Secretary will want to consider whether guidelines should be issued after the Bill is enacted, to make sure that prosecutors and all professionals are clear about the Government’s and Parliament’s intentions?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her suggestion. Crown Prosecution Service guidelines are already in existence. The CPS will want to make sure that the guidelines are appropriate to the changes we make, so that people are aware of the changes in what, as she says, can be a tricky area when it comes to definitions and determinations in such cases.
A particular form of cruelty inflicted on some young girls is genital mutilation. There is absolutely no cultural, religious or any other justification for female genital mutilation. It has no place in this country, or indeed anywhere else in the world, and the Government are committed to eradicating the practice. The Bill as originally introduced included an extension of our ability to take jurisdiction over FGM offences committed abroad. At the girl summit last July, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I undertook to bring forward a number of further legislative changes to tackle FGM in this country, and these were added to the Bill in the House of Lords.
First, to encourage victims to come forward, the Bill now provides for lifelong anonymity from the point at which an allegation is made. Secondly, to target those parents who allow this dreadful practice to be inflicted on their daughters, we have now provided for a new offence of failure to protect a girl from the risk of FGM. Thirdly, to stop FGM being inflicted on a girl in the first place, we have now provided for FGM protection orders, which are modelled on and build on the success of forced marriage protection orders.
May I make a little more progress?
In July, we announced a range of other measures, including the creation of a new cross-Government FGM unit to work with criminal justice agencies, children’s services, health care professionals and affected communities. I hope that, together, these measures, including the changes to criminal and civil law, will help to tackle this appalling practice.
In preventing FGM, will the Home Secretary consider the provision of refuge places for girls who are at risk? These girls are frightened of reporting this or talking to a doctor, and their families are putting them under pressure. They need refuge, and in my experience Britain currently has inadequate refuge places for any woman who is at risk of violence.
The hon. Lady makes a point not just about FGM but more generally about refuges. Before Christmas, the Government announced the availability of a further £10 million for refuges as a recognition of the valuable work they do, particularly in relation to women who are leaving a domestic environment where they have been subject to domestic abuse. On female genital mutilation, it is important to ensure that the young people involved are aware of what they are able to do in order to escape this danger. It is also important that we send out very strong messages from this place, and generally, about the fact that it is a criminal act that we are not willing to accept in this country, and that we will make every effort we can to ensure that we eradicate the practice.
I commend my right hon. Friend and the Government for this incredibly important provision and the manner in which it has been handled in the House of Lords. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is away at the moment, is chairman of the all-party group on FGM, of which I am also a member. We wonder whether it will be possible to insert in Committee arrangements ensuring that where the court makes an order it should protect a girl against not only the commission of but the risk of commission of a genital mutilation offence. I will deal with that when, I hope, I speak subsequently in this debate. Will my right hon. Friend be interested in listening to those arguments?
I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend says about this later and the detail that I am sure he will fill in. We are addressing the whole question of the risk that an individual may face from female genital mutilation in the new offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM. It is important that those who have responsibility for these young girls and are aware of what might be happening recognise that they need to do something to ensure that the individual is not at risk and is not put through FGM. I look forward to hearing the arguments that my hon. Friend will advance later in relation to his point.
Part 5 of the Bill includes another child protection measure in making it an offence to possess so-called paedophile manuals—material that contains practical advice on how to commit a sexual offence against a child. It beggars belief that such things actually exist, but regrettably the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a command of the National Crime Agency, has seen a number of examples. That being the case, it is right that we act to outlaw the possession of such material. In doing so, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has campaigned assiduously on the issue.
If there are other gaps in child protection legislation, we are determined to take the necessary action to safeguard those at risk of harm. That is why last month my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that we will amend the Bill to make it an offence for an adult to communicate sexually with a child. Many hon. Members have supported the campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and I pay tribute to them for highlighting this gap in the law.
Before leaving this part of the Bill, I confirm that we will table amendments in Committee to strengthen the protection afforded to the victims of domestic abuse. As the House knows, over the summer the Home Office ran a consultation seeking views on whether a specific offence was needed to criminalise coercive or controlling behaviour in intimate personal and family relationships, and 85% of respondents agreed that the law in this area needed to be strengthened. With over 1 million calls for assistance to the police each year for domestic abuse-related incidents, but only 78,000 prosecutions, it is clear that the criminal justice response to domestic abuse is woefully inadequate. The new offence will provide an additional charging option where there is a pattern of non-violent controlling conduct, the cumulative impact of which can be no less traumatic for the victim.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me the next sentence.
I am aware that a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), have campaigned for the introduction of such an offence. I pay tribute to Members who have brought this important matter to the attention of the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman still wish to intervene?
I want to say that I am delighted by what the Home Secretary has said. I thank her for her preparedness to discuss the matter over the past few weeks, and I am grateful for this move forward. As always, the devil is in the detail, but I am greatly encouraged by her comments.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the interest he has taken in this subject and the way he has pursued it.
Finally, the Bill will close a gap in our current legislation in relation to terrorism. Clause 72 extends the reach of the UK courts so that those who prepare or train for terrorism abroad can be prosecuted should they return to this country. As the House is aware, a significant number of UK nationals or residents have travelled to Syria and Iraq to take part in the conflicts in those countries. We face the very serious threat that those fighters may seek to return to the UK and carry out attacks or radicalise people here. Extending extra-territorial jurisdiction for the offences in sections 5 and 6 of the Terrorism Act 2006 will bolster our law enforcement agencies’ ability to protect the public—but we will need to do more. Later this week, the House will have the opportunity again to debate the wider provisions of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which is designed to disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to fight and to counter the underlying ideology that feeds and supports terrorism. Given the immediacy of this threat, we will bring forward amendments in Committee to provide for the provisions in clause 72 of this Bill to come into force on Royal Assent.
Before I conclude, I want to advise the House of one further amendment that we will bring forward in Committee. The use of unauthorised mobile phones in prison poses a significant threat to prison security, as well as affording prisoners the opportunity to continue engaging in serious and organised crime while serving their sentence. While significant effort is put into tackling this problem within prisons, physically detecting handsets, let alone SIM cards, is clearly challenging given the ease with which they can be hidden. We need to find a more cost-effective way of denying prisoners the use of mobile phones. Our amendment will therefore confer a power on the civil courts to require mobile network operators to disconnect unauthorised mobile phones in use in prison.
The Home Secretary has not found time in her speech to mention the provision on the possession of knives in prison, which ensures that that can be dealt with by the courts. Alongside the Attorney-General’s willingness to prosecute when prison officers are threatened with knives, that is very welcome.
My right hon. Friend highlights another important aspect of the Bill. When this was first brought to my attention, it seemed strange to me that the use of knives in prisons could not be dealt with in the same manner as the use of knives in other scenarios in public places. As he says, we have done the right thing in bringing that into the Bill.
The Bill contains a range of measures to protect the public from those who would do them harm. It will give law enforcement agencies and the courts greater powers to strip criminals of their ill-gotten gains and to prosecute those who support and benefit from organised crime, and ensure that no one is beyond the reach of the law. It will enhance the protection of vulnerable women and children who face violence and abuse at the hands of the very people who should care for them most. It will close a gap in our current terrorism legislation. Together, these measures will help law enforcement agencies to keep the public safe and secure. There can be no greater aspiration than that, and I believe it is an objective that all right hon. and hon. Members can support. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
We welcome many of the measures in the Bill and we will support it tonight, but as a policy to tackle serious crime in Britain, it is still too weak. Rightly, it has been improved in the other place as a result of strong campaigning for amendments to be added, but more still needs to be done. As a final Bill for this Parliament, it is not ambitious enough to deal with the serious crime challenges that face Britain today.
Crime is changing and the criminal justice system is still not keeping up. The challenge from serious crime is increasing, not falling, and more needs to be done. Violent crime is increasing, yet fewer violent crimes are being prosecuted or convicted. More sexual offences are being reported, but fewer are reaching conviction. Reported rapes and domestic violence are increasing, yet fewer are reaching conviction. Far fewer drugs are being seized on their way into this country, and online crime is escalating exponentially and the police are not equipped to keep up. The problem is getting worse, not better, and the criminal justice system under the Home Secretary is not keeping up.
The measures are welcome, but they do not address the scale of the problem that we face. Let me deal with the measures in turn and highlight the areas in which the Government need to go further. The Government must stop the clock turning backwards. We have supported from the start the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction for the two offences under the Terrorism Act 2006, preparation of terrorist acts and training for terrorism. We argued from the start, however, that the Home Secretary would need to go further, restore the relocation powers that she abolished in terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and strengthen Prevent. We will discuss those further measures later this week in the context of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, in which she has had to do exactly that.
We support the measures on accessing child pornography but believe that much more needs to be done to tackle this growing crime. I will come on to that in a moment. We support the measures to tighten the law on hacking and to address the international challenge that online crime poses. We welcome in particular more action to stop criminals benefiting from the proceeds of their crimes—something for which we have been calling for some time. Members in all parts of the House will agree, I think, that we should recover the proceeds of crime. Ill-gotten gains should not furnish the lifestyle of a criminal, in some cases long after their sentence has concluded. Wherever possible, there should be recompense to victims of crime, who have often lost so much.
Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether the Opposition would support in Committee or on Report measures relating to the disclosure of beneficial ownership of UK property owned by offshore companies, which is one of the ways that assets are held, and unexplained wealth orders, along the lines of those used in Guernsey, to allow law enforcement officers more time than they currently have? Those two measures are excluded from the Bill.
We support a series of measures where we think the Government should go further. We will table amendments in Committees and we will probe the detail of the Government’s legislation. I am happy to talk further to the hon. Gentleman about the details of those issues, as they are immensely important.
There are areas where we should do more to take back from criminals the assets that they have stolen from victims of crime right across the country. The aspects that we highlighted in the past related to preventing criminals from switching their assets to family and friends and getting away with it, and toughening sentences to deal with the problem of people serving only short sentences, even though they were continuing to squirrel away huge illegal gains. We support the measures to give more powers to the courts to tackle so-called designer divorces and third parties keeping hold of assets, and we support plans to require offenders to pay swiftly. The Government accept that more can still be done and we will probe this further in Committee.
What has the shadow Home Secretary got to say about those people in Northern Ireland who make a packet out of smuggling fuel and counterfeit vodka, which was described in the Sunday Independent this week as a multi-million pound vodka moonshine operation by the IRA? People such as Mr Murphy and Mr Hughes, who operate in the border area, have never been put in jail and have never been prosecuted for such activity, yet they are at it at large. What can be done to put those people where they deserve to be?
Wherever racketeering and exploitation take place, action should be taken to tackle those serious crimes. It is a problem that we highlighted from the beginning, when the legislation for the National Crime Agency was drawn up, but Northern Ireland is not covered by the work of the National Crime Agency. That continues to be a challenge and to cause problems.
If we can increase the resources taken from the proceeds of crime, that will help victims and also help to improve and support the criminal justice system. I welcome the Home Secretary’s comment today that she believes the Bill will raise additional resources and will save money, and that she will consider extending the relevant measure to those who owe less than the £10 million provided for in the Bill. That is the same policy that she claimed this morning would cost £19 million, and her own document claimed would not save any money at all because it assumed that no one would change their behaviour. So she said one thing at noon and something completely different at 5.30 in the afternoon, and undermined her claims from this morning.
Many other aspects of the Bill have been added as a result of strong campaigns and amendments put forward or supported by Labour in the Lords and by many Members across this House. We welcome, for example, the three new clauses and new schedules added in the Lords for stronger action against the appalling and barbaric crime of female genital mutilation that takes place against young girls. We have called for stronger prevention orders and are glad that they are included, as well as the measures on anonymity for victims and stronger responsibility. I pay tribute to some of the campaign groups which have worked so hard, as well as hon. Members who have pursued the issues. We will look further at the detail in Committee.
There is all-party support for the actions taken by the Government. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that despite the legislation and the political willingness to get something done on FGM, there have been only two prosecutions in relation to FGM? This needs to change. The prosecution authorities need to understand the seriousness of the issue.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. It is a matter not just of the legal framework, but of making sure that the law is enforced. We must ensure that the law is strong enough and that prosecution authorities, the police and authorities at every level, including schools and other organisations, are properly aware of the seriousness of the crime and of the risks to young girls in this country, and are prepared and ready to take action to tackle this awful crime.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that one of the problems has been that front-line workers are uncertain when they may report matters? That is the objective with which I will deal in my remarks later. Will she give a sympathetic hearing to that approach?
We will certainly do so. I am happy to talk further to the hon. Gentleman about the matter. We, too, have spoken about the issues surrounding mandatory reporting not only of female genital mutilation, but of child abuse more widely. There is a strong case for making sure that professionals across the board are aware of the serious damage being done to young people as a result of these awful crimes.
We welcome the proposals to strengthen the law on domestic abuse. I pay tribute to Women’s Aid and Paladin, which have campaigned for the strengthening of the law so that it recognises the cumulative impact of different forms of psychological abuse, as well as physical abuse, and the way that that can trap women in particular and men in abusive relationships, causing huge harm to them, their families and the children. We look forward to discussing the clauses in detail.
On protection for children, I pay tribute to Action for Children for its campaign to strengthen the law on child cruelty, and to the campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and by Lord Harris, who argued, with our support in the other place, that the Bill should include a new offence of sending a sexual message to a child.
As an overall response to the scale of serious crime, however, the Bill does not yet go far enough, because crime is changing and serious crime is a grave and growing problem. Over the decades there has been a welcome fall in the number of high-volume crimes, including most theft offences, domestic burglaries and car crimes, but the number of many of the most serious crimes is going up. Reported rapes continue to rise at about 30%, yet new figures show that the number of arrests has gone down by 8%. Arrests as a proportion of recorded rapes have dropped from 90% to 63% in the past few years. That is completely unacceptable. Violent crime is also increasing, but prosecutions and convictions are falling.
On sexual offences, the Home Secretary sometimes refers to a Yewtree effect and historical offences, but that is not the case, because the latest figures show that the majority of the increase in reported sexual offences has occurred in the previous 12 months. Reported child sex offences are perhaps one of the most troubling areas of all.
Does not the right hon. Lady accept—I hope she does—that people are reporting because suddenly they have an opportunity to do so and are going to be taken seriously? That was not the case before, and the issue was discussed when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was put through by a Labour Government.
The honest truth is that we do not know what is happening to underlying prevalence, but we do know that reporting has increased. I have been very careful to talk about the reporting of rape: reports of rapes and sexual offences have increased. We want more people to come forward and report crimes because we know that many of them have been underreported. However, the serious problem is that, although more cases are being reported, fewer cases are being prosecuted and reaching conviction. I am not talking about a simple proportion of crimes: these are absolute numbers. Fewer rape arrests are taking place even though more rapes have been reported to the criminal justice system. That is a serious weakness and I am concerned about what is happening in the criminal justice system and policing under this Government.
The right hon. Lady ought to look at the Committee stage of the 2003 Act, where a Labour Government, with assistance from the then Opposition, considered that very point and the extreme difficulty involved. Before she tables any amendments, I ask her please to read that Hansard report. The issue was faced then.
I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that we want more rapes to be reported, because we know they are underreported at the moment. It is significant that, over many years under a Labour Government, we saw an increase in arrests, prosecutions and convictions, both for serious sexual offences and for domestic violence. Over the past few years we have seen a drop in the proportion of domestic violence offences reaching conviction and a drop in the number of rape arrests and prosecutions for the most serious sexual offences. That is a serious problem. Those numbers are not falling because the number of crimes is falling. The situation is quite the reverse: they are falling because the criminal justice system and policing under this Government are not able to deal with the scale of the problem and are not conducting sufficient investigations or taking sufficient action.
For example, the number of child abuse prosecutions has fallen from 9,235 in 2010-11 to 7,998 in 2013-14, at a time when more child sex offences have been reported to the police. The number of prosecutions has fallen and there are 800 fewer convictions as a result. That means that more abusers and dangerous criminals are getting away with it. That is a serious concern.
Where in this Bill are the national standards we need and the commissioner to tackle violence against women and girls? Where is the policy for mandatory reporting of child abuse and for compulsory sex and relationship education to prevent abuse in the next generation? Where is the policy to ban the use of community resolutions for domestic violence so that cases are not diverted to inappropriate apologies rather than taken through the courts? Where is the policy to stop people with a history of domestic violence owning a gun? The Government could introduce so many more policies, but they are not included in the Bill.
Where is the action to enforce the existing law? It is a serious concern that the child abuse inquiry, which has already been stopped twice by chaos over the chairs, is still not established on a firm footing and it is taking the Home Secretary months to work out how to give it the full powers it needs. This is extremely important and it is incomprehensible why it is taking her so long to get it established on a proper footing.
Where, too, is the action to tackle some of the most serious offences of all? I am particularly concerned about the rapidly escalating problem of online child abuse. The Bill includes some measures, which we welcome, but I have pressed the Home Secretary repeatedly to do more and to level with Parliament about the scale of the problem and the challenges that the police and agencies face in addressing it, and so far she has repeatedly refused to do so. She knows that the National Crime Agency has details of between 20,000 and 30,000 cases of online child abuse through Operation Notarise alone, yet she has refused to confirm that figure and so too—I presume under her instruction—has the NCA. Why is that? Surely we have a right to know the scale both of that crime and of the information given to the NCA, so that we can debate the Bill’s measures and whether they are sufficient. Evidence from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre shows that a significant proportion of those who engage in online abuse go on to commit contact abuse.
The number of arrests under Operation Notarise so far totals just over 700 out of more than 20,000. How many of those 19,300 cases could be involved in contact abuse? When will those cases be investigated? The police and the NCA have briefed the media that not all of them will or can be investigated, but is that true? The Home Secretary ought to tell the House as part of the debate on this Bill. Even if they are eventually investigated, how long would it take?
There have already been unacceptable delays in Project Spade, an international operation that caught more than 2,300 people purchasing online child abuse imagery. Their information was passed to CEOP by Toronto police in July 2012, but it was not disseminated to police forces until November 2013. That intelligence included information on Myles Bradbury, who was arrested in December 2013 on the basis of Project Spade but who had abused children in the period when no intelligence was being passed on. There can be no repeat of the Myles Bradbury case, yet the long delays in investigating cases under Operation Notarise risk exactly that. I urge the Home Secretary to tell us what the figures are, how long the delays are, how many of the cases have not yet been investigated and how many children could potentially be at risk by the failure to do so.
I am sure my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary are aware that one of the reasons for the delays is that the search engines are charging between £50 and £80 for the information and the police simply do not have the resources for that.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. If there are such obstacles and delays, Parliament needs to address them. We should be taking action to make sure that the police and the NCA can take the necessary action to protect children and investigate these extremely serious crimes. However, it is very difficult for us to do that if we do not have the full facts about the scale of the problems, the extent of the delays and the problems that may be building up for the future. It is simply not fair on those who may be vulnerable victims of these crimes for us not to act when we know that the information is there and we could be pursuing it.
Finally, the wider issue of cybercrime is another area where the Government need to be more ambitious in their strategy. Adrian Leppard, the commissioner of the City of London police, has said that
“this nature of crime is rising exponentially.”
It is estimated that more than 12.5 million people have fallen victim to cybercrime in a 12-month period in the United Kingdom, yet the commissioner of the City of London police told the Home Affairs Committee that a quarter of the 800 specialist internet crime officers could be axed as spending is cut. Already there are too few people in the police who have the expertise to pursue these rapidly escalating crimes. We do not want the clock being turned backwards on the expertise we have—quite the opposite: we need to make sure we get greater expertise in the police. We will table amendments on that, including to ask the Sentencing Council to review sentencing guidelines for e-crimes. For example, Anonymous hackers who cost PayPal more than £3.5 million were given sentences of between seven and 18 months, considerably less than they would have been given if they had committed a physical crime to the same value.
This Bill and the action taken by the Government are not strong enough. The Government are not yet doing enough to tackle the rise of serious crimes—cybercrime, violent crime, domestic violence, rape, child sex offences—or to protect victims. The Home Secretary has been far too complacent about the drops in volume crimes. We all welcome such falls, but the rise in serious crimes is too often ignored. She needs to do far more to act against the rise in serious crimes, particularly in relation to the protection of children, which is her responsibility.
The Bill has been improved during its passage through Parliament, but it has not yet been improved enough. As it passes through this House, we must improve and strengthen it if victims are not to be let down.
I am delighted to contribute to the discussion of this multifaceted Bill. I am probably not regarded as one of the normal Home Office specialists, but this multifaceted Bill covers several areas that extend beyond the usual Home Office remit, and I particularly want to speak about the world of economics and our international relations.
The serious and organised crime strategy rightly sets out how we should respond to an ever-present, ever-evolving and ever-developing threat, particularly in the area of cybercrime. The importance of the Bill is that it recognises the strategy and gives legislative effect to such points. In my short speech, I want to look at some of the economic and international concerns that arise from cybercrime and how the Bill will help. Others more expert than I am will talk about the recovery of the proceeds of crime, the abuse of chemical substances—that very important matter was not mentioned by either Front-Bench speaker—and obviously, domestic cruelty to children, FGM and the possession of weapons in prison.
Part 2 goes to the heart of what we should be looking at because it covers the area of crime that is expanding exponentially, as the shadow Home Secretary rightly said. The national security strategy has identified that hostile attacks on UK cyberspace by other states and those involved in organised crime now represent a tier 1 threat to national security. As has been recognised, it is of paramount concern that cybercrime is a threat to national security, and it is obviously welcome that the Government are putting £860 million into the national cyber-security programme. Given the expansion of cybercrime, there will of course be real concerns about ensuring that those resources go into assessing how such a crime is evolving and how we should tackle it.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that resource allocation is very opaque? The Treasury produced a report for the Cabinet Secretary in the last quarter of last year suggesting that 90% of spending on extremism happens domestically and only 10% internationally. On the very important threat that he is articulating, does he think that Parliament has sufficient transparency at the moment in relation to where the money is going, and to what extent is it being spent on adapting to new threats as opposed to dealing with traditional ones?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We should recognise that the Government are spending that money and are committed to looking at the specific law enforcement challenges of cybercrime, but we must also consider the economic consequences of that crime.
Particularly through organised crime, but also by foreign state activity, there can be a breakdown of networks, such as those for electricity, telecoms, power, banking, and food and fuel distribution. Everything relies on those logistical systems. Only today, companies have announced that their online retailing is now stronger than their direct retailing, and only today, there have been comments about the amount of money lost in banking fraud. Online retail and on-time logistics are clearly areas of potential attack, and the paralysis of such networks as a result of cyber-attacks is not just a security risk, but probably the most significant and serious threat to our economy except for world economic factors.
If those networks come under criminal control, even for a relatively short period, there would be not only grand-scale theft, fraud and illegal drug dealing, but a cost that would dwarf the figure of £24 billion, which the Home Secretary rightly remarked last year was the cost of organised crime to this country. I say “dwarf”, because daily banking transactions in the UK alone probably total five or perhaps 10 times that amount.
The potential for crime is huge, so it is absolutely right for the national cyber-security programme to break down cybercrime into its two parts: cyber-dependent crimes, which can be committed only by using computers and computer networks; and the even more significant cyber-enabled crimes, which can be committed offline and online.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. I am sure that he agrees that many provisions in the Bill will strengthen the law on cybercrime, but does he share my concern that, as some of the statistics perhaps show, business also needs to take cybercrime more seriously than it has in the past?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Any number of reports in the past six months have found that major companies have not helped Governments either to assess the risks to their own networks, which creates a national risk, or to assess the threat from organised crime, which leads to serious risks not just to such companies, but to individuals. A number of companies should accept their responsibilities in that area.
The Bill is very important because of the sheer expansion in the potential for cybercrime. Sections 1 to 3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 clearly set out ways to deal with unauthorised access, but the provisions of that Act are now simply too limited. What was relevant in 1990 is no longer relevant, and the pace of change in equipment and software capability requires a significant updating of the response. Economically, part 2 is a singularly important part of the Bill. It accepts that the current law is hopelessly inadequate, and puts in place a new offence in relation to unauthorised acts
“causing, or creating risk of, serious damage”.
The Home Secretary set out that that applies not only to the area of economics, but in other areas, such as security and the environment.
Simply in the area of economics, such crimes are so serious that they could wreck—that is not too strong a word—the whole economy. It is therefore hugely important that the Bill covers unauthorised acts in relation to computers that result in serious damage. The definition of “serious damage” has rightly been left somewhat opaque, because some of the information inside banking systems would be difficult to assess, but the Bill rightly recognises how far the world has moved since the 1990 Act.
It is clearly right for the Home Secretary to include protections in the Bill. The need to establish a significant link to the UK is now clear—for example, one of the accused, the target computer system or the damage must be in the UK or, if the attack is from abroad, the accused must have been a UK national at the time of the attack and there must be a similar offence in the relevant country. That provides relative protection while putting in place the right measures to enable law enforcement agencies to tackle this crime. There has been some detailing of the need to upgrade sentencing, and the Bill also recognises that the 1990 Act fails to deal with the seriousness of such crimes. It therefore rightly imposes life imprisonment for serious injury or death, while a sentence of 14 years applies for serious economic damage.
The potential to commit cybercrime, and the manner in which is it committed, is constantly evolving, and it is right for the new offence to recognise that and the seriousness of its effects. It is also true that whatever we do in the UK—our attempts to extend protection extra-territoriality in the Bill are important—it simply will not be enough. Much of cybercrime is international, and although like many in the House I am hugely concerned about the onward march of certain areas of the EU into our lives, no sensible person would set their face against international co-operation.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case about the need to focus on cybercrime. Will he endorse the work done by Europol in that area, which is essential to try to deal with countries and individuals—some of these crimes are committed by countries—that seek to engage in cyber-wars?
I accept the validity of the right hon. Gentleman’s point, and in a moment he will see how much I support what he has just said. We have largely recognised the validity of the EU directive, although there are still two aspects to introduce. That will help the powers of this country by ensuring that we can attack UK nationals who are intending to attack the UK from other EU countries, by extending the legal basis to prosecute an EU national for offences under sections 1 to 3A of the 1990 Act, when the offence is committed outside the UK. The fact that the Bill contains that international dimension will help our ability to co-operate with Europol. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee pointed out, there is widespread acceptance of the internationality of such crimes, and that will only increase. It is, therefore, of ever-increasing importance to the whole world to note which states are not prepared to signify their willingness to co-operate, and it will be a test of resolve for a number of countries across the world as to whether they are prepared to accept that co-operation and the basic premise of the EU directive.
Part 6 of the Bill addresses a number of miscellaneous aspects, and the point about foreign fighters continues the theme of the Bill’s internationality and what it does to counter serious crime and terrorism internationally. No one in the United Kingdom can possibly have missed the reference to foreign fighters and UK individuals, and in many cases that seems to have concentrated exclusively on Syria because of the scale and length of that conflict. However, the case for us to counter foreign fighters and their threat to UK security must not be exclusively based on the conflict in that country, and like many I accept the premise that we must tackle the issue at its source. The Home Secretary’s actions on that are to be commended, as is the continuing commitment to the Prevent strategy. The need to continue thinking about how we use reformed foreign fighters—if there is that possibility—to deter others, and the pressure to dissuade people from travelling, remains as imperative as ever.
There is, however, a gap in our legislative position and protection, and this Bill is serious, strong and a big step forward because it implements powers that will allow us to fill that gap. The measures will ensure that law enforcement partners can prosecute individuals with links to the UK and those who seek to harm the UK, from wherever they are prepared to commit that act of terrorism. Such measures also affect those who have been trained abroad for terrorist purposes more generally, and we can now prosecute those crimes as if they had taken place in the UK. While everybody accepts that evidentially it is sometimes difficult to do that, the fact that the prosecution will be in the public interest and require the express consent of the Attorney-General puts in place the appropriate balance and gives law enforcement agencies that are tackling terrorism a huge new opportunity to use that extension of the law. That is right because making it a criminal act to prepare and train people for terrorism abroad will be widely welcomed, and we should commend such a measure.
One part of the Bill will make a huge difference to almost all of us across our constituencies. I represent one of the safest London constituencies in one of the safest London boroughs, and I cannot claim that gang crime is prevalent or widespread. Nevertheless, youth gangs have already made several attempts to set up organisations in my constituency, and drug dealing gangs come from other parts of London and have used an estate in my constituency to carry out their crimes. Measures in the Bill on gang-related crime will improve the quality of life for our constituents.
The increased flexibility of “what is a gang?” will help address some of the limitations of definition and locality currently in law by recognising that individuals do not necessarily need a gang emblem, name, colour or anything else to operate, but can work as a collection of individuals who join together to commit a crime. Gangs can move across boroughs and localities across the country, and strengthening the law in that area will be widely welcomed not only by the police but by us as Members of Parliament when we see our constituents enjoy a better quality of life. In many cases the Bill will reduce the threat of criminality on the street corner, and it will inevitably attack those people—often young men—who may be tempted to be inveigled into a life of criminality that blights lives for so many thereafter.
I am fortunate to have been called early in the debate and to make a brief contribution. The Bill is significant because it accepts that there is an evolving threat, particularly in online and cybercrime, and it contains measures to address that.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) who has brought a great deal of expertise on cybercrime to the House. As we approach the last 12 weeks before Parliament must be dissolved, some might have thought that the temperature would rise. However, we have a crime Bill that will pass through the House of Commons not unchallenged by the Opposition, but with their support and that of all the other parts of the United Kingdom. That is a recognition of the fact that we are dealing with very serious issues on which there is common ground. I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and support the Government’s agenda, with the caveats expressed by the shadow Home Secretary in such a constructive way. I am not quite saying that peace has broken out, but it is good to see Parliament working together on an issue of such importance.
This would be a Christmas tree Bill, but we have passed Christmas and are now in the new year—I am not sure what the parliamentary term is for so many different parts of the Home Office’s agenda put into one Bill.
The “next Christmas” Bill—perhaps that is right although, sadly, the right hon. Gentleman will not be with us in the House next Christmas. Having won his great concession from the Home Secretary and been praised for his campaigning work, he is departing and we will be the poorer for it.
I have counted at least 10 major areas—not just 10 things that the Government propose to change—that the Home Secretary has included in the Bill as areas that need to be changed, and I welcome them all. My only problem is that I do not think we have enough time in the 12 weeks before the election campaign to give the Bill proper scrutiny and table any amendments.
I start with an area on which there is strong agreement—female genital mutilation. I welcome what the Home Secretary has done. She has made FGM one of the features of her term as Home Secretary. Her Bill amends the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and makes a number of changes that the Home Affairs Committee welcomes—the Committee recommended many of them, and many were suggested by the Opposition, so this is an example of Parliament at its best.
I support all the changes proposed, and I think the House will support them, but one important part of the Committee’s report—the focus on the medical profession—is missing. When we conducted our inquiry and published our report, we looked carefully at how things are done in France. It is not fashionable in the House to talk about the great things that are done in other countries, but France has it right. France has brought multiple prosecutions against those involved in female genital mutilation. We have managed only two, and there have been no convictions since the Act came into force.
I hope this is considered by the Home Secretary and those in Committee. The Home Affairs Committee highlighted the need to focus on the medical profession, as the shadow Home Secretary said. That is missing from the Bill. The medical profession—health workers and those in the medical profession—is very much the front line. The Committee thought that we should go down the road of making the failure to report a criminal offence. That is not in the Bill, and we need to look carefully at the lack of mandatory sanction on those who would discover FGM first—health workers and doctors.
The Committee was not overly impressed with the evidence we received from the medical profession. We thought that hiding behind confidentiality as a means of not wanting to tell anybody that a young girl had suffered from FGM was not enough. We believe that the profession understands the seriousness of FGM, but that it was hampered by its professional standing. We should go some way to addressing that. I hope we do so when looking at training and mandatory reporting.
At the end of the day, we need more prosecutions. The only prosecutions so far were brought under the current Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, and not under the previous one. They occurred three days before she appeared before the Home Affairs Committee to answer questions on FGM. I am sure that that was just a coincidence, but the fact is that it is important that we ensure more prosecutions. I am not commenting on that particular case, but prosecutions are not enough; we need convictions. That is the best way to send a strong message to the community and those involved in FGM.
I welcome all that the Home Secretary suggests in the organised crime part of the Bill. She mentioned human trafficking in her speech, but not immigration—I know she cannot mention everything on Second Reading. When the Committee went to Calais and talked to some of those vulnerable migrants who had made their way from Eritrea, through north Africa and across the Mediterranean and into Calais, we were struck by the numbers who had paid to go there. Two individuals from Pakistan had each paid €7,000 to get to Calais from Pakistan and were prepared to pay the extra €5,000 to get from Calais to live in London, which was their ambition. There is big money in immigration and illegal migration. Those who profit manage to get away with the fact that it happens beyond our borders. We should look carefully at the stories of the ships in the Mediterranean—I mentioned the story of the Ezadeen in Home Office Questions. People admit to paying huge amounts of money to get on ships, and the crew either disappears or hides among passengers. A lot of money is made out of migration, just as a lot of money is made out of drugs, and we should look carefully at that aspect of organised crime.
I welcome everything that is being done on child protection. I commend the work done so assiduously by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) since her election to the House. She has been a champion for the victims of crime—the children who cannot speak for themselves. It is not necessarily to do with legislation, but with the architecture and the way in which the Home Secretary has addressed child protection. She was right to announce the big inquiry and right to come before the House and say that she was sorry that its two chairs had decided to stand down. She did so in a dignified way. She put the victims at the centre of the inquiry, but it now has no chair.
A copy of the Home Secretary’s latest letter to the panel members has not been passed to the Home Affairs Committee. Given that we are doing the confirmation hearing, that must be a mistake and I look forward to receiving it. Two of the child protection options in the letter involve the panel being disbanded in some way. We have an odd situation. The panel meets weekly—or at least it was doing so until December—and does its work without a chair. It is now told that the Home Secretary might have changed her mind and is being asked its views on whether it should be disbanded. The Home Secretary took an important stand last July and made an important and eloquent statement last December, but I am afraid that we are degenerating. I would not say it is a shambles, but let us say it is a cause for concern. The Committee has 11 weeks to sit before 30 March. We need to know the name of the Home Secretary’s preferred candidate. We have no candidate and cannot do a confirmation hearing. We need that name so that we can start our work.
We also look forward—this is not in the Bill—to hearing the name of the new chief of the UK Border Agency, because we would like to interview him or her before they take up their position.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposals on preparation and training abroad for terrorism. Some of the measures should have been included in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, but let us not be churlish. They are in the Bill and are to be welcomed.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is right on cybercrime. As the Home Affairs Committee report said, the police officers involved in this complicated area need more training. I am not saying it is a generational problem—although I have problems with my new iPhone—for police officers to deal with sophisticated cybercrime perpetrated by people and organised gangs in places such as Romania, the Ukraine and Russia, but it was not the bread-and-butter stuff of ordinary policing. It has become that, which is why it is important to train police officers, and why the Committee has recommended on previous occasions that specific time should be given to do so.
The hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), who is not in his place, raised, and has done so in his campaigns, the need for more disclosure on the seizure of assets. The Home Secretary is on absolutely the right track on proceeds of crime, and gave us figures far in excess of those given by Keith Bristow. We welcome that, but we cannot deal with cybercrime on our own. We need Europol, which is why I was disappointed when I visited Europol and met Rob Wilson, the head of Europol—[Hon. Members: “Rob Wainwright”]. Sorry, I meant Rob Wainwright. I often meet Rob Wilson in the House. They look almost the same. [Laughter.] I am trying to dig myself out of a hole.
In my meeting with Rob Wainwright—Rob Wilson was probably in Reading at the time—I was disappointed to learn that the Government are not prepared to put up the money for a cybercrime facility for Europol. That was a year ago, and perhaps the Home Secretary has decided that she will support that facility. I do not know, but she may have changed her mind. At that point, we were one of the few countries that were not prepared to support what Europol was doing on cybercrime. I hope we have changed our mind and are supporting that not just with words, but with resources.
The Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary mentioned the proceeds of crime. I am not sure that the Bill deals with the issue—it was raised by the Metropolitan police commissioner with the Select Committee and, no doubt, with the Home Secretary—of those convicted of very serious offences who complete their sentence, leave prison, are given their passports and are then allowed to leave the country without their fines being realised, and so hang on to their proceeds. We obviously cannot keep people in prison beyond the term of their sentence—it would be unlawful even for Parliament to do that—so the judges are unable to intervene. I am not sure whether the legislation allows someone to be detained in some way following release from prison, but it was a concern expressed by the commissioner. He was right to be concerned, because people come out of prison, get their passports and leave the country with the proceeds of crime still somewhere within their empire. If that point is missing from the Bill, I hope that will be rectified through an amendment.
There are many good things in the Bill. I am glad that the Opposition will support the Bill and that the Home Secretary has included several of the recommendations made by the Select Committee. I hope that it will be improved further as it makes its passage through the House.
I am grateful for being called to speak so early in the proceedings on the Bill. I confess that I have often been a sceptic about criminal legislation. Indeed, as the shadow Home Secretary implied, it is easy to pass new laws and forget about the need to enforce them. More importantly, we need to use what is already on the statute book. I do not know how many new offences we have created in the years I have been in this House, but many of them have never even been used. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) mentioned FGM and the fact that only two prosecutions have been brought. So much legislation lies unused, which leads us to question its origins.
I am not sure that I should use the phrase “Christmas tree” about the Bill—perhaps it is an Easter bunny, bearing in mind the season we are heading for. Nevertheless, it seems to be a Bill on which the Government have said, “In these different areas, there are lacunae in the law that need to be dealt with.” The Government should be congratulated on having the wisdom to address those areas. I do not intend to speak about all the different aspects of the Bill, but I shall address two.
The first relates to the work led by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion)—I am glad to see she is now in her place. I entirely endorse the comments made about her work by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Specifically, she led a parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation in tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking. I was privileged to be asked to participate in that inquiry and I learned a great deal from doing so. The hon. Lady chaired it admirably and it was supported by Barnardo’s. We have already debated some of the recommendations and the Government went so far as to include one of them—on grooming—in an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Today’s Bill, while it addresses many aspects of child and vulnerable people abuse, provides an opportunity to legislate for another recommendation, which was to place child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing. I do not intend criticism of the existing notices—it was clear from the evidence that the inquiry received that they serve a valuable purpose—but the police and others made it clear that making them statutory would provide a greater opportunity to intervene earlier and protect vulnerable children. I hope that the hon. Lady will address that issue later and that the Government will look seriously at an amendment on that issue, should one be tabled.
As for my second issue, I make no apologies to the House for returning to the issue that I raised in Home Office questions this morning. I am sorry that the Home Secretary has now left the Chamber, but I entirely understand that she has other issues to address. I am grateful to her for agreeing to meet me and a small group to discuss the increasing problem of illegal immigration. My concern is not the Calais group to which the right hon. Member for Leicester East referred and which we all see in the media, but the increasing problem of food supplies and larger groups. Arising from that are a few points that relate to organised crime and clause 44 of the Bill.
In May last year I wrote to the Minister for Immigration, and I received a reply in July, specifically about this issue. I am afraid that the reply was what one might expect from an official civil service reply—I am probably guilty of signing many such myself in the past—and it told me how wonderful the Border Force is at stopping illegal immigrants and that it was doing all that it could. The problem is that since then the situation has got far worse. A business in my constituency is one of largest producers of fresh produce, such as salad crops, in this country and in Spain and other parts of Europe. Up to February this year, it had had three incidents in the previous two years of people coming in on its lorries, but since then it has seen a massive increase, culminating in three separate incidents in one week in the run-up to Christmas.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East referred to the situation in Calais, and he has obviously studied it much more than I have. We often hear of individuals or small groups trying to get on board lorries or hiding under them, taking all manner of risks for which I cannot possibly imagine the motive, although it is clearly there. The incidents to which I am referring are those in which people have entered secure lorries that are carrying food. The problem is not individuals, but groups of anything up to 12. One such group of 12 before Christmas included three young children. The group were lying on top of pallets of lettuce in a secure lorry kept at 4o as part of the cool chain. It is clear that those people are in the lorries for many hours—they do not board them at Calais or just outside. They are clearly entering the lorries in Spain or a long way down in France, well before the vehicles reach Calais.
It is also clear that organised crime is involved, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. A dozen or 15 people do not get into a lorry on the off chance or on the whim of one individual. It is clearly organised and large sums of money are almost certainly changing hands. The groups break into the lorries, in some cases through the roof or—in more sophisticated operations—by access to keys that unlock the secure doors at the back. Sometimes the people have plenty of insulation or clothing, and it is clearly rehearsed and organised.
The right hon. Gentleman is right and I share his concern about this issue. As he says, security at Calais is very strong and the people are boarding even before the lorries arrive in France. Is there a case for the EU to perform spot checks on the lorries before they get to the border?
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is trying to tempt me on to the issue of Europe. I am not one of those who thinks that Europe has no locus in this issue. It is right that we work with our European colleagues, either as individual member states or through the EU as a whole to address these issues. Whether spot checks or, as the Home Secretary said in her answer to me earlier today, sophisticated imaging equipment that can see through lorries are the right way forward, I do not know. I am not technical enough to know the right answer, but I do know that this is a serious issue that has now gone beyond the problems of this one, albeit very important, business based in my constituency.
We are now seeing lorry loads of fresh produce from Spain, ready packed and prepared to go on the shelf, going straight to supermarket distribution centres. The lorries are unlocked and people are found inside. The whole load is then immediately condemned as unfit for human consumption, so there is massive cost and massive food waste. Retailers are beginning to be concerned about supply. Relying on lorry-loads of lettuce, celery, spring onions and so on that have to be condemned on arrival causes havoc in their supply chain. The business in my constituency, which is not unique, had 263 lorries a week bringing produce from Spain. This is not just the odd lorry load: this is a very serious and major issue, and large numbers of people are involved. As I said, there were three cases in one week. Lorries arrive in pack houses in this country or go straight to retail depots. There are now serious concerns about supplies of fresh produce.
The senior supply chain manager of the company said: “In my opinion, the people we have all seen on TV around Calais are smokescreens.” I am not saying that that is correct. “The real organised crime goes on out of sight away from the port of Calais. It would not surprise me if some of those people were actually encouraged to be there in Calais, or even paid to create chaos while real organised crime takes place elsewhere.” I cannot judge the veracity of those comments, but they reflect people’s concerns. I wanted to raise this issue today so that we do not concentrate our thoughts just on what happens in the immediate environs of Calais. In my opening remarks I said that this matter is relevant to clause 44. I hope that in the Minister’s concluding remarks—I am not sure who is winding up, but judging by the smile on the face of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) it will be her; not many people smile when they have to wind up, but there is a first time for everything—she will address the specific issue of our food supplies being affected by organised crime using our food supply chain as a means of access to bring in large numbers of people to our country.
Clause 44 refers to people being part of an organised crime group. There is evidence that in some cases drivers may be complicit. I am not saying that every driver is complicit—I am sure that the vast majority are not. Nevertheless, an important message to get across is that a driver who is complicit is not just guilty on their own. If they are construed to have been a part of an organised crime operation, the offence they commit is even more serious and the penalty should accordingly be far tougher. That is the issue I wanted to leave with the Minister. I will take it to the Home Secretary in greater detail and take with me representatives of not just the suppliers but the retailers who face this problem. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise it this evening and look forward to my hon. Friend’s response.
The Serious Crime Bill is an opportunity for Parliament to remove all references to child prostitution from legislation. Britain should lead the world in outlawing the term. That would send out a powerful and unequivocal message, in the wake of the shocking sexual exploitation of children in Derby, Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, Oxford and Stockport, that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, only a sexually abused or exploited child.
The term “child prostitute” is inappropriate and is an insult to innocent victims who have been robbed of their childhood and then stigmatised and blamed. Sixteen pieces of legislation use the term “child prostitute”, which implies an element of complicity and gives the idea of a consensual contract of a child offering sex in return for gifts or money. It is shameful that the offence of loitering or soliciting for prostitution, contrary to section 1 of the Street Offences Act 1959, as amended by section 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, can still be committed by a child aged 10 or over. There is also an offence of controlling a child prostitute or child involved in pornography. As recently as June 2014, a Bolton man was charged by Greater Manchester police and found guilty of controlling a child prostitute for financial gain.
There can be no doubt that much has been done in recent years to take the word “prostitute” in relation to children out of Government guidance. This is important because language shapes attitudes. However, it is incongruous and wrong that it still remains in statute. I hope that there will be support across the House for the amendments I plan to table to the Bill, which will consign the term “child prostitution” to the history books, together with amendments that will make it much harder for defendants to argue consent in cases of child sexual exploitation. There has been a significant cultural shift away from talking about child prostitution to talking about child exploitation. Underlying that change is the acknowledgment that a child cannot consent to exchanging sex for financial gain. Removing references to child prostitution in legislation is the final piece of the jigsaw.
It seems surprising now that up until only six years ago the sexual exploitation of children was still being referred to as child prostitution in statutory guidance. Fresh guidance in 2009 was entitled “Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation”, whereas previous guidance in 2000 had been entitled “Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution”. The 2009 guidance stated:
“Sexually exploited children should not be regarded as criminals and the primary law enforcement response must be directed at perpetrators who groom children for sexual exploitation.”
However, the offences referring to child prostitution still remained on the statute book and that affects attitudes. Describing a young person as a child prostitute means they are not seen as victims and their sexual abuse is seen as self-inflicted. Those attitudes were identified in the Rochdale overview report in December 2013. Social workers talked about the victims making “lifestyle choices”. One Rochdale father described being told by social workers that his daughter was a “child prostitute”.
Figures provided by the House of Commons Library for my recent report, “Real Voices: child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester”, which was commissioned by Tony Lloyd, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, show that between 1992 and 1996 there were 1,449 cautions—about 300 a year—for prostitution by under-18-year-olds, and 976 court proceedings for loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution under the Street Offences Act 1959. In the four years between 2010 and 2013, 15 cautions were issued to juveniles under the age of 18 and seven defendants under the age of 18 were proceeded against. Of those seven defendants, three were found guilty but none was imprisoned. Last year, there were five cautions for prostitution-related offences for those aged 15 to 17. Two were proceeded against and found guilty.
The figures show that attitudes are changing, but it is wrong that we still have legislation referring to child prostitution on the statute books because of the message it sends out. Referring to a young person as a child prostitute fuels old-fashioned attitudes that have done so much harm to children over the years, because it feeds the idea that the child is in some way to blame for their own abuse. Even now, Crown Prosecution Service guidelines state that children should generally be treated as victims of sexual abuse, but still add that
“only where there is a persistent and voluntary return to prostitution and where there is a genuine choice should a prosecution be considered.”
It is vital that wider cultural attitudes be tackled and changed if we are to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation. We have seen how the culture at the time protected well-known, high-profile people, including celebrities such as Jimmy Savile. Young people are still too often blamed for being a victim of crime. Police, social workers and prosecutors and juries made up of ordinary people all carry attitudes around with them, and language used in legislation heavily influences those attitudes. The more people I spoke to during my inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, the more I realised that although we can come up with more effective ways of working for agencies, the most important thing we can do to protect children is to tackle the cultural attitudes that cocoon sex exploiters and enable them to get away with what they are doing under our noses. There has been a sea change in the public’s attitude towards same-sex relationships, the decriminalisation of which was an important step in effecting changes in attitudes. We must effect the same change in attitudes to the sexual exploitation of children.
In 2012, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner interim report on sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, “I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world”, called for a Government review of all legislation and guidance that made reference to children as prostitutes or as involved in prostitution. In June 2013, the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), produced a report entitled, “Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming”, which supported all of the OCC recommendations. In 2012, I chaired a joint all-party group report on children missing from care that called for changes to schedule 5 to the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001. We recommend that the obligation on homes to notify agencies of
“Involvement or suspected involvement of a child accommodated at the home in prostitution”
be changed to
“suspicion that a child accommodated in a home is at risk of abuse or child sexual exploitation”.
I am pleased that that has now been done.
In 2012, in “Out of place: The policing and criminalisation of sexually exploited girls and young women”, the Howard League for Penal Reform highlighted the importance of language:
“To speak of girls and young women’s involvement in prostitution without also stating that they are emotionally, physically or economically coerced is now the same as saying ‘girls and young women’s involvement in their own abuse’. To state that they are involved in prostitution is regarded as denial that they are being abused.”
In April 2013, the Barnardo’s report, “Report of the Parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation for tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK”, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), also recommended the removal of all references to child prostitution in legislation, as did the report I produced last October.
The Government support the principle that the phrase “child prostitute” should not be used, and Sara Thornton, the chief constable of Thames Valley police, said:
“We try not to use the term child prostitute and our absolute aim is that we don’t use it. I think that if Parliament were to set the standard and say we’re thinking of new legislation and we don’t have the term child prostitute in the legislation, I think that would be a good step.”
The office of Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk constabulary, who is the national lead for child protection and abuse investigation, said:
“It is our opinion that the term Child Prostitution is no longer appropriate and does not truly reflect acts which should always be considered as Child Abuse. Child Prostitution implies complicity by the child when they should only be considered as a victim.”
I agree. The continued use of the term by the criminal justice system gives out the wrong messages to those who are being abused, the adults who abuse them and the general public. It could be argued that those offences involving child prostitution are so little used that it is immaterial that they remain offences. However, I would argue that as long as they remain on the statute book, they influence attitudes to consent, which defence lawyers exploit, and are a barrier to a better understanding and awareness of the nature of sexual exploitation of children. It is shameful to us all that the term “child prostitute” remains in law. It is an outdated insult to victims, many of whose lives have been ruined. It is inappropriate. No one believes it any longer. It is plain wrong and it should go.
I would like to address my brief remarks exclusively to the proposals in clause 65 to reform criminal law on child neglect. A lot has been said about consensus, including by the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and this is one policy area where there has been a genuine cross-party consensus.
I reflect on the role of the Solicitor-General, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and, not least, the late Paul Goggins, who did a huge amount of work on this issue. I had the privilege of working with him on my ill-fated attempt to reform this area of law through the Child Maltreatment Bill. In many ways, I am making the Second Reading speech I had hoped to make then—when a Member comes 13th in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, they are not often assured that opportunity. The Solicitor-General and I also attempted to secure a Back-Bench debate, but such was the progress with the Government, whom I endorse, that it was pulled.
My private Member’s Bill galvanised a five-year campaign by Action for Children to raise awareness of and to tackle child neglect. It has first-hand experience of too many children across the UK experiencing chronic neglect. However, I must reiterate the point about cross-party support and the role of Paul Goggins. I recall going to a meeting at the Ministry of Justice with the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), the formidable Lady Butler-Sloss and Paul Goggins to make the case to the Minister. It was a case that needed making. When we talked to officials, they were not totally convinced of the need for reform. However, the Government conceded a selective consultation and were won over by the outcome of that consultation. I commend them for that.
This is an important issue. The effects of emotional abuse have been shown to be lifelong and profound. I used to be a primary school teacher, and I could often see those early signs in the classroom. However, it moves on to neglected adolescents, who are estimated to be at least 25% more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teenage pregnancy, low academic achievement and drug use. They are more likely than their peers to develop mental health problems and, as we know, are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system.
In the vast majority of child neglect cases, the solution is to work with families to help parents create a safe, happy home environment where children can thrive. As part of my work, I visited Action for Children’s project in Romford and saw at first hand its family partners scheme. It is doing invaluable work with professionals working alongside families to make appropriate changes.
Sadly, however, not all cases of child neglect can be reversed through such interventions, and some cases require criminal law to punish cruelty to children. Yet, as we heard from the Home Secretary, section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, the legislation governing this area of law, is not fit for purpose and uses antiquated terminology dating back to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868. Though in theory the terms “mental derangement” and “ill treatment” used in the 1933 Act might have initially been directed at non-physical harm, the 1981 Sheppard ruling in another place specifically restricted the offence to children’s physical, not emotional, needs, and that has been the law for children under 16 ever since.
I welcome the fact that, as I said, the Government have gone some considerable way—they have accepted that the term “ill treat” should be followed by “whether physically or otherwise” and that it should include emotional neglect; I am sure we are all grateful about that—but we need further clarification to make it absolutely clear that the ill treatment element of the offence will cover all forms of non-physical cruelty, including psychological neglect.
Very real practicalities are at stake because having two different legal codes presents real difficulties for the police and social workers who need to work together effectively in these cases. If they do not, it is the children and young people who will suffer, particularly those young people who need a better and more holistic approach to their protection. As one police officer put it to me, neglect can be acted upon currently for people under 16 only when it leads to physical harm. Many of those same officers were confused by the term “wilful”.
As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate said in an intervention on the Home Secretary, the case for replacing the term “wilful” with “reckless” is strong and it makes crystal clear what we are talking about. I was going to ask the Home Secretary to reflect on this, but she indicated that she would, which I very much welcome. At the very least, we need updated guidance, with the Government stating that the term “wilful” is to be understood as equivalent to “reckless”, ensuring that criminal justice and social care professionals, as well as juries, fully understand the law.
I recently co-chaired—we all notoriously get invitations to these things—a meeting of the Westminster Education Forum seminar attended by local councillors, health care professionals, social workers, charities and the police among others, at which concerns were voiced about how the law could go too far, and how unintended consequences could happen.
We need to reiterate to those involved that this reform is not intended to criminalise vulnerable parents and carers, including those who do not have the capacity to change their behaviour; nor does it aim to prosecute parents who have difficulty physically or financially providing for their children. It is not about “bad parenting”—I use the term very loosely—although when the debate was being conducted earlier this year, that was the characterisation in some elements of the tabloid press. Neither is this about the Government prescribing how parents—I am a parent of four children—should raise their children; rather, this is about serious neglect.
I am sure that no Member would have any concerns about prosecuting an individual who persistently abused their partner or spouse, who locked them up in the evenings, forced them to defecate in a bedroom and to sleep on a bed riddled with maggots, and who refused to allow them to see their friends or wider family. How is it, then, that this kind of behaviour towards a spouse is currently considered criminal—before this Bill comes into force—but the same behaviour towards children is not? That is the issue. We simply cannot justify that.
I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s efforts in this area in the past. Is not the real issue this—that we agree that the Government’s intentions are good, but unless there is a degree of precision about what we are trying to achieve through this legislation, it could become another missed opportunity, leading to the confusion on which people have rested in the past as an excuse for inaction?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is the challenge facing us in the short number of weeks ahead—to get this right. We have a golden opportunity. I remember going to meetings at the Ministry of Justice at the early stages, and this was not an issue or a priority. The Government have now moved a long way, and we do indeed need to use this opportunity to get it right.
The discrepancy in the current law is a barrier to the proper safeguarding of children. How are agencies meant to work together when they are not even looking for the same signs of neglect? That does not make sense. We need a common and precise definition of neglect that is understood by all agencies and includes clear reference to the emotional abuse of children. I am pleased that the Government have seen that, so I very much welcome clause 65, through which the Government have decided to tackle this issue. There remains more to be done to improve the Bill and ensure that we properly protect children from psychological abuse. In the meantime, I am heartened by the consensus among all parties on this most crucial of issues.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee earlier reminded us that we are within about 12 weeks of breaking off for the next election. I am in the happy position, as he also reminded us, of not standing at the next election, so I hope I can speak with a touch of objectivity. That said, the debate so far has been interesting and, for a change, it has provided more light than heat and there has been very little political bickering. Everyone who has spoken has accentuated certain points in this wide-ranging Bill in different ways—interesting ways, and no doubt sincere ways, too.
It is a great pleasure to follow my fellow Welsh Member, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), and I am aware of the work he has done, with other Members, on the subject he addressed. I am pleased that it seems likely that the matters for which he has been pleading will come to fruition. In my experience, however, civil servants are always more difficult to persuade than Ministers—a common experience that we all share, I am sure.
I by and large welcome the Bill and believe that the provisions on confiscation orders, for example, will be helpful to the courts, making sure, as was said earlier, that crime does not pay. That is so, particularly in the more straightforward cases in which the courts exercise their power to determine the extent of the defendant’s interest in a property. There remain, of course, rights of third parties to intervene and claim proprietary rights and so forth, but in the round I think the provisions are quite well drafted and I suspect that they will be used more often than the Government assume. The default provisions are welcome, too, and may well persuade a defendant to pay up rather than serve a substantial extra sentence.
The Bill is a good example of legislation having been improved by its passage through the other place. During its stages there, the Government conceded a number of amendments, which have arguably made it a better piece of legislation. One example was the Government amendment to the provisions in clause 44 relating to being part of an organised crime group. When the Bill was first announced in June this year, the Government couched these provisions as a mechanism that would
“send a clear signal to discourage corrupt and complicit professionals and others who provide the materials, services, infrastructure, information and other support that organised crime groups need.”
It was evident from the start that this aspect of the Bill was one that the Government were keen to highlight for various reasons.
However, organisations such as the Law Society voiced their opposition to the original wording, and made the point that the way in which the mens rea of the offence was drafted was too broad and could, in fact, catch individuals who were unintentionally caught up in a situation. The Government accepted the recommendation of the Law Society’s money laundering taskforce to change the mens rea from “reasonable cause to suspect” to “reasonably suspects”—in other words that the individual had participated in an organised crime group. That is to the good, for sure.
As the noble Lord Bates said in the other place:
“In Committee, noble Lords were concerned that ‘reasonable cause to suspect’, as an objective test, could capture the unwitting or naive and that there might be instances where the ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ became clear only with the benefit of hindsight. In providing for a threshold of ‘suspects’ without qualification”
in the amended Bill, it
“certainly deals with the concerns about inadvertently capturing the naive or unwitting.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2014; Vol. 756, c. 143.]
That acceptance by the Government is important not only in its own right but as an example of accepting the advice of experts. I find it reassuring in light of the furore about joint enterprise charges relating to murder. Although it is slightly tangential, it is still relevant. The serious disquiet of many senior members of the judiciary and of the Justice Select Committee is, it seems to me, good evidence of that.
I shall, however, concentrate on part 5 of the Bill, which I believe contains the most progressive measures. Clause 65 introduces an offence of child cruelty, and, crucially, does so by balancing physical with psychological harm. I am pleased that the Government have seen fit to recognise the debilitating impact that psychological abuse can have on children, which was mentioned a moment ago. I shall say more about the principle that psychological harm can be every bit as damaging as physical violence when I explain why I wholeheartedly support the Government’s proposal to insert an offence of coercive control at a later stage.
Organisations such as the Children’s Society fear that the Bill does not do enough to protect victims of child neglect and cruelty, because the Government have not taken the opportunity to amend the definition of a child to include everyone under 18. We often pay lip service in recognising that lacuna in the law, which has already arisen in many other pieces of legislation since I have been a Member of Parliament, and we all say sincerely that we need to do something about it. I am sure that amendments will be tabled in Committee to address what is an all-important issue.
As Members in all parts of the House know all too well, both the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and the Children Act 1989 define a child as a person under the age of 18. However, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which provides legal protection for children from abuse and neglect, defines a child as anyone under 16. As a result of that discrepancy, 16 and 17-year-olds are not afforded the same protection as those younger, in spite of the fact that last year 1,110 of them were recognised as children at risk of significant harm and were subject to child protection plans. Furthermore, in 2014 Ofsted reported 40 serious incident notifications from local authorities relating to 16 and 17-year-olds, and, distressingly, 25% of victims of forced marriages fall into the same age bracket. Those young people need our protection, but, in the other place, the Government would not accept the need for the Bill to be amended to give them the same legal protection from cruelty and neglect. I hope that they will see fit to change their mind during its Commons stages.
I welcome clauses 68 to 70, which result from Government new clauses that were passed in the other place. Female genital mutilation is a scourge on any society that allows the practice to continue—and that includes our own communities here in the United Kingdom, where too many young girls are forced to undergo an horrendous procedure from which they will never fully recover. I pay tribute to Members of the other place for passing the new clauses, which introduce, severally, an offence of female genital mutilation, an offence of failing to protect girls from the risk of it, and FGM protection orders, as well as—crucially—anonymity for victims of this shocking crime.
The other place backed the new clauses, which is something that it does not do lightly. What is more, it did so with the support of scores of outside groups and organisations, not to mention that of the public at large. That is really no wonder, given that, according to a study compiled by Equality Now and City university, nearly 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales are affected by FGM. We owe it to young girls from communities that still employ this barbaric practice to do all that we can to ensure that they do not fall victim to the same fate.
Let me now say something about the proposed new clauses introducing an offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in the context of domestic abuse. In the other place, peers such as my noble friend Lord Wigley and Baroness Howe discussed how the Bill might be amended and used as a mechanism to strengthen the law covering domestic violence. They tabled an amendment which argued that, for the purposes of the Bill, domestic violence was considered to be a serious offence. During wider debate on the amendment, peers discussed the need to give greater protection to victims of domestic violence that is psychological and coercive.
I must declare an interest. Last February, I introduced a 10-minute rule Bill that would give statutory underpinning to the cross-Government definition of domestic violence, which is
“any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological; physical; sexual; financial; and emotional”.
In fact, the Association of Chief Police Officers got there before the Government: it has employed that working definition for some time, which is another reason for it to be enshrined in statute. As I said when I introduced my Bill, it is not currently a legal definition. Gaps in the current legislation allow perpetrators of psychological, emotional and financial abuse to continue their abuse without facing recourse for their actions.
The principal gap in the law is the fact that coercive and controlling behaviour is not currently an offence in the law of England and Wales. My Bill, which also sought to close that gap, received cross-party support. I am grateful for the support of the hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), who is now the Solicitor-General; the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan); the hon. Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech), for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell); the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier); the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn); and my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams).
Over the summer, the Home Office launched a consultation on whether to strengthen the law on domestic violence, which included discussion of whether an offence of coercive control should be introduced. I understand that the consultation received more than 700 responses. On 18 December last year, the Home Secretary published a written ministerial statement which confirmed that a new offence of coercive control would be introduced now, and I welcome that move. Clearly the devil is in the detail, but I am sure that the proposal is well intended, and that, given proper scrutiny, the right measure will be on the statute book.
At present, in the absence of any laws relating specifically to domestic violence, conviction rates in England and Wales are depressingly low, and the crime is still under-reported. Research conducted by my office established that, in American states where specific domestic violence laws have been adopted, conviction rates are impressive. It is understood that in England and Wales, in the five years leading up to 2011, only 6.5% of domestic violence cases reported to the police resulted in convictions. That is an appalling statistic. In contrast—and according to a slightly different measure—studies compiled in the United States have reported a 39% incarceration rate in Brooklyn, New York, and a one-third conviction rate in North Carolina. Evidently, adopting stronger, specific domestic violence laws could have a real impact in England and Wales as well. Moreover, the overall incidence of domestic abuse of this kind has fallen dramatically in the United States: according to commentators, it is about 30%.
I hope that we shall be able to enact such a provision, although it would require extensive police training. The police would need to learn how to investigate the new offence, and how to recognise the behaviour involved. I hope that, if I am nominated to do so, I shall be able to discuss the issue in greater depth during the later stages of the Bill. However, I welcome the Government’s intention to introduce the provision.
All in all, the Bill has many good aspects. It needs proper scrutiny and it needs to be strengthened, but it goes in the right direction.
I think all of us accept that this very broad Bill covers some very important issues. We discussed whether it could be called a Christmas tree Bill and decided that it could not, as it is after Christmas. However, as an ethnic minority immigrant to this country, I am informed by my wife, who is English, that Christmas decorations can stay up until 6 January, so we have just made the guillotine.
I support all of the Bill but I will not cover all of it. I watched the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary try to cruise through it, and that should be a warning to anybody who wants to go home tonight and speak before 10 o’clock.
Many of us have, as constituency MPs, seen aspects of the serious and organised crime elements of the Bill. On a number of occasions I have had very upset people in my constituency surgeries. They were the little people—not PayPal or the big firms, but the little people who had been damaged by serious and organised crime—such as the man who for the second time informed me that he had won the lottery even though he had never bought a lottery ticket. He lost £27,000, which was his life savings and fortune.
Europol has been mentioned. I visited Europol on the second day of a two-day campaign it was conducting across Europe against serious and organised crime. It was fascinating to watch the co-ordination of police actions, with members of gangs across Europe being arrested at exactly the same moment. It was spectacular, and if anyone did not understand about serious and organised crime and its spread, that would have brought it home to them.
Mention has been made of my interest in child protection. Two Members have mentioned the clause updating and clarifying the offence of child cruelty. Given that it updates a 1933 Act—the Children and Young Persons Act 1933—the action is, to use a colloquial phrase, an obvious given. The question one is tempted to ask is why it took us so long.
In the same vein, I am delighted about the new offence—in relation to which the Home Secretary mentioned my name—making it illegal to possess paedophile manuals. The measure is an ingenious way of dealing with the use by paedophiles of written child pornography. I was on the Home Office taskforce that was behind the Sexual Offences Act 2003. With me was DCI Dave Marshall—then head of the Metropolitan police paedophile unit—and we tried at some length, but to no avail, to get legislative changes such as those introduced in this Bill. We wanted to fill this gap in 2003, and I have been trying ever since with Ministers of the previous Government. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) mentioned the classic example of it being possible to persuade Ministers, only for it to fall foul of the civil servants. It happened again and again and again.
This Government have recognised the activities of people who sexually abuse children using the written word to stimulate themselves. Sometimes the written word in this area is blatantly a “How to do it” paedophile instruction manual. This was made obvious to us as a nation in the BBC three-part documentary “Hunting Britain’s Paedophiles”, produced by Bob Long. This was the first programme that I know of that really showed how predatory paedophiles operate. It shocked the nation, and as it came out in 2002 it helped support the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Approximately a third of the Act covered sexual offences against children, including grooming. The first two parts of this three-part BBC film showed the Metropolitan police paedophile unit led by Bob McLachlan and DCI Dave Marshall, whom I have already mentioned, tracking, arresting and prosecuting a paedophile ring that had been operating for 30 years. If I recall correctly, the lead in this ring was a predatory paedophile by the name of Julian Levene. Again, if I recall correctly, he actually produced an action-by-action guide or manual on grooming and sexually abusing children, which was used by the gang for 30 years, with updates. In spite of this, as I have already mentioned, Dave Marshall and I were unable to persuade the then Government to take action.
With this Government, my nagging—it has got to be nagging; my wife instructs me on nagging and I am becoming very good at it—of Ministers first at the Home Office, then the Ministry of Justice and even No. 10 was aided by a strong case being put by the Metropolitan police paedophile unit and by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. The wording of the Bill is, I have to admit, far superior to my earlier approaches. The example I have just given is of a blatant manual. However, much of the written word of paedophile abuse that I have seen or heard of is, in effect, an incitement and guide by example to the sometimes appalling sexual abuse of children.
During the debate on the Queen’s Speech I briefly mentioned the case of a young girl in Kent who was kidnapped, brutally abused and killed by a paedophile. He had written his intended actions clearly and explicitly in a form that, sadly, turned out to be his personal manual. He is away in prison, I hope for ever, but the young girl is dead.
I have noted that in the debate on Report in the other place, Lord Harris of Haringey—we used to be in conflict with each other on local government, but are now, amusingly, the co-chairmen of the all-party group on policing—introduced an interesting amendment, which I hope will be taken on and introduced by the Government at the next stage of this Bill. The amendment would make it an offence for an adult to elicit from a child a sexual photograph or send a sexual message to that child. Apparently, there is a tiny loophole not covered under grooming. He posed the example of a young girl in her bedroom on her smartphone sending messages to her friends, one of whom was someone purporting to be a boy who was in love with her but who was actually a man 30 years her senior. Lord Harris asked whether, if she was encouraged, cajoled and coaxed into sending a sexual image of herself, that would be an offence committed by the older man. I understand that this concern has also been expressed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
I would add my concerns, but from a slightly different angle. Some months ago we discussed with one of the senior members of CEOP just such a scenario, albeit from the different angle of the photographs being used for blackmail either financially or for other purposes—I will leave that to the imagination—in order to control and coerce a child. Another source of damage is that many firms looking to employ a youngster will look on the internet at, for example, YouTube and find such photographs, which is not good for the young person’s job application. Many of us forget that once a photograph has been placed on the internet, it is almost certainly there for ever, damaging that individual for ever. I would therefore be delighted if the Minister stated in summing up whether I am right in understanding that this is what the Home Secretary was talking about when she mentioned an amendment to be introduced at the next stage—at which, with a bit of luck, I will be there to help and assist.
I am very pleased that I will be serving on the Bill Committee. In it, I will focus on issues relating to child protection, and I would like to raise the key issues in this debate.
A number of Members have spoken about the cross-party inquiry I chaired with Barnardo’s. It started this time last year and looked specifically at whether there were gaps in the law on child sexual exploitation that we could challenge, and indeed there were. There were two key recommendations. I am very pleased that the Government have taken on board the recommendation on grooming children, and I hope that the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will finally complete its ping-ponging and come into law.
The second matter I would like to raise relates to putting breaches of child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing, for which I have argued strongly. The right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) has already mentioned this, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey). Rather than going into the legal arguments, I should like to describe the reality of what happens when a child is being groomed, and to explain how, although child abduction warning notices could help, they are not at present doing the job they were designed to do.
Let us imagine that the parent of a 14-year-old girl becomes aware that she is seeing a much older man. They speak to the child and try to dissuade her from seeing him, but she is adamant that he is her boyfriend and that she is going to continue to do so. They try locking her in her bedroom, but she climbs out of the window. At that point, the parent speaks to social services or the police, but the only tool that the police have is a child abduction warning notice. They give the notice to the alleged perpetrator, but this effectively means nothing. If the perpetrator comes back the next day and takes the child away, all the police can do is issue another warning notice. If he comes back the following day, they can issue another notice. By the end of the week, the perpetrator might have seven such warning notices. He has no faith in the police, the child has no faith that anyone is there to protect her, and the parents are completely helpless. The only point at which the police can intervene is when the child has already been groomed and has agreed to meet the perpetrator for sex, or when the abuse has actually happened.
If we were to put the breach of abduction warning notices on a statutory footing, the police could prosecute the perpetrator or take the matter to the next level as soon as the first notice had been breached, before the grooming and abuse of the child had happened. This view was backed up by the witnesses who appeared before our inquiry. The witnesses ranged from children through to police officers, social workers, educationists and representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service, and they all said that if we could make just one change it should be to put the breach of abduction warning notices on a statutory footing. This matter is quite current, because Birmingham city council has recently had to go through the civil courts to prevent a group of men from meeting a young girl. When I spoke to representatives of the council, they said that if the breach of abduction warning notices had been on a statutory footing, it would have provided a much more effective tool for them to use.
When the Bill had its Second Reading in the other place, Baroness Smith took up this recommendation and suggested that the question of child abduction warning notices should be explored in Committee. In Committee in the other place, Baroness Butler-Sloss tabled an amendment, supported by Baroness Walmsley, Baroness Howarth and Lord Rosser. Lord Taylor, speaking for the Government, committed to looking into child abduction warning notices. On Report in the other place, Baroness Butler-Sloss re-tabled the amendment to continue the debate. Lord Rosser again put his name to it, and Baroness Walmsley again spoke in support of it. The amendment was withdrawn following a Government commitment to hold a meeting between officials and interested peers. Baroness Butler-Sloss concluded by requesting that the Minister consider a two-stage process with an initial non-statutory notice, which in case of subsequent breach could be followed by application to a magistrates court for a statutory notice. I have spoken directly to the Home Secretary about the importance of putting the breach of a child abduction warning notice on a statutory footing, and I really hope that the Government will use this Bill to do the right thing.
I look forward to working with the hon. Lady in Committee, just as I worked with her on the Modern Slavery Bill Committee. She is making a specific point about child abduction warning notices, and I want to tell her that we are looking very carefully at the matter. As she knows, the key question is whether the police have the necessary powers to place restrictions or prohibitions on persons who pose a risk to vulnerable children. We will continue to examine that point, and I expect to make an announcement shortly. We will also deal with the matter during the later stages of the Bill, on which I look forward to working with her.
I am not sure whether a “Whoopee” is appropriate, but—“Whoopee!” I look forward to working with the Minister.
I would like to move on to other elements that I will be arguing for in the Bill, all of which have been successfully debated in the Lords. The first relates to the lack of protection for 16 and 17-year-olds under the law. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) has already mentioned this point. While most English law treats anyone under 18 as a child, the criminal law on child cruelty, which dates back 80 years, protects children from neglect or ill treatment only until their 16th birthday. This makes it much harder to protect 16 and 17-year-olds from cruelty and sends a message that they are less at risk of abuse or neglect than younger children. In 2013-2014, local authorities issued 40 serious incident notifications to Ofsted relating to 16 and 17-year-olds. Some of them resulted in serious case reviews that highlighted the vulnerability of 16 and 17-year-olds. They showed the seriousness of the neglect and the cruelty to those children, which often had tragic consequences for the child but resulted in no punishment for those responsible.
As the Home Secretary has stated, the current law is outdated and reflects what life was like when the legislation was passed in 1933. The school leaving age at that time was 14, and in 1931, 88.5% of males and 75.6% of females aged 16 and 17 were in work. In 2014, 85% of 16 and 17-year-olds were in full-time education or training and in 2012, 90% of all 16 and 17-year-olds lived with their families. These children are much more dependent on their parents now then when the law was introduced, making them much more vulnerable to abuse or neglect.
I have already mentioned child abduction warning notices, but a gap in the law means that such notices cannot be used to protect 16 and 17-year-olds unless they are in local authority care. I am grateful for the research that the Government carried out in this area when I first raised this anomaly in the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill earlier this year, but I would like them to revisit it as it is a matter of considerable concern. Unfortunately, I am finding a considerable amount of exploitation in this area.
Finally, I want to raise the issue of female genital mutilation and part 5 of the Serious Crime Bill. I acknowledge that awareness of this horrendous and debilitating crime has been greatly heightened in recent years, but eliminating FGM requires a change in culture. Work to achieve this change is being disrupted by those who promote the religious or cultural justifications for carrying out FGM and, in doing so, place parents under huge social pressure to conform. Legislation is, unfortunately, needed to prevent people from encouraging FGM, thereby preventing its perpetuation at source. The Bill presents an excellent opportunity publicly to condemn this act and prevent it from occurring, rather than having to wait until the abuse has been committed before prosecuting.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), particularly those focusing on child protection. I shall also focus on part 5 of the Bill, and particularly on the amended child cruelty offence. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) paid proper tribute to all those involved in working in that area, and I echo that tribute. I also want to pay tribute to Action for Children, which has been campaigning for many years for reform of the law in order to better protect children from emotional neglect. Back in February 2013, alongside the late Paul Goggins—to whom it is appropriate to pay tribute in relation to this campaign—I tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill calling for a change to our archaic child neglect laws. Clause 65 of the Serious Crime Bill offers a more up-to-date application of the law on cruelty.
The media, the police and the courts have rightly focused on sexual and physical abuse, both historical and current, but it has already been pointed out that neglect and other non-contact forms of abuse are the most prevalent form of child maltreatment. According to evidence compiled by Action for Children and the NSPCC, this is the most disregarded area of child abuse.
This long campaign has been based on a critique of child cruelty laws that contain definitions that are both out of date and unhelpful. The Government are to be commended for recognising the problem after much consideration and following the recent review. The law enacted in 1933 was based on the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868, which was passed to criminalise the offence of child neglect following the case of a secret and aptly named sect known as the Peculiar People, who deliberately withheld medical treatment from gravely ill children on the ground of their faith. To our eyes, in 2015, the language of that law is indeed peculiar, and it is quite right that it is now being amended.
As has been said, the current statute does not allow us to recognise severe psychological and emotional abuse as a crime, but severe forms of emotional abuse can be just as damaging to a child’s development as physical abuse. I very much welcome clause 65, which extends the definition of ill-treatment to include non-physical harm. It also covers the important area of the wider circumstances where an infant is sadly suffocated as a result of sleeping next to someone who is under the influence of prohibited drugs. It is important that the law has been updated and extended in that area.
Clause 65 is needed for the sake of children such as Sarah. Action for Children told me that when Sarah was five years of age her mother locked her and her younger siblings inside the house or out of the house for most of the day. When they were not locked out they were imprisoned in their bedrooms. The authorities were alerted by neighbours, who often heard the children crying. The reports were that the children were defecating in their bedrooms and smearing excrement on windows—it was a cry for help. At the age of eight, Sarah was repeatedly teased about her dirty clothes. Understandably, she became isolated and seriously depressed. She was treated by her mother as a servant and required to look after her younger siblings. When at the age of 11 she was finally taken into foster care, her story came to light. That shows why the law needs to be changed and we need a Cinderella law—this, however, is no fairy story for Sarah or those like her up and down the country, who sadly often suffer in silence. They suffer and are affected by serious mental ill health, with some resorting to suicide. They rightly deserve a law that is fit for purpose, and now clause 65 gives such children legal protection from all forms of child abuse.
One big problem has not been as clearly dealt with as it could have been, and it relates to the investigation and prosecution of neglect cases. Neglect sits alongside other cruelty definitions which are “positive” in their nature: assault, ill-treatment, abandonment and exposure involve acts of action, whereas neglect involves acts of omission. That is why I intervened on the Home Secretary to ask for this Minister particularly to consider whether the progress on reforming the antiquated language of the 1933 Act is now reflected in clause 65. The definition of “ill-treats” including “whether physical or otherwise” quite properly covers non-physical neglect that prosecutors and police can probably appreciate. Reference has been made to the debate in the other place and the fact that guidance and training will be given in this regard. I welcome that, because it is important that everyone on the ground understands clearly what “neglect” means. The issue we face is that the word “wilful” remains. It applies in other areas of criminal statute, but it is of particular concern in this regard because “wilful” is attached to neglect. It is easier for juries, prosecutors and investigators to understand the term in relation to the “positive” acts of cruelty, but where acts of omission relating to neglect are seen as “wilful” it implies a deliberate intent. The other parts of this offence have now been updated, but the provisions on neglect have not been in relation to wilfulness. Even with clause 65, professionals and juries will still have to comprehend how a defendant can wilfully not do something. We do not want any lack of clarity. We want this made as clear as possible and we have a real opportunity to get this absolutely right and make it cast-iron, so I encourage the Minister to reflect on the matter during the further deliberation on the Bill.
The other point I made in an intervention was on the need properly to equate these arrangements with what happens in current case law, where it is very much established that wilfulness equates to recklessness. There must be a way of dealing with this in definitional terms to ensure that that is recognised in statute, given that we have an opportunity to update primary legislation to reflect the reality that “wilful” means reckless. Understanding whether or not someone has caused psychological harm to a child through a failure to act while in a reckless state of mind is easier for professionals to apply in practice. The bottom line is to see what is happening in practice. Cases such as Sarah’s have sadly happened all too often and this change would make it obvious to the professionals when they go into the house on the first occasion that they can say, “Yes, that is neglect.” They would not have to work around antiquated language to be able to deal with it. That is probably a matter to examine in greater detail in Committee.
I am pleased that the Bill recognises that for too long we have viewed the non-physical harm of children as being in some way less serious than physical harm, given that emotional abuse has such devastating, lifelong consequences for children’s mental health and well-being. It is good to see the Solicitor-General back in his place, because he has been involved in this campaign from an early stage. Clause 65 says loud and clear that the law will no longer neglect child neglect.
Let me now deal with part 1. Confiscation orders have been the subject of significant legislation in recent years, seeking to catch criminals and seize their criminal assets. As has been said, the aim is to ensure that their crimes do not pay. I welcome the lowering of the threshold test to “suspicion”, so that early action is taken on restraint orders. That will have a significant impact. We want to catch the criminals and seize their assets as soon as possible, and this is not all about legislation; clearly, it is also about enforcement, co-operation and building incentives across the many organisations involved. That is why the Public Accounts Committee—before I was a member of it— published its report on 21 March in response to the critical National Audit Office report, in which it examined two areas in particular. The first was the incentive scheme, where it wanted to ensure a revision of that scheme to align success measures and objectives set out in the criminal finances improvement plan with a linkage in respect of effort and reward. The existing scheme simply rewards bodies for the amount of money they collect. We have a situation where, as a rule, the Home Office receives 50% of confiscated assets, despite it having no operational role. If we are to look seriously at incentives and linking effort and reward, we need to examine whether that is a fair allocation, particularly in these challenging financial times. It is a challenge for the Home Office to do this itself, because it has an interest in the gains from that 50%. We should ensure that the money recovered goes to operations and to the specialist resources needed for us to catch more of these criminals.
I ask the Minister whether that arrangement is likely to change in any shape or form. The Government indicated to the PAC that they would revisit the asset recovery incentivisation scheme by the end of last year. I understand that the latest information is that the NAO is not aware that the Government have revised the incentives scheme. Will the Minister clarify the position? Will the Home Office ensure that all organisations provide their returns—I understand that these returns are not all complete—so that we can know exactly what is happening on providing a better linkage between effort and reward? Let me give one example in this regard.
Local authorities play an important part in the chain of trying to catch these criminals, using intelligence support on the ground. Very much at a local level, they are able to play a crucial role in money laundering investigations and ensure that the proceeds of crime are recovered. Among others, they have a good case for ensuring that they get a fair share of the proceeds cake, so that the money can go directly to resourcing this specialist investigation. I say that with an interest, because Enfield was referred to in the other place by Lord Harris of Haringey, and it uses the money, and has done since 2011, to fund a specific post. That post has helped in undertaking the first prosecution nationally for money laundering against an illegal poker den, where the defendant was sentenced to 15 months. In addition, financial evidence was able to be provided in this way against a trader who was convicted of operating a fraudulent HGV training school and sentenced to 44 months, following a month-long trial. Those are just some examples, among many, of the good work coming from that individual post which has been funded in this way. It is important that that early stage investigation by an accredited financial investigator can continue to be funded if Enfield gets its fair slice of the cake via a proper revision of the incentivisation scheme.
I welcome clause 10 and the increase in the maximum default sentences, which has the proper aim of preventing defendants from choosing to serve prison sentences rather than pay confiscation orders. I welcome the removal of early release provisions for the non-payment of confiscation orders of those who have gains of more than £10 million. I understand that that was also the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill. It is important to see the thrust of that continuing, to ensure that we catch the most heinous of criminals who are exploiting the most vulnerable and gaining so much.
I would be interested to know—this may well be explored further in Committee—why the Government have decided to remove early release provisions only for those with £10 million confiscation orders, and not for those with lower levels. I know that that matter was debated in the other place. An interesting judgment has to be made. Does such a decision represent value for money—the amount likely to be recovered from those with such orders—or do we need to consider the extra costs that would arise from the additional numbers in prison? There is also a general principle around removing early release, and the fact that it might also act as a deterrent.
I understand that 60% of orders for sums of up to £500,000 have been discharged, which is a relatively good rate. We still want to see more progress, and the increase in penalties from lowering the threshold might help to improve that percentage. The Government are particularly focused on the 18% with more than £1 million who have only been discharged. That rate needs to be improved.
The Government seem to think that they should focus particularly on those who have gains of more than £10 million. Those people will lose their early release, and so serve up to 14 years in prison. That will certainly have an impact. In the debate in the other place, there was a suggestion that more anecdotal evidence was available. I would like to see more evidence—more value-for-money evidence in particular. The public have a great disdain for early release provisions. The previous Government introduced automatic early release. The public failed to understand it, so, as part of our manifesto commitment to honest sentencing, we decided to move away from that. Minimum/maximum sentencing is a more honest and open way of proceeding with sentencing.
Interestingly, in this Bill there is an order-making power for minimum/maximum sentencing. It is an unprecedented move in relation to sentencing, but it has now been given an airing. I ask the Government to provide clarity on this. They should accept the principle of minimum/maximum sentencing as an honest way forward while still retaining early release, particularly where we still have early release provisions for those with orders of less than £10 million. The question my constituents might ask is whether it is right for there to be the option of early release for those serious criminals who have orders of £900 million-plus. Should they get early release if they have not paid back what they should for their crimes? It is a judgment call for the Government. They are holding the Opposition to account for their general commitment to scrap early release for all default sentences, and there is certainly a cost attached to such a policy.
I ask the Government to come back with further evidence so that we can judge why they have simply gone for those at the very high end. It is important that we come back to the basic principle—a principle that I applaud—which is to go away from what I think of as the dishonest sentencing of early release to a more appropriate minimum/maximum sentencing. The bottom line is that this Bill gives order-making powers to vary that. I understand why the Government want to proceed cautiously with the deterrent effect of removing early release for those with orders of £10 million and more and seeing how that works. I encourage the Government to go further with upper thresholds as well.
The other matter that the Government will be introducing by amendment relates to mobile phones and it appeared in our weekend papers. I welcome the fact that action has been taken in this regard. It has bedevilled prisons for many years. Some 7,000 known criminals in prisons in England and Wales are linked to the problem of illicit mobile phones. Blocking those phones has challenged successive Governments. This Government in particular have looked at how they can do it, but have found it difficult both technologically and economically. The physical detection of phones is challenging and costly. Allied to the new and cheaper technology to detect the use of phones will be court orders to blacklist prisons and young offenders institutions. That will cost the taxpayer £300,000 rather than the £300 million that it would have cost to go through a blocking exercise. This measure is really welcome and exceptionally good news in the fight against organised crime. It may conjure up images from “Porridge” or from the original version of “The Italian Job” of a somewhat benevolent Mr Big organising his crimes, but the reality is far removed from that. The technology is used for murders, drugs importation, slavery and exploitation and to prey on the most vulnerable. The measure is very welcome.
I welcome the Bill. It shows that the Government have not run out of steam and that they are not simply concerned with throwing out populist press releases. They are prioritising important legislation, protecting the vulnerable and prosecuting serious organised criminals who prey on the most vulnerable. It is indeed a serious crime Bill from a serious Government.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Serious Crime Bill. My comments will reflect mainly on parts 1 and 3. I like this Bill. I hope that it puts down a marker that says very clearly that there is no hiding place for criminals involved in serious and organised crime, and that there is no hiding place for those who prey on the most vulnerable in our society. I hope that it also puts down a marker for those who abuse women and girls and that it states that very clearly. Indeed I wish the Bill good flight as it proceeds on to the statute book in the near future.
I agree that much more is required than just a marker for some crimes, especially for those serious and organised criminals. What is required is action. There are several areas where action could be taken and where action will speak louder than words. There are three actions that ultimately should come out of this. The implementation of the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland is one action that is required but on which this Government have so far failed to act. Secondly, we need to put in place resources to tackle smuggling, particularly the smuggling and the profits derived from the illicit trade of fuel in our country. That is action that could be taken. We should make an example of those known criminals who are involved in this type of serious and organised crime by punishing them properly and by putting them behind bars.
Many who have spoken in this debate tonight boast that this Bill will prove that crime does not pay because assets will be seized and the criminals will be punished. I have a message for this House tonight: crime does pay. In my country, crime pays handsomely. We should stop kidding ourselves that crime does not pay. If we are to deal with these matters, we need to recognise that we must ensure that crime does not pay.
Northern Ireland has become the soft underbelly for serious and organised crime gangs on these islands who operate across jurisdictions and who do not care about the harm that they do to individuals. A blind eye has been turned to that fact. Just this week, we have seen the extent to which these criminal gangs operate. Indeed their ambitions are great. Just a couple of days ago, Donna Maguire and Leonard Hardy were both arrested in Spain for operating a £10 million crime empire. They hoped to buy properties in Lanzarote and across the Mediterranean with money derived from the smuggling of cigarettes across Ireland into Britain and from the smuggling of laundered fuel. Those two individuals were involved in the attempt to murder people in 1985 in the Osnabruck attack in Germany, so they are not the nicest or most pleasant of people. They are not Sunday school teachers at the weekend. They are serious gangsters and I am glad that they have been arrested, but I hope that this time they will end up in jail and that our authorities can co-operate with the Spanish authorities to see them put behind bars for very long time.
Northern Ireland has become the base for such people operating the smuggling not just of counterfeit property but of people, fuel, alcohol, cigarettes, counterfeit goods and, most recently, foodstuffs. All those issues adversely affect the economies of all the British Isles—not just those of Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Great Britain, but that of the Republic of Ireland. Just this week, 400,000 counterfeit vodka labels were recovered in a police operation. For more than two decades, that multi-million pound moonshine crime occurred across Ireland, setting up an industry that robbed the credible and lawful drinks industry, robbed Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs of its lawful duty and robbed the revenue authorities in the Republic of Ireland of tens of millions of pounds of lawful duty.
Each year, millions of cigarettes are smuggled across Ireland, north and south, and then across the Irish sea, yet no one is ever prosecuted or put behind bars for these crimes. To those who say tonight that crime will not pay, I say that I will measure that by those who are made to pay rather than by those who are making a very nice living out of such crimes. We can partly blame the loss on the fact that the National Crime Agency is not operational in Northern Ireland, but that is not the only issue. It is very easy for the Opposition to point the finger at the Government and say that they are not doing enough, but, frankly, this crime has been going on for two decades or more and so neither side of the House can say that it is blameless. Both sides have an awesome responsibility to pick up on the issue and to lead on it.
I want to comment on fuel smuggling, which I mentioned in my maiden speech in this House. As we come to the last term of this Parliament, it is important to have a progress report on this important issue. Fuel smuggling and fuel-related crimes are among the most significant crimes occurring across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The A1, the main artery that runs between Newry and Belfast, is called “smugglers’ highway”. There are no HMRC patrols on that road, despite the fact that it is estimated that 50% of all fuel sold in Northern Ireland has been tampered with, stretched or smuggled or has had its marker removed. This happens across Northern Ireland. It is not a border crime and it affects every single part of the Province. My constituency, which could not be further away from the Newry border, has at least three illicit crime petrol stations in it that regularly change their names to avoid being closed down and regularly steal money from the Exchequer, and that money goes back into the hands of the most vile criminals that have operated across Northern Ireland and who are well known—some of whom I have named in this House this evening.
An HMRC officer met the Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs and me in camera last year and recounted to us a serious allegation that a blind eye is turned to the crime of fuel laundering by, in his words, a senior HMRC official. Far worse than that, some officials were allegedly engaged in helping the criminals. He recounted how he was on duty one day and swapped his patrol duties with another officer. While he was on duty he stopped a vehicle that he suspected of smuggling fuel, and the known criminal driving the vehicle addressed him by name and told him that he was not supposed to be on duty that day on that road. That information could only have come from one place and one person, yet it reached that criminal.
Another three officers, two of whom our Committee met in private, left their jobs because they did not feel that they could continue in their employment with HMRC because of bullying by a senior officer who they said was engaged in aiding and abetting this fuel crime. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was so alarmed by the extent of the crime that we spoke with the police in Northern Ireland. I understand that they are investigating that senior officer and his involvement in these crimes.
That should be a wake-up call to this House about how serious these people are, how far they will go and how far they can reach into officialdom to get help. I have absolutely no doubt that officials are scared stiff of the threat, because they know that the people involved in serious organised crime were involved yesterday in murder and mayhem. It is the same people and this House has a duty to help to stop them.
I believe that the Home Secretary will agree that this is a terrible turn of events and must be taken in hand. It is estimated that such groups defraud HMRC and the revenue authorities in the south of Ireland of hundreds of millions of pounds a year—hundreds of millions of pounds. We are not talking about a small crime involving a few million quid but about £600 million being stolen from our Exchequer in the last year. That is how much money our Government in Northern Ireland is about to borrow from this Government to help run their economy. That is how serious the crime is, yet it is done with ease. It is easy pickings. We must wake up to it and so must the Government.
Not one person was arrested or jailed for these crimes in the past eight years. They are multi-million pound crimes occurring on our doorstep and not one person has been arrested or jailed. We have heard fine words tonight and have a very fine Bill, but we require dedicated action in the weeks, months and years ahead. We need a marker in our fuel that works and I welcome the work done by the Chancellor and his team on this, as I believe that they are trying to address this problem.
I have spoken to the Chancellor and his team in the Treasury and I believe that they are doing their darnedest to make that happen. I wish them Godspeed in that, but I fear that others, particularly in the Northern Ireland Office, might have another agenda: to let former terrorists keep their crime business and not to get involved in stopping this crime. People might say that that is preposterous, that no Government would engage in that, and that a secret deal would have to be done, but we had a secret deal done on the on-the-runs. I have absolutely no doubt that if it has to come out, evidence will emerge that will show that the previous Government, under Mr Blair, were involved in ensuring that criminals could continue in this business of fuel fraud. The Government should stop it; they have the power to stop it and know how they should stop it. I have spoken to the Chancellor directly about it and I hope that actions will now be taken to address it as we come into the last weeks of this Parliament. I hope it is not the case that those crimes go so deep, but I fear that it is. In the next few days, we will be able to judge how serious the Government are.
Not content with dealing with fuel as something to smuggle and the subject of criminality, the same gangsters are now attacking another important sector, having turned their attention to undermining our food security. We have good, clean, traceable food in Northern Ireland—indeed, it is the mainstay of industry and business in all our constituencies. Without agriculture and agri-food products, most of our people would be unemployed, so it is an essential industry, yet crime gangs—the very people who are also involved in smuggling fuel, tobacco and people—have now turned their attention to how they can make illicit gain from our food industry. Those involved in the horsemeat scandal that emerged just a year and a half ago operated out of Newry—the same people as have been identified operating fuel fraud in our Province. Not only are the same people involved in committing those crimes, but the same benefactors are behind them. Once again, action by this Government is needed.
I welcome what the shadow Secretary of State said about the National Crime Agency; she was robust and firm, and rightly so. I sat on that Committee with the late Paul Goggins, and I admired his action and the points he made on that very issue. I believe—I have said this in previous debates—that the current Government should legislate over the head of the Northern Ireland Assembly and introduce legislation for an operational National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland. Ministers have previously said that they would not do that. That is their position; I disagree with them.
I have a challenge for the Opposition tonight. In May, they hope to form the Government of this country. Will they now make it clear that they intend to legislate to implement the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland? That is an important question for the Opposition. It could be a deciding factor in whether they have support from those on these Benches in the years ahead. They should tread carefully and make sure that they are prepared to implement the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland, because the fine words we have heard from the Opposition are indeed fine, and I admire them, but I challenge them to say now whether, after May, when—if—they form a Government, they will take that action. There is little point lecturing—indeed, at times berating—the Home Secretary on weakness if the Opposition support the same weakness by their own inaction.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. While suggestions circulate that we are sitting in an inactive Parliament, it is gratifying to see that business of such significance is still being done. The Bill is forward looking in the issues it addresses. The need to update laws on matters such as the recovery of assets, online and organised crime, and the protection of children reflects the growing sophistication of the criminals who threaten our security.
It would be difficult for me, as an Ealing Member of Parliament, to discuss tackling serious crime without mentioning the dreadful murder that took place in Ealing last year. The chief suspect was Arnis Zalkalns, whose murder conviction in Latvia was not known to the police in London. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reassures me that work is being done to make policing more effective across borders, particularly within the European Union, and I strongly support measures to do so. Cross-border co-operation is becoming increasingly vital in the fight against modern crime. Terrorists and organised criminal gangs do not respect national boundaries; cybercrime is similarly international, and the law must catch up with such threats to our individual and national security. The Bill contains a number of provisions relating to jurisdictions that should make prosecution in the UK possible where currently it is not.
Across London, the rates of many sorts of crime have fallen over the last year. In 2013-14, compared with the previous year, burglaries were down by 8%, knife offences by 11.5% and gun crime by 17%. Police report that better intelligence work is reducing gang activity, too. That is a great achievement by the Met, and London's streets really are a bit safer as a result, but new sorts of crime are replacing the old and that is why the Bill is both timely and necessary.
The threat of radicalisation of young people is a real issue in some parts of my constituency, and I have been involved for some time now with a local Somali group addressing that very concern, but in addition to understanding better what can draw young people into that way of life, we need real and severe punishment for those planning terrorist activity. We must do all we can to make it clear that this is by no means a glamorous life choice. I very much welcome the measures in the Bill to extend extraterritorial jurisdiction so that those involved in UK-related terrorist activity abroad can be brought to justice.
The jurisdictional measures relating to female genital mutilation are equally important. FGM is a crime that it is hard to imagine is committed in the modern world, let alone in this country. There are groups, including some in my own constituency, doing vital work in communities to break down the walls of silence that can surround this problem, but the law needs to be very clear as well. The Bill is a welcome measure saying that those who are involved in that sort of abhorrent crime will be prosecuted: technicalities about UK residency status will no longer be a bar to prosecution; failure to protect against this barbaric practice will also be a crime, and absolutely right, too. The other important change is the provision for anonymity for the victims of FGM. More must be done to encourage reporting, as currently victims are very reluctant to do so. In the meantime we must continue to work with groups such as the Somali Anti-Tribalism Movement and use their knowledge and awareness of these crimes to bring them out into the open and make them liable to criminal prosecution.
Last year I was briefed on online crime by the Mayor of London’s office for policing and crime, whose analysis shows that while the number of many so-called traditional crimes is falling, new sorts of crime emerge, much of which are online. People must be protected online as they should be in the real world, whether it be from online fraud, sexual exploitation or from larger scale cyber-attacks. Of small and medium-sized businesses surveyed in 2012, 87% reported security breaches, and phishing e-mails to individuals are now a part of daily life for anyone with an e-mail account. I am one of the many who have been taken in by an e-mail claiming to come from a bank and given out my personal details. Fortunately, I realised my mistake and made a very rushed phone call, but it is easy to see how people are fooled into doing this.
I welcome the new focus the Bill is bringing to online fraud and scamming. At the moment, the Action Fraud reporting line seems to do little more than forward reports from victims to the local police force, which will not normally have the expertise to investigate properly; as a result, little gets done. I hope that the Bill, along with initiatives such as the work being done at city hall, will help to galvanise a more effective response. I think it quite right that obtaining tools used for online offences should be an offence in its own right, much as possessing an illegal weapon or a spying device already is.
Sadly, social media have become a more dangerous place for children, making them vulnerable to bullying and sexual predators. In addition to the laws already in place I welcome the criminalisation of the possession of written material containing practical advice on how to commit a sexual offence against a child. Those paedophile manuals provide detailed advice on entrapping, grooming, how to find a child, how to offend and how to evade capture. It is absolutely right that that appalling material can no longer be legally held and that possession will be dealt with more robustly.
Moving on to the growing menace of cyber-threats, clause 40, which deals with unauthorised acts causing or creating a risk of serious damage, seems to me an example of sensible adjustment of the law to reflect the world in which it exists. The possible damage caused by cyber-attacks has grown massively as the criminals—not to mention certain countries—become more sophisticated. I cannot claim to be an expert in how attacks are launched, but the recent Sony case was a reminder that they are sophisticated, hard to trace and often international in nature. It is common sense that the scale of the deterrent must be proportionate to the potential damage caused by the crime. However, it is not hard to imagine how a cyber-attack could result in loss of life or a threat to national security, and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment should be available to the courts in these cases. I therefore welcome the creation of the new category of offence, as I welcome all the efforts made by this Government to give our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to tackle the threat of online crime in all its forms.
In all, this Bill is a sensible and timely package of measures to get tougher on some very serious crimes. I have not touched on the proceeds of crime or drug-related measures, but they too deal with issues that will affect all our constituencies and, again, reflect the more organised and sophisticated sorts of crime that the law must address. I have no hesitation in supporting them.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate.
When the Home Secretary referred to scams that defraud pensioners of their savings, I thought that it is unfortunate that at present such scams are not often counted in our crime statistics. The crime survey for England and Wales has shown that since 1995, in our country as in most other European countries, crime has consistently fallen, and we are all glad about that. I fear, however, that that is a reflection of crime changing and migrating to new kinds of offences for which our statistical methods fail to account. That is particularly true of online fraud and exploitation, people trafficking, and other very serious crimes. While I welcome this Bill, I think that measures other than legislation are needed to make dealing with these things a reality.
I will focus on two parts of the Bill: in part 1, the powers to confiscate and restrain assets; and in part 5, female genital mutilation. I am glad that the pressure from the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill has been responded to in part 1 and that the test for freezing assets is being reduced from “reasonable cause to believe” to “reasonable suspicion”, as the Committee recommended. We also recommended, in paragraph 208,
“that the existing requirement to demonstrate risk of dissipation be explicitly removed.”
I am not a lawyer, and I recognise that that requirement, which currently exists in these sorts of cases, might still be there, but I cannot find it. I would be grateful for reassurance that it has been removed. If it has not, may I suggest that we should look at the issue when the Bill is considered in Committee? Very often, with those involved in organised crime and so on, there is no way of showing that there is a genuine risk of dissipating assets, yet those assets will be concealed, and it would therefore be sensible to enforce their restraint at an early stage.
The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee also recommended that it should be possible to include in restraint orders
“property that the court deems to have been related to the offence”,
such as certain premises or very low-value property, particularly if that property is one of the tools, as it were, that are being used by the people traffickers to oppress and exploit victims. One of the aims of the powers of restraint is to disrupt the capacity of the criminal to continue with exploitation in future. I would be grateful to receive some reassurance from the Minister on those points.
My main point is about female genital mutilation. We know how hard this offence is to prove. Indeed, we have had legislation on the books since 1985, amended in 2003, and yet there were no prosecutions until October last year. That is partly because we have not listened enough to victims and to women in the communities where FGM is most rife. Let us be clear: this is not some quiet little bit of fiddling with women’s bits; it is an issue of abuse against children and violence towards women, and all institutions of the state should be committed to eliminating it.
At the risk of horrifying Members, let us go through the consequences of cutting into a young woman’s genitals, because that is what happens. It can cause haemorrhages and death. It can cause death from tetanus, particularly if it happens overseas—that is one of the things that the Bill is helping to deal with, for which I am grateful. In the short term it can cause shock, open sores, cysts and keloid scarring, among some of the less severe physical impacts. Sometimes the same knife or instrument is used to cut many girls without being sterilised, making the girls vulnerable to HIV infection. Girls who have been infibulated are likely to have trouble passing urine, as the urethra may be obstructed and urine cannot escape easily. They will be prone to bladder infections. Once a girl starts menstruating, it will be hard for menstrual blood to pass through the small hole, which may cause extremely painful periods as stagnant menstrual blood causes bacteria to build up, leading to pelvic inflammation. Infertility may result.
So there are huge consequences to the offence. I welcome the changes in the Bill, which will help to deal with the main reasons why we have failed to prosecute. The main obstacle has been the difficulty in getting testimony. One of the reasons for that is that FGM is usually arranged by close family members of the victim, and children, whether from loyalty or fear, are reluctant to implicate their own parents or other relatives. The anonymity provision might help in this regard, but we also need to beef up victim support. I raised with the Home Secretary when she introduced the Bill the need for refuge provision for girls who are victims or prospective victims of FGM. The lesson we have learned from similar kinds of offences is that if a victim knows that she can be safe, she is much more likely to be a witness to the abuse which has harmed her. As well as legislation, therefore, we must ensure that there is effective protection and refuge for victims of this crime.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is she heartened by the Royal College of Nursing and other royal colleges adopting a joint approach, particularly to raise awareness within their profession so that there is a requirement for mandatory reporting by health professionals?
Mandatory reporting by health professionals is essential, and it should be a duty on all professions, especially teachers. I agree that any steps which ensure mandatory reporting would be valuable.
The other well constructed amendment that the Bill makes relates to immigration status. Where someone is at risk overseas, the amendment shifts the requirement from permanent residence, which was in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and was thought to be sufficient but proved in practice to be insufficient, to habitual residence, so that there can be effective prosecution of cases where people’s immigration status in the UK might be vulnerable. Those steps are important and will make a real difference.
I mentioned at the beginning that legislation is often not sufficient to achieve the desired outcome. We need a multi-agency approach to female genital mutilation, involving education, health, and local authorities, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, so that all the information on suspected FGM cases is shared and communicated appropriately. Institutions must work together on cases, sharing intelligence to ensure that girls at risk are not lost in the system. Even though there had not been a prosecution until October, every prosecution is a mark of failure. It is a mark of a girl who has been cut up. Our ambition should therefore be to change the thinking and to create a consciousness which rejects this form of abuse.
We in Parliament know that we can do that. We have done it on gay rights and gay marriage, for example, and on a number of other things. We can change thinking. However, although I am glad that there are still a few Members in the Chamber at 9 pm on this first day back after recess, this debate is not going to do that. We have to go out there and work carefully with people to make sure that FGM is recognised as a crime and that we work with the communities most affected in order to prevent it.
I was struck by what happened in a meeting I held in my constituency of Slough on 12 December on the issue of women and child sexual exploitation. About 25 women turned up. We were not focusing on FGM, but it was raised by one of the women in the audience. The meeting’s minutes say:
“General feeling that a lot of ‘brushing under the carpet’ still happens in our communities regarding these issues. Much of that is closely connected to misplaced notions of shame/honour and that needs addressing and should not be allowed to go untouched or not spoken about honestly and openly…Strong feelings that women need to be at the forefront of tackling these issues and providing solutions but that hasn’t been case up to now”.
A particular suggestion was made for parents to receive personal, social, health and economic education. I think it would be an excellent idea to educate parents about some of the risks to their children, such as online sexual exploitation and FGM. We could provide such mechanisms in schools to help to protect young girls. I pass that recommendation on to the Home Office team and hope they can make their colleagues in the Department for Education realise what a difference it might make.
I gather from other speeches that there are plans to amend the Bill in a number of ways in Committee, including criminalising coercive behaviour as part of domestic abuse, which I welcome. I want to focus, however, on a proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) relating to child abduction, because I am concerned about the sentences available to people who have abducted children.
I met Abida, who lives in Slough, a couple of years after I was elected in 1997 and she asked me for help to bring back her children. Just a year ago, the perpetrator who had taken away two of her children was successfully prosecuted, but the maximum sentence for such an abduction is seven years. Frankly, that does not seem right, given that a woman has been separated from her children and those children have grown up without the love of their mother or contact with their brother because their father has exploited them. They have spent many years without that contact. Indeed, as a result of the way in which they have been groomed during that process, relationships within the family have broken down.
I do not think that the current maximum sentence is sufficient in such cases. Therefore, if the Bill Committee considers child abduction, I hope that the question of the appropriate sentence, taking into account in particular the amount of time a child has been separated from the rest of their family, is reviewed during that debate.
It is not enough just to pass laws, although that is critical; we have to work together in unison. This debate has shown that Members on both sides of the House think that this Bill moves us forward in many regards, but we will have to work together and with people on the ground. That means using the resources existing in our constituencies to help women to be at the forefront of protecting their daughters and to help girls to protect each other by helping them be aware that such behaviour is illegal and is abuse, and that they can report it and be protected without making themselves more vulnerable to different kinds of abuse within their family. That is what we must all do.
I am glad that these issues—people such as me have blithered on about them for decades—can now be discussed in Parliament, and that we can do something that I hope will be more effective than what we have been doing for the past 20 years.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I was particularly pleased that she said the Bill “moves us forward”, which encapsulates the tone taken by many hon. Members in the debate.
This important Bill demonstrates the undiminished work rate of this Government. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have welcomed it, particularly for its ensuring that the National Crime Agency, the police and other enforcement agencies have the powers they need to bring criminals to justice.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) was right to say that government is not just about passing laws, but about enforcing them. The Bill demonstrates that we must be continually on our toes and watchful about how we can strengthen the law on organised crime, particularly in relation to cybercrime and the protection of vulnerable individuals.
As we have seen today, in the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), we have a Minister who is truly on her toes. Her intervention at the Dispatch Box showed her doing her job in real time, adapting policy as and when it is good to do so to improve the law she is responsible for passing. I very much welcome her approach.
I will focus my speech on the parts of the Bill relating to computer misuse and to protecting children and other vulnerable adults. Before I do so, I want to say that I was rather taken aback when I looked at some of the data on the proceeds of crime measures. I will not dwell on them, because hon. Members have already made extremely good and lengthy speeches about them. The fact that the proceeds of crime are relevant to all our constituents and that having strong law to tackle the issue more effectively is important was brought home to me by Hampshire constabulary’s seizing of cash and assets well in excess of £20 million in our county alone during the past year. That money was gained illegally from hard-working individuals in my constituency and other parts of the county. It really brings home the need to ensure strong legislation that is relevant to all our constituents.
To move on to the first of the two areas on which I want to comment, computer misuse, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) outlined the huge potential economic consequences of not getting the law right in this area. Indeed, throughout the Christmas period, we have been reminded of the devastating effect of cybercrime on big business in this country.
I very much welcome the work that the Government have already done in this area. Online crime takes many forms, and the Bill starts to address new ones. It is an area in which the Government have to be nimble. I particularly thank colleagues in the Ministry of Justice for what they have already done, through the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, to outlaw revenge pornography. Again, I welcome the work that Ministers are doing on computers that cause or create a risk of serious damage, and on outlawing that.
Current legislation does not reflect the sort of damage that a major cyber-attack on systems could cause, so I welcome the measures in the Bill and agree that tackling cybercrime must be an important part of the Government’s organised crime strategy. There was some debate in the other place about the way the new legislative power has been framed. Criminal law must provide protection against a cyber-attack on essential systems such as food and power supplies, and other forms of infrastructure. Will the Minister tell the House why she has decided to frame that part of the Bill in such a way, and say what would constitute serious damage to the environment or the economy? I know that the Joint Committee on Human Rights considered that issue when scrutinising the Bill, and it would be helpful if the Minister outlined why the provision has been framed in such a way.
By its very nature, cybercrime needs to be addressed on an international stage, and the Government have done an incredible amount of work not only within the European Union but with US law enforcement agencies on the issue of child exploitation. Will the Minister outline what progress has been made on that, because I think the UK Government are groundbreaking in their approach? Can she give any more detail on work that is being doing to learn from protocols that have been established on child exploitation, and say how those could be used in tackling broader cybercrime?
The third area on which I would welcome the Minister’s remarks when she winds up the debate is the progress that the Government are making on tackling this issue in the broader business context. I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon on that matter, and was interested to read the report by the National Audit Office on the importance of ensuring that business takes the threat of cybercrime seriously. Although the NAO commended the Government for their progress in trying to tackle such matters, particularly on national security, there was perhaps a little more concern about the progress being made by business and the wider public services in tackling cyber-security issues.
I was particularly interested to read work by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in that area, and its analysis—this information is dated 2014, so it is current and recent—that some 24% of large organisations detected that outsiders had successfully penetrated their networks in the last year, and that that figure had risen from 20%. I commend the Government and Ministers for their work to ensure that the legislative framework is sound, but will the Minister also update the House on her feelings about how business is taking the issue forward? Some 59% of respondents to the BIS survey expected that there would be more security incidents next year compared with last year. When we are talking about companies that provide our electricity, gas or food supplies—organisations that are critical to our everyday life, and for which I know the Minister wants the Bill to provide legislative support—I am concerned to read that there is still a way to go for them to be doing all they can to ensure that their systems are as robust as we need them to be.
Perhaps the most worrying thing of all in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills survey is the fact that some 7% of the worst security breaches were partly caused by senior management giving insufficient priority to security. That might be a slight improvement over time, but it is still worrying—the number should not be above 0%.
Part 5 of the Bill is on the protection of children. We have heard extremely powerful contributions from hon. Members who have incredible knowledge of this area of law over time. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) made a powerful contribution on paedophile manuals—he has been involved in getting provisions on them into legislation.
The Government have done so much to strive to make this country a safer place for children, providing protection from those who seek to exploit children and do them harm. It is not surprising that the Bill needs to tackle that problem again and make important amendments to strengthen the provisions that are in place, but I want to make one point in support of the Children’s Society briefing on the age range that the Bill and the protection from cruelty provision cover.
The provisions are primarily designed for children who are in the care of an adult, and to provide protection for children who are in receipt of care that falls well short of that which they should expect. The vast majority of 16 and 17-year-olds live in a family with a guardian and carers, and for the most part are in schools or in training. I gently ask Ministers what work they have done on trying to ensure that the Bill provides the protection for 16 and 17-year-olds that they clearly want to afford to those under the age of 16.
I have enormous sympathy for the Minister. I know from my responsibilities as a Minister that there is considerable inconsistency in the law’s treatment of under-18s, but the provisions are clearly for children who are still being cared for by an adult. Does she agree that the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights might be worth looking at again? Could she ensure that such protection is afforded to those 16 and 17-year-olds? As the mother of a 16-year-old, I know, as many hon. Members will, that 16-year-olds are far from adult and very much in need of their parents’ support.
I support my right hon. Friend. Sixteen and 17-year-olds can be very vulnerable. Prosecutions are attempted every year for dreadful acts of cruelty and neglect. Does she, like me, hope the Minister will give us some comfort in her summing up—we accept that it is a difficult area—that she will look at what provisions could be made in the Bill for vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I hope the Minister reflects on that. I know from my experience that the law is not consistent in its treatment of young people of that age. I therefore understand the challenges she faces, but I hope Ministers have heard the protestations from Government Members and provide reassurance to us.
I wanted to touch briefly on another provision in this part of the Bill because only one other hon. Member did so—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). An amendment is required to update the law on the suffocation of children to ensure that it includes individuals who are under the influence of drugs as well as those who are under the influence of alcohol. It struck me in reading those provisions that I hoped that Ministers had taken some expert advice from organisations that were supporting people, especially those with very young children. This issue was not debated in the Lords, as far as I could tell, and I was concerned that it might not have had the scrutiny that it needs. Perhaps the Minister can provide some reassurance on that point.
The Bill also contains important provisions relating to FGM, about which we have heard a great deal this evening. The House will have noted the support for the measures from the Royal College of Nursing and others, and I commend the work of the Home Office team on this issue. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is no longer in his place, seemed to imply that it was necessary to criminalise health workers who did not report cases of FGM to the police. I urge the Minister to be cautious about that. Health workers are in a very difficult position as they have a duty of confidentiality as well as a duty to support victims who may turn to them for help. I hope that the Minister agrees with me that we should not leave health workers feeling exposed in that area.
The Bill also contains provisions on the protection of children from sexual communications. The Prime Minister has made clear his commitment to child safety over several years, and I welcome the fact that it will be made illegal for an adult to send a child a message with sexual content. I know, from looking at the area in some detail, that there is a mishmash or patchwork of law that is lacking in several areas. I look forward to examining the detail of the Government’s proposals in Committee.
I urge the Minister to consider how she can make sure that teachers have clear messages about their work in this area. The most recent education legislation contained provisions giving teachers the power to delete sexually explicit texts and images on students’ mobile phones or in their e-mails. No data are available on how widespread such actions are, although anecdotally it would appear that most schools have undertaken them. It is unclear how many such incidents are then reported to the police, even though the guidance is clear that any indication of coercion should trigger a report. We may need to tighten up the guidance, because it is unclear whether teachers are getting the support they need to make good decisions on which images and texts should be deleted.
I welcome the indications from those on the Front Bench about further provisions on coercive control and domestic violence. For many years the Home Secretary has been a robust and effective campaigner on the issue of domestic violence, and it is her personal commitment to tackling domestic violence in all its forms that has meant that we have come so far in such a short time. I am glad that Women’s Aid has welcomed the introduction of this new criminal offence.
This is an important Bill and I am pleased to support it. The Government are right to act on these issues and I am glad that they have the support of the whole House.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller). Like her, I welcome the breadth of the Bill. I wish to focus on clauses 40 to 43 in part 2, which relate to cybercrime.
I do not usually speak in this House on foreign affairs, national security or organised crime. However, the cyber-security of our citizens and our country is hugely important and ranks alongside those more traditional spheres. In the words of The Economist:
“After land, sea, air and space, warfare has entered the fifth domain: cyberspace.”
The UK Government rightly already take these issues seriously. The 2010 national security strategy rated cyber-attacks as a tier 1 threat. That is why, despite a tight fiscal situation, they set £650 million aside over four years to develop the UK’s response. The cyber-strategy sets out four objectives: first, for the UK to tackle cybercrime and be one of the most secure places in the world to do business in cyberspace; secondly, for the UK to be more resilient against cyber-attacks and better able to protect our interests in cyberspace; thirdly, for the UK to have helped to shape an open, stable and vibrant cyberspace that the UK public can use safely, and which supports open societies; and fourthly, for the UK to have the cross-cutting knowledge, skills and capability it requires to underpin all of the above. It is that document that leads us here today through its commitment to reviewing existing legislation, for example the Computer Misuse Act 1990, and which led to the mention of this Bill in the Queen’s Speech.
I ought to mention that I held ministerial responsibility in this area. As a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office, I supported the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), in leading the national cyber-security programme. It is right to note in passing that it is correct to give that kind of cross-cutting leadership to the Cabinet Office, because in addition to everything the Minister here today is doing, she needs the co-operation of other Ministers and other Departments to keep us safe in the cyber-domain.
Cyber-security is perhaps in our minds owing to the attack on Sony late last year. Others have included the issue in their reviews of 2015: Luke Johnson, who floated Pizza Express in 1993, says that his big tip for 2015 is to get into cyber; US News, in its resolutions for 2015, argues that 2014 was the year that the hack went viral; and Huawei, a Chinese firm well known in the sector, continues to publish white papers, most recently in December, carrying the 100 things that its clients most need for their cyber-security. It is worth noting in passing that its papers are authorised by a former UK Government chief information officer. It is therefore timely to be looking today at the measures we need to better tackle cybercrime in Britain. Freedom from cybercrime is, needless to say, but one part of our cyber-security. The Bill is only one part perhaps of a whole framework of rights, responsibilities, freedoms and offences that one might argue we should debate to enable Britain to fulfil the four objectives: to be skilled, to be resilient and to be economically secure, but also open and free.
I have three points to make on the Bill. First, the most recent explicitly relevant legislation, the Computer Misuse Act 1990, is 25 years old. It is necessary to review and update any law after 25 years. Secondly, the UK needs to be able to make the national security and jurisdiction aspects contained in the clauses work effectively. Thirdly, there is the attitude that citizens need to take to their own cyber-security. Let me start with the first point.
Let us cast our minds back and ask what did not exist in 1990. I mentioned one of the entrepreneurs behind Pizza Express. Britain in 1990 had only a dozen Pizza Express restaurants, as opposed to the hundreds we see now. That shows how our offline economy and leisure habits have changed as much as those online. Sticking with leisure and recalling the film industry’s December hacking woes, think of the kind of technology we now see on screen. If you enjoyed any Pixar films over Christmas, Madam Deputy Speaker, recall that “Toy Story” was the first feature length computer animated film and was released in 1995. Moving on to communications, the world’s first smart phone, the IBM Simon, enjoyed its 20th anniversary last year—it went on sale in 1994. If we thought that one trend remained ahead of us, known as the internet of things and defined by Cisco internet business solutions groups as the moment in time when more things or objects are connected to the internet than are people, consider that the world passed that milestone in 2010. It stands to reason, therefore, that the 1990 law needs to be looked at: we ought to review it for the correct technical content; we ought to keep it under review for the appropriate freedoms, including today’s attitudes to data and ownership; and we ought to ensure it is future-proofed correctly. Today’s attitudes are not enough—tomorrow comes on pretty quickly—so we need to allow for frequent future updating in expectation of that fast change.
Computers make crime easier, faster and bigger—the same thing the internet has achieved in so many other areas of our lives—and that trend is going to continue. The president of the National Association of Data Protection Officers says:
“It’s the industrialisation of cyber-crime that’s the biggest challenge and in this area there are some menacing Mr Bigs who need to be faced down with greater risks to their personal liberty”.
Of course, a law that limits one person’s liberty limits another’s, and I do not underestimate the need to respect liberty. Sir Tim Berners-Lee argues that the worldwide web needs a Bill of Rights, which he says can only come about through communal decision, but that is a debate Parliament can have another day.
What should we look for today in the Bill? We ought to consider what prosecution can achieve. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), in her analysis of a different part of the Bill, rightly said that in many ways any prosecution was a failure, and it is true here, too, that to rely on law to enhance our security is in many ways to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. We all expect our personal interests and critical national infrastructure to be strongly prepared, well protected and resilient. I welcome an updated criminal offence, but prosecution is after the fact. At best, it might be a strong deterrent, but nobody should expect it to form the only line of defence; we should expect those responsible for our national security to do a better job in the first place, rather than resorting to catching and prosecuting somebody who has caused the sort of serious damage mentioned in the Bill.
Various experts and commentators say the Bill will play
“an important role in helping to reduce the rates of cyber-attacks and deter criminal activity in this space… However, attribution continues to be one of the major difficulties… Therefore companies should not become complacent around cyber-security”.
“should be focusing on prevention over prosecution”
and should also
“ensure they have the ability and the processes in place to be able to act quickly if a breach occurs.”
The same goes for any organisation with responsibilities in this realm. I note in passing that the UK Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure rightly explains that there are many other threats to our critical national infrastructure than merely cyber. We are right to focus on serious damage through cyber-attack, but it is not the only way someone could break a piece of CNI.
A technology and compliance lawyer adds a further warning:
“Internet crime is a global phenomenon and needs global co-operation. We need to be prepared to apply for extradition too to make them serve their sentence. This may be in part about that—to make sure foreign governments know we are serious to try and get greater co-operation across borders.”
I agree with that commentator on the importance of greater co-operation.
I want to make two small technical points. Section 17(6) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 says that a computer is something that contains a program or data. Does the Minister think this is still a sufficient definition? Perhaps she could come back to me on that after the debate. Further to the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke raised, the Joint Committee on Human Rights took the view last October that the definition of “serious damage” may require revision, given that we are contemplating handing out life sentences. Will the Minister say a little more about that?
The UK needs to be able to make the national security and jurisdiction aspects in the Bill work. Does the Minister think the “linked to the UK” provisions are watertight? In particular, I have noted a discrepancy between what appears in lines 36 to 38 of page 36 and what is suggested in the explanatory notes. Explanatory notes are never to be taken on their own in themselves—they always say that very clearly—but is it possible for someone who is not a UK national who is affecting or intending to affect the UK, but not using a computer in the UK to do so, to walk away from this legislation? It seems to me that there is one small scenario left that may or may not be covered by the final paragraph (c) in clause 42(5).
Will the Minister clarify her views on whether the kind of attack on Sony before Christmas constitutes “serious damage” under this legislation, and perhaps, to be a little mischievous, on what she would do if she were in President Obama’s shoes, although that might be something for a later conversation? Will she describe what our own state is liable for under this legislation, considering that we have publicly promoted the existence of our own offensive cyber-capability? Finally, will the Minister confirm whether we are prepared to extradite to make these provisions work, and how she thinks this new law might have changed the situation of Gary McKinnon, for example, or someone in a similar position?
Let me turn to my third and final area of comment. I entirely support the Bill, and I raise just a few probing questions to deal with its various aspects. I have remarked that the tools we need to protect citizens from cybercrime are but one part of our broader cyber-security, and that the legislation is only one part of the fuller framework. I have mentioned what businesses and organisations need to do to protect themselves, but the final question is, of course, what the citizen should do to protect him or herself.
Get Safe Online—a good resource in this area—reminds us:
“There are a number of sensible and simple measures which you need to take in order to protect yourself against risks”,
and I refer hon. Members to that resource to do so. Taking these measures is important in one’s own home and also in the workplace. Indeed, no one who runs their own business should need a Member of Parliament to tell them how valuable is the online security of their own business, but what about people who work for someone else’s firm, and indeed the firms that make up the UK’s critical national infrastructure? Some argue that
“the biggest challenge at all levels in improving protection of the UK’s CNI is the security awareness of all the people who work”
for it. It is not only malice that can cause “serious damage”, but human error, incompetence and fatigue.
Let me provide some examples from the Transport Committee, on which I sit. First, in relation to malice, Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, recently reminded us that modern cars can be connected to the internet 24 hours a day, and that he was concerned that hackers could control a car by attacking through its safety features. Secondly, we have heard in some detail on the Committee how and why the National Air Traffic Services system recently failed. We could argue that its evidence suggested that some failure is acceptable, as the argument has been put that when we have millions of lines of code, we cannot be expected to be sure of all of them. I read a recent paper that rather wonderfully talked about the attempts of
“either Murphy or Satan to interrupt the supply”.
You are looking very keen to interrupt me, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall finish. I have argued that legislation and law enforcement are only part of the picture. It is also incredibly important that we as individuals think about the risks that we undertake. We should think about all this in the products we use now, and all those we might use tomorrow. Just because someone has designed something cool, it does not mean that we as consumers have to buy it unthinkingly. Entrepreneurs themselves have to engage in the ethics of their own tech. We all want to live in a Britain that is skilled, resilient and economically secure, but also open and free. We all want the Mr Bigs of this online world taken down, which is why I support the Bill and its updating of old legislation.
I am aware of the time constraints, so let me simply say that I very much welcome the Bill, particularly the part that deals with female genital mutilation. I am intrigued, too, by the Bill’s provisions relating to the possession of paedophile manuals, which are to some extent based on the Protection of Children Act 1978. I was involved with that Bill between 1977 and 1978, and it was passed only because the Prime Minister’s wife—the Prime Minister at the time was Jim Callaghan—insisted that if he did not allow the Bill to go through, she would not speak to him for six months. In fact, he made sure on Report that it did go through.
I am glad to observe that we are building on that, but I am very concerned about the parts of the Bill that deal with female genital mutilation, although Members will have an opportunity to table amendments in Committee. At present, the court may make an order in relation to the commission, or the protection of a girl against the commission, of a genital mutilation offence. Some members of the all-party Committee—including my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who will speak in the Committee—will be tabling amendments, because we strongly believe that there is a case for dealing with the circumstances in which the risk of the commission of a genital mutilation offence arises.
Because the order made by the court is aimed at prevention of the offending conduct, it must be prospective, and must be founded on an appropriate gauging of risk. None the less, the inclusion of the words “at risk” in the relevant paragraph would have the benefit of indicating to front-line workers—this is the practical aspect—that the provisions permit them to seek the court's intervention once a risk of commission has been identified. We need to consider that carefully, because, as was made clear by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee—only two successful prosecutions have been made since the 1980s. We are focusing on the prevention as well as the commission of the offence.
Many front-line workers have been reluctant to take safeguarding action or initiate alerts for fear of being accused of targeting minority communities or raising an alarm when some of the acts preparatory to the commission of the offence have not been completed, but there are indications that the putative victim has been placed “at risk” of commission of the offence. That reluctance has led to a decrease in the number of opportunities for prosecutions, and has left many young potential victims without the necessary protection. We believe that the addition of the words “at risk”, accompanied by non-exhaustive statutory guidance for front-line workers on the threshold for intervention—which could be introduced either by means of a statutory instrument or under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003—would increase effectiveness, and would give front-line workers the confidence that would enable them to take robust preventive action.
We are trying to anticipate the actual commission of the offence. The communities involved often come from parts of the world where it is a ritual that is part and parcel of their culture, so it is very important for us to act at the right time if we are to tackle the problem effectively. In that context, the “at risk” element is as important as the commission of the offence.
I will leave the other arguments to the Committee, but that is the essence of the argument that will be deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire.
Serious and organised crime poses a severe and growing threat to those in our country. It poses a threat to the pensioner who is vulnerable to online financial scams. The hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) spoke of “the little people”: one vulnerable pensioner in his constituency was ripped off by £27,000. It poses a threat to the child who is vulnerable to those who prey on children, and to child sex exploitation. That obscenity, which has existed for many years and exists to this day in our society, was brought to life today by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and the hon. Member for Mole Valley. It also poses a threat to our economy, which is vulnerable to cyber-attack and, in particular, to the impact that it might have on our finance and our infrastructure. That was brought to life by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). It was right that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said that there should be no hiding place, and it is also right for the House to act.
The Bill contains some welcome moves. We will support the Bill, but we will seek to strengthen it during its passage through Parliament, because this Bill lacks the ambition necessary to respond to the scale and seriousness of serious and organised crime. It contains some significant omissions, and the Government have failed to recognise the argument put forward by a number of Members today: that legislation is crucial, but so is enforcement, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). As the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, we now have a situation where reported rape is up, but prosecutions are down, and violent crime is up, but prosecutions and convictions are down, because there is a justice gap—a simple failure to enforce the law. Indeed, the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), was right to refer to the fact that there have been two convictions for FGM.
I have to say that in addition to the failure to enforce the law, this is the worst possible time for the Government to impose the biggest cuts to policing in any country in Europe. With the mounting challenges of serious and organised crime, that is having a significant impact, in particular in areas such as tackling child sex exploitation. I have met the Association of Chief Police Officers leadership dealing with Operation Notarise and, as the shadow Home Secretary said earlier on, 20,000 people have been identified but 700 have been acted against at this stage. At the heart of that is the fact that the police service, with the immense pressures on it, simply cannot cope, and therefore those who pose a significant risk and whose identity is known have yet to be acted against. That cannot be right.
I will now turn briefly to the six sections of the Bill. The Proceeds of Crime Act was introduced by a Labour Government in 2002. At the heart of the action now being taken is two damning reports produced in the last 18 months, the first by the National Audit Office and the other by the Public Accounts Committee. There were some 673,000 convictions in the courts in 2012-13, but there were 6,392 confiscation orders, and only £26 in every £100 is recovered and, to add insult to injury, it tends to be the Costa del Sol bank robber who gets away with it most. That is why I think there are serious flaws in the legislation—the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) was right in relation to the incentive scheme and how it works—and that is why we have pressed for action on a number of fronts, and we welcome the fact that some progress is now being made on designer divorces, default sentences, the requirement to bring forward the determination of third-party interests from the enforcement stage, and reducing the time given to offenders to pay confiscation orders. However, we need to go further to ensure that crime does not pay and we will be tabling amendments in Committee, including for the burden to fall more heavily on the criminal to prove they do not have the assets that should be seized.
On computer misuse, cyber-crime is a growing area of concern in the UK. As we live in an increasingly digitised world, the nature of crime is changing. Credit card fraud, identity theft, phishing, child exploitation and industrial espionage are all perils of technological advancements. The hon. Member for Wimbledon was right to talk about the immense damage that can be done, including to our economy. As on the European arrest warrant, the Government are right on this front also to recognise the benefits of European collaboration, by implementing the EU directive on attacks against information systems. We therefore support the legislation the Government are bringing forward which creates a new offence of hacking that causes serious damage and makes it clear to UK citizens that they will be committing a crime whether it is in the UK or not.
However, an Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary report released last year found that, despite the growing risks, only three police forces had sufficient plans in place to deal with a large-scale cyber-attack. Furthermore, it revealed that only 2% of police staff across 37 forces had been trained in investigating cyber-crime. Resources are therefore key, and so too is a serious strategy to combat cyber-crime. We will argue, therefore, for police forces to provide annually details of their cyber-crime strategy and their progress to date, and also for the targeted recruitment of cyber-crime and financial experts and for the private sector to rise to the challenge. To this end, we want to see many more examples of what I have seen in the City of London police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau—namely, the use of seconded experts from banks and insurance companies. Such institutions need to do much more to tackle those practices that damage their customers as well as their reputation.
On organised serious and gang-related crime, many criminal gangs involve corrupt and complicit professionals who support and benefit from organised crime. The gangs use their expertise and skills to help them to evade the law; those people are the professional enablers of crime. The Government have been right to act on this practice; they have also been right to shift on this matter during the debates in the House of Lords in order to get the balance right. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd was also right to say that it is important to ensure that those who are innocent and inadvertently caught up in illegal activity are protected.
We believe that we have reached the right place on that particular issue, but we want to explore in Committee the question of serious crime prevention orders. We shall also table amendments to the proposals for gang injunctions, not least because we have heard worrying reports from front-line professionals about the operational effectiveness of such injunctions and the impact of the abolition of antisocial behaviour orders. We will press those matters further during the passage of the Bill in Committee.
Part 4 of the Bill covers the seizure and forfeiture of drug-cutting agents. Certain chemical substances can mimic and resemble drugs and can therefore be used as cutting agents for bulking illegal drugs to maximise criminal profit margins. Those substances also pose a threat to drug users, some of whom pay with their lives. We support the Government’s proposal to allow law enforcement agencies to seize any substances reasonably suspected to be intended for use as a cutting agent. However, this part of the Bill feels very much like an empty promise, not least because the latest Home Office figures on drug seizures show a dramatic decrease in the volume of drugs seized by police forces over the past year. Indeed, with mounting pressure on resources, the number of heroin seizures between 2009-10 and 2012-13 fell by more than 50% despite the fact that there was only a marginal decrease in its consumption rate.
Part 5 covers the crucial matter of the protection of children. There is now a great national will to tackle the exploitation of children by evil adults who prey on their vulnerability. That has been reflected in the debate here today. We have heard excellent contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport and for Rotherham and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams). It is welcome that the Government have acted in the Bill, but it is surprising that they did not initially go far enough. For example, following a campaign by the NSPCC and Lord Harris of Haringey, the Government have now moved to include in the Bill an offence of sending sexual messages to a child, which is welcome. Similarly, following a campaign by the charity Action for Children, the Government changed their position on child neglect by updating the offence to include emotional neglect and psychological harm.
We have heard powerful testimony here today of the need for the Bill to go further, and for us to stop demonising the victims of child sexual abuse—for example, by branding them as prostitutes. We have heard of the need for a fundamental culture change. Crucially, however, this is about what we do, which is why we intend to propose a measure to make it a mandatory duty to report such abuse. This would make it clear that cultural change must take place in every institution. Anyone who knows something must report it, and not be tempted to think that such matters can be solved quietly and privately by brushing them under the carpet. A clear message needs to be sent that people should not put institutional reputation before protecting children.
In Committee, we will also press for further action on female genital mutilation, which is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. We have heard powerful examples today of the need to strengthen the Bill in this regard, but time does not permit me to go into further detail. However, we will seek to strengthen what are welcome steps in the right direction. The Government have moved, but they need to move further in the next stages of the Bill.
Let me refer briefly to part 6. We support the proposed new offences on extra-territorial jurisdiction for offences committed under the Terrorism Act 2006 and on possession of a knife in prison, and the proposals on mobile operators being obliged to disconnect those in prison.
In conclusion, this has been a well-informed debate on the scale and growing danger of serious and organised crime, with support from across the House—
The hon. Gentleman will know that during my contribution I asked the Labour Front Benchers whether, in tackling serious and organised crime in Northern Ireland, they would commit any future Labour Government after May to legislate to ensure that the National Crime Agency is operational in Ulster.
We understand the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and the Government should have sorted this issue a long time ago. We will talk to all parties in Northern Ireland about making progress at the next stages. We see the strength of the argument being deployed and are sympathetic to it, but this is about how then we might go forward and that is necessarily done in dialogue with the parties in Northern Ireland.
This well-informed debate has drawn on the experience of many Members of this House, and there has been much common ground. We want to ensure that the Bill becomes a strong Act, with strong action then taken to ensure the will of this House is acted upon. As we have seen time and again in today’s debate, times may change and the nature of crime may change, but we need to send an unmistakable message to those engaged in serious and organised crime: there will be no hiding place.
This has been a useful, constructive and detailed debate, and for that reason I am afraid that I will not be able to cover every point that was raised. I will, however, endeavour to do as much as I can.
I welcome the cross-party support for the Bill, and I hope that serious and organised criminals—those who wilfully damage innocent lives—will hear the resounding message from this House: “If you take part in or support serious and organised crime, if you exploit the innocent and seek to harm vulnerable victims, hear this: we will pursue you relentlessly and disrupt your activities so that innocent people are protected.”
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary emphasised when opening today’s debate, and as I am sure we all agree, the National Crime Agency, the police, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies must have the powers they need to counter the threat posed by serious and organised crime. It is clear to me that those who help maintain the security of this country and protect our communities must have the powers to bring to justice those who openly disregard the laws of this land. This Bill will be a strong step in that direction. When it comes to protecting our children, whether from exploitation or genital mutilation, and from paedophiles and perpetrators, I am sure that the whole House would agree that this Bill will and must help bring our children the protection they need and deserve.
It is right that right hon. and hon. Members will want to test the strength of this Bill as we move on to clause-by-clause examination of the provisions in Committee. Today, we have heard a number of Members set out some important issues. Let me turn first to the contributions that related to the serious and organised crime measures in parts 1 to 4 of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) suggested that the Bill did not go far enough to strengthen the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, but I disagree. The Bill includes a substantial package of measures to strengthen POCA, including enabling assets to be frozen more quickly and earlier in investigations; significantly reducing the time the courts can give offenders to pay; ensuring that criminal assets cannot be hidden with third parties; and substantially lengthening the prison sentences for failing to pay confiscation orders. We remain open to examining any practical suggestions for further strengthening the asset recovery regime, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) has many suggestions to make in that area. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) was right to say that these measures are important for all our constituencies because these issues affect all of us. We need to take measures that get money from criminals and stop them using that money to pursue criminal activities.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), asked whether we could stop people leaving the country. I just want to confirm that the proposed compliance orders, which include travel bans, can be maintained until a confiscation order has been paid. It will therefore be possible to maintain a travel ban once a defendant has completed his full sentence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) asked about the review of the asset recovery incentivisation scheme. One key objective of the criminal finances improvement plan is to ensure that ARIS works effectively. The review has sought the views of all operational agencies that use the powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. A final report was presented to the Criminal Finances Board, which I chair, at its last meeting in December. The board’s recommendations are now being considered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and other relevant Ministers and I hope to be in a position to announce the outcome of the review soon.
The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked about the test for making a restraint order. I agree that we need to make it easier for prosecutors to secure a restraint order so that assets can be frozen more quickly and earlier in an investigation. That is why the Bill replaces the existing “reasonable cause to believe” test with a lower threshold of reasonable suspicion, and I welcome her support for that change.
Moving on to cyber matters, my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) welcomed the provisions on computer misuse in part 2 of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon talked about the work that needs to be done to tackle internet fraud. An example of the non-legislative work that we are doing to tackle such crime is investing in the Cyber Streetwise campaign, which encourages people and businesses to protect themselves by adopting sensible online behaviours. The second phase of this campaign, which was launched in October, has refreshed material and advice including on secure passwords. That matter was also addressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), both of whom have ministerial experience in this area. It is worth noting that GCHQ estimates that 80% of all cyber-attacks can be dealt with using what it describes as simple disinfectant—secure passwords and ensuring that malware and anti-virus software are updated.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke talked about business attitudes to cyber-crimes. She is absolutely right that business needs to take the problem seriously. I want to see more board-level input on cyber, as it is an important matter for all of us.
Just quickly, the last time my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North answered my question when she was at the Dispatch Box, I was talking about strawberries. She managed to get in pizza today. It is quite nice that we managed to have food on both occasions—very much food for thought.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton, who has, through the dreadful case of Alice Gross, an understanding of the need for full criminal information, made an incredibly important point about how we must ensure that we are tackling serious crime. Free movement is one thing, but we need free movement of criminal information to tackle the scourge of organised crime, using the resources of Europol, which is led so well by Rob Wainwright. She also mentioned the point about Action Fraud. I have visited Action Fraud, and I am very impressed with the work that it does. It has enormous resources and the ability to tackle crime. I should like to see more information being passed to people about the way that their crimes are investigated. Action Fraud is on the right track to ensuring that we can tackle cyber-crime and deal with these important points.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) mentioned the food industry, illegal immigration and whether the participation offence would apply. He also raised those points earlier in Question Time, and I know that he was offered a meeting. I want to ensure that we take up that point, because it is important that we challenge how we use such measures.
Let me turn next to a number of the points raised about the provisions in the Bill tackling cruelty to children, female genital mutilation and the amendment we intend to table on domestic abuse. A number of right hon. and hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), welcomed the Government’s forthcoming amendment to provide for a new offence of sexual communication with a child, as announced at last month’s international “We Protect” summit. I also pay tribute to him for his work on paedophile manuals and I am pleased that there are measures in the Bill to deal with them. We are all utterly appalled to discover not only that such things exist but that they have existed for so long, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for that.
I also want to pay tribute to the many right hon. and hon. Members who have campaigned on the subject of non-physical cruelty and the neglect of children. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) asked about the scope of our change to the child cruelty offence. He has been a great campaigner on the subject, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). I also pay tribute to Paul Goggins, who was an incredible campaigner on the issue. The Bill is testament to his work.
The changes we are making clarify that the ill-treatment limb of the offence can be committed in a non-physical way. We do not seek to overturn existing case law, which holds that the neglect limb of the offence relates only to the physical needs of the child, but the ill-treatment limb of the offence is broad enough to capture a sustained course of non-physical conduct, including, for instance, isolation, humiliation or bullying that is likely to cause a child unnecessary suffering or injury to health. Of course, it will always be for the courts or jury to determine whether an offence has been committed through a particular type of conduct in the specific circumstances of the case. My hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate and for Ceredigion also talked about the meaning of “wilful”. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General was sitting next to me listening to the debate and is reflecting on the points that have been raised about the discussions in the other place on this matter.
A number of Members commented on the question of cruelty committed against 16 or 17-year-olds and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke showed the difficulties we have in this regard. Some types of cruelty committed against 16 or 17-year-olds will, depending on the circumstances, already amount to other criminal offences, such as assault. Other laws already protect 16 and 17-year-olds from, for instance, sexual exploitation by those who hold a position of trust in their lives or from exploitation through prostitution or pornography, but those over 16 are generally deemed capable of living independently of their parents and can, of course, consent to sex. We have a contradiction between the ever-lowering age of sexual maturity and the fact that emotional and mental maturity are not going down in age and we must therefore ensure that the law reflects that and that we have appropriate measures in place. I take note of the points that have been raised and will reflect on them.
In the time I have left, I want to mention the campaign of the hon. Members for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) on references to child prostitution in legislation. I want to be absolutely clear that children who are sexually exploited, whether for commercial or other reasons, should not be referred to as prostitutes. They should be recognised as victims and we will certainly consider references in older legislation and guidance as opportunities arise, as well as considering carefully the wording used in any new legislation or guidance.
A number of points were raised about female genital mutilation, but unfortunately time does not permit me to go into them in detail. I will endeavour to ensure that we cover them in Committee.
It is clear that although there are some slight differences in approach, our aims are the same: to give our law enforcement agencies the powers they need to tackle the serious and organised crime that shamelessly harms innocent people; to unite in condemnation of the vicious practice of FGM; and to protect children and the most vulnerable from abuse. I hope that those who commit such serious crimes will think again. If they do not, they must be pursued and brought to justice. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Serious Crime Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Serious Crime Bill [Lords]:
The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 22 January 2015.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Harriett Baldwin.)
Question agreed to.
Serious Crime Bill [Lords] (Money)
Queen’s Recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Serious Crime Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State;
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Harriett Baldwin.)
Question agreed to.