House of Lords
Monday, 16 June 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Death of a Member: Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, we continue to judge that a negotiated, two-state agreement remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all. That is why we are focused on supporting the parties in finding a way to resume serious dialogue. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state at a moment of our choosing and when it helps best to bring about peace.
I thank the Minister for her reply, but does she recall that in the Queen’s Speech, we were promised foreign policy,
“based on respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law”?
Should we therefore recognise the state of Palestine immediately to make up for time lost, encourage our European partners to do so too, and suspend the EU-Israel association agreement if Israel does not withdraw from the territories that it has occupied illegally since 1967?
My Lords, as we said during the Palestinian upgrade at the UN General Assembly in 2012, ultimately we would like to see a Palestinian state represented through all organs of the United Nations and recognised as a Palestinian state. However, we feel that the best way to reach a solution to these matters is through a negotiated process, and we still believe that Secretary Kerry’s proposal presents an opportunity to engage and to talk.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that progress towards a peace settlement would be enhanced if Hamas were able to secure the release of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank last weekend? Will the Government do all they can to seek to secure that objective?
The Government have strongly condemned the abduction of the three Israeli youths in the West Bank. We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence on the ground, and for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians I hope that further escalation can be avoided. We are still trying to find details of what is happening on the ground, but of course it has led to escalation, including, tragically, the death of a Palestinian child.
My Lords, given the instability, conflict and violence in the countries that surround Israel, is it not understandable that the Israeli Government are deeply concerned about a Government who might be led by Hamas and who are committed to the destruction of Israel?
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that over the last two years she has stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House on many occasions—I think mainly during 2013—that this year was the last chance saloon for achieving a peace process in the Middle East? Given where we find ourselves, what is the United Kingdom Government’s position on achieving a peace process now that the Americans have more or less said that there is nowhere further to go? Will the Government consider replacing the current system of the Middle East quartet envoy and so on with a fresh impetus and a completely new look at whether a two-state solution is indeed the right answer?
My noble friend is right: I have stood at this Dispatch Box over the last 12 months, if not more, talking about the concern over the changing situation on the ground. We are running out of time to achieve a two-state solution because the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. That is why we were so supportive of the discussions that Secretary Kerry was leading. My noble friend is also right that we have to start looking at other options that are available to us, because what we want in the end is a two-state solution. That requires a safe and secure Israel, but it also requires a viable Palestinian state. As to the role of the quartet, my noble friend will be aware that it is not just for the United Kingdom to impose who leads it. I would be interested to hear from the Benches opposite whether they feel a change in personnel is needed.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that there is virtual unanimity, and not only in this House, on the urgent need for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem? Does she accept that the recent reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas offers the Israelis a unique opportunity to work genuinely towards a two-state solution? On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, if this story is true it is horrendous, but is the Minister aware that similar outrages are being committed daily by the Israeli Defence Forces and by the settlers themselves? This is the time to recognise Palestine as a state.
Of course, ultimately peace will be achieved only if there is a unified authority in the Palestinian territories to which we can speak—a unified organisation that represents both Gaza and the West Bank—as long as it abides by the quartet principles. I can stand at this Dispatch Box and give a list of things that the Israelis are alleged to have done and a list of things that the Palestinians are alleged to have done, but I am not sure whether that blame game is going to take us any further. What I am clear about is that a Palestinian life and an Israeli life are equally important. It is therefore right that what we do respects the sanctity of life, and the basic human rights that people require whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.
As I said earlier, we have recognised the technocratic Government; we feel that they provide an opportunity to take matters further. We give great credit to President Abbas, who has made sure that the technocratic Government have been set up in a way that is acceptable to the international community and are an organisation of government that we can work with. With regard to the UK’s approach, the noble Lord will of course be aware that we have been one of the biggest supporters of ensuring that a future Palestinian state is viable, not only through the work that we have been doing in establishing and supporting institutions but in relation to the humanitarian work on the ground with both financial support and expertise. We will continue to do that, because we are firmly committed to ensuring that there is a viable Palestinian state when that moment arises.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the biggest tragedy of all would be if these two countries did not come together and shake hands, similar to South Africa? Once that happens, they can work together to create a Near East common market, and peace will prevail for everyone.
I agree with my noble friend as a Foreign Office Minister but also on a personal level. As someone who has lived through this dispute for most of her life—it has formed so much of my own identity as I have grown up—there is nothing I would like more than to be in a Government who finally managed to resolve this matter.
National Health Service: Nursing Staff
My Lords, local NHS organisations are best placed to determine the skill mix of their workforce and must have the freedom to deploy staff in ways appropriate for their locality. Some organisations have reviewed their nursing staff structures to ensure that they are delivering quality of care for patients. This has resulted in a decrease of some senior posts. However, there has been an overall increase in nursing numbers, with over 3,300 more nurses, midwives and health visitors since 2010.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but since 2010 there has been a decrease of 4,000 senior nursing posts—modern matrons, ward sisters and specialist nurses, which we all recognise, as indeed do the Government, as being universally critical to patient care. Are the Government not worried about the fact that, on the one hand, trusts are saving money by decreasing these senior nursing posts yet, on the other hand, they are spending money by increasing the pay of executive directors by 6%? What are they going to do about reversing this worrying trend, and how are they going to tackle this dangerous loss of experience and skill in our NHS?
My Lords, the figure that I have is in fact a decrease of just over 3,000 nurses in senior positions at bands 7 and 8, but that is more than made up for by the increase of over 7,500 nurses at bands 5 and 6 on the front line. On the noble Baroness’s second point, the figures that I saw emanating from the Royal College of Nursing should be looked at with some caution; the RCN has included exit packages for executive directors but not for nurses. In fact, the latest independent evidence shows that for the third year running there was no increase in median executive board pay. It is important to compare like with like there, and the figure of 6.1% as a rise for executive directors is not one that we recognise.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most encouraging aspects of the nursing profession is the number of senior nurses who have gone on to be chief executives and board members in the NHS, bringing all the skills of nursing to the leadership of hospital trusts and clinical commissioning groups?
I agree with my noble friend. To ensure that nurses have the leadership skills, styles and behaviours that our healthcare system needs, the NHS Leadership Academy has launched the largest and most comprehensive approach to leadership development ever undertaken. More than £46 million has been invested in core programmes that will map to foundation-level, mid-level and executive-level leadership development, with two programmes specifically for nurses and midwives that started in March last year.
My Lords, given the answer that the Minister has just given to his noble friend, surely it is ironic that throughout the NHS the number of senior posts is actually being squeezed. Would he not agree that that runs counter to what Francis said post-Mid Staffordshire about the need for highly effective quality supervisory nurses? Is the reason why this is happening not that the NHS cannot afford to increase its nurse staffing levels with the amount of money that it has been given by the Government? Something has gone, and unfortunately it is these crucial posts that seem to be having to give way.
My Lords, I do not agree with that because nursing numbers are now at a record high, which cannot indicate that hospitals are being starved of resources for their nurses. I do not see it as ironic that some senior posts have been reduced, bearing in mind the effect of Robert Francis’s report which has caused hospitals to increase the number of nurses on the wards. By and large, nurses at grades 7, 8 and 9 are in managerial positions and not in front-line posts.
My Lords, can the Minister say if an impact assessment has been undertaken on losing senior nurses from the NHS and the impact it has on service standards? The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has already made the connection with the Francis report. Can the Minister also say whether an exit strategy has been undertaken to see why senior nurses are leaving?
My general answer to my noble friend is that it is not for the Government to decide how many nurses hospitals should employ. We have not done an impact assessment. That is a matter for local hospitals to judge. They are in the best position to do that, based on the needs of their patients and local communities. What the Government should do, and are doing, is to ensure that staffing levels are available for public scrutiny and comparison on a patient safety website. That work is currently in train. It will now be much more evident to patients and the public what their local hospital is doing in terms of safe staffing ratios.
My Lords, before seven-day working comes in, are the Government ensuring that senior nurses are also taking part in the seven-day rota to ensure that their expertise is available both in hospitals and in the community to support other nurses at more junior grades?
My Lords, the work going on on seven-day working certainly includes the nursing workforce. However, I repeat that it is not for the Government to mandate what each and every hospital should be doing in terms of deploying their senior nursing staff. It is a judgment for the board of that hospital.
My Lords, the Minister is very proud of the increase in the number of nurses on the front line. Can he confirm that all these nurses are actually in hospitals? What is the comparable figure for nurses working in the community? I believe the Government’s policy is supposed to be to have more care in the community.
The noble Lord is right. The Government recognise the very important contribution that community nurses make in providing high-quality care to people within community settings. I think we have seen a reaction, as I have said, to the Francis report. Lots of hospitals say that they are going to employ more nurses on the wards. We now need to ensure that staffing levels are safe across the NHS and the community, and the Chief Nursing Officer has set up a working group which is looking specifically at what we can do to increase the number of community nurses, which we certainly need to do.
I acknowledge the valuable role played by specialist nurses in a number of disciplines but, once again, it is up to employers to exercise their responsibility to manage turnover, retention, recruitment and skill mix to ensure that they have sufficient workforce supply to meet the levels of staffing that the hospital or organisation needs. Here again, patient safety is paramount.
Digital Bill of Rights
My Lords, the Government are acutely conscious of the need for the protection of individuals’ privacy both online and offline. We believe that the protection of these rights should go in tandem with, and not be at the expense of, an open, innovative and secure internet that promotes economic growth and freedom of expression. We believe that sufficient safeguards already exist to protect individuals’ privacy through the Data Protection Act 1998, together with other legal remedies.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. We are all under digital surveillance, not only by the security services but also by retailers, hospitals, online suppliers and network operators. They are able to collate massive amounts of data about who we are, where we go, what we buy, who we speak to and even the state of our health. Next year is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. To celebrate this in a modern setting, should we not introduce a digital Magna Carta, designed to guarantee our online rights and privacy?
The noble Lord is of course right to remind us of Magna Carta and its impending anniversary. The Government are not, at the moment, minded to introduce a Bill or any legislation of the sort that the noble Lord refers to. Of course we must be nimble to protect those rights which are expressed digitally. However, there are, as I said in my Answer to his Question, a number of remedies available. The Information Commissioner’s Office performs its task well and, for the moment, any legislation brought in by the Government or the party opposite should emphasise not only rights but responsibilities.
I think that the noble Baroness is referring to the so-called “right to be forgotten”. The Government have some reservations about this. Anxiety has been expressed in the light of this proposed amendment to the directive and the recent decision of the ECJ. The progress of this directive is still a matter of active consideration and negotiation by the Government.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, rightly raised this privacy issue in the Queen’s Speech debate. Most of us are, I suspect, blissfully unaware that the so-called location services on our mobiles act as an insidious spy in the pocket, constantly recording our every movement wherever we go. Should we not at least start by obliging smartphone and network providers to tell us clearly what personal information they collect and how, and how we, as consumers, can turn it off?
The noble Lord is right that this is a source of anxiety and a matter which continues to alarm all sorts of people and organisations. The consumer has a role to insist on this information being provided. That, rather than legislation, is probably the answer for the moment.
Is the Minister aware of the vile, personal internet abuse heaped on supporters of the union in Scotland, including the author JK Rowling—in her case merely for giving £1 million to Better Together? Will he condemn this and indicate whether a Bill as proposed by my noble friend, or some other legislation, could be introduced to protect all of us who suffer such attacks?
I am happy to agree with the noble Lord that this is an appalling practice, and I deplore what has been said about those with a particular viewpoint. The internet being used in this way is the enemy of democracy. We should nevertheless be hesitant before we prevent access to the internet. Russia, China and some of the Arab states prevent access to the internet. Once you start doing so, you prevent some of the advantages, economic and otherwise, of this extraordinary phenomenon, now 25 years old.
My Lords, given the centrality of the internet and digital technologies to the lives of young people, can the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to make certain that young people can explore the creative potential of the online world knowledgably, fearlessly and with an understanding of the privacy issues?
The Government are certainly trying to protect children from access to parts of the internet to which it would be most ill advised for them to have access. We are trying to promote by a number of means responsible use of the internet but, once again, my answer is that, for the moment, we ought to hesitate before using legislation to do this. However, I entirely accept what the noble Baroness says about the importance of responsible access.
The Minister talks about the importance of protecting children, but do not all consumers need protection on the internet? While it may not be appropriate to legislate, would it not be appropriate for the Government to put their weight behind requiring that there is a robust system of identity assurance so that you know who you are dealing with on the internet and a robust system of age assurance so that only people of an appropriate age can access material that is appropriate for that particular age group? The Government’s weight would surely be helpful in making sure that that was delivered by contractors.
The noble Lord is right in that the Government should, and indeed do, work with internet industries to improve—or in some cases to limit—access. An example of that is what they have been doing with children’s access online. The Government have a strong track record of working with the internet industries to drive progress, to allow parents to have network-level domestic filtering, parental internet controls and the like, and to ensure the availability of family-friendly public wi-fi in places children are likely to be. Of course, it must be remembered that all individuals have their normal legal rights, wherever the information is contained.
Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis
My Lords, the Government’s mandate to Health Education England includes a commitment that it will ensure that general practitioner training produces GPs with the required competencies to practice in the NHS. The content and standard of medical training is the responsibility of the General Medical Council. The current GP curriculum requires trainees to successfully complete training on care of people with musculoskeletal problems, which includes rheumatoid arthritis.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his helpful Answer. However, the reality is that too many GPs do not recognise the symptoms. A new report published today by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society shows that a shocking 25% of patients have to stop work within the first year of diagnosis, and with the delays their clinical outcomes are poorer and it costs the NHS much more. What will the Government do to raise awareness of symptoms, particularly among GPs?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, which is organising Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week this week, between 16 and 22 June. I am aware that Public Health England has run early diagnosis campaigns, which up to now have focused largely on cancer. However, I understand that a broader focus on earlier diagnosis is currently being considered. What might be done to tackle other conditions or symptoms has yet to be decided, but I will keep the noble Baroness informed of developments.
My Lords, we are encouraging single-handed practices not to disband but to federate themselves—if that is a good word—with other practices in the area, and certainly to seek the support of their clinical commissioning group. That would ensure that the range of professional training available is utilised and that there is peer support where appropriate. Therefore, while many single-handed practices do a very fine job, there is scope for them to collaborate with their colleagues in the local area.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl will tell me that it is the responsibility of either NHS England or the local health commissions, but is he not alarmed by the number of GP practices being suggested for closure at the moment, and by the long waiting times that patients have to endure in many areas? In some country areas you cannot see your GP for four weeks. Should the Government not have at least some concerns on that?
My Lords, we are concerned by reports of patients having difficulty accessing their GPs. That is why a whole range of work is currently going on in NHS England to look at the issue, to see how general practices can be helped and to enable them to see more patients. However, more generally, we in the Government have amended the GP contract to free up GPs’ working time. We have abolished well over a third of the QOF indicators precisely to do that. The Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund—£50 million-worth of funding—enables GPs to open up different ways of working; for example, consulting patients on Skype and working hours other than nine to five.
My Lords, although it is very important for GPs and even patients to be aware of early symptoms, does the Minister acknowledge that the real answer as to how to deal with this condition will be in research? Can he tell us whether the Government are supporting such research?
I am grateful to my noble friend. Expenditure on musculoskeletal disease research by the National Institute for Health Research has increased from £15.5 million in 2009-10 to £23.1 million in 2012-13. The NIHR is investing over £21 million over five years in three biomedical research units in musculoskeletal disease. They are all carrying out vital research on rheumatoid arthritis. The NIHR is currently investing £2 million in a programme of research on treatment intensities and targets in rheumatoid arthritis therapy.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what impact the very worrying reported shortage in take-up of family doctor training places is likely to have on the ability of GPs to support patients with potential rheumatoid arthritis symptoms? A recent survey by Pulse found that only 7% of the funding for medical schools goes into teaching general practice. Does this not augur badly for the future of primary care?
My Lords, we of course recognise the very hard work that GPs do. Despite a decrease in headcount, there has in fact been a 1.2% increase in full-time GPs since 2012 and the number of practice nurses and practice staff has also grown. However, we also recognise that the workforce needs to grow to meet rising demand. That is why our mandate to Health Education England requires it to ensure that 50% of trainee doctors enter GP training programmes by 2016. Generally, we will work with NHS England to consider how to improve recruitment, retention and return to practice in primary and community care.
My Lords, is not the current model of general practice in this country bust? Is it not time that the Government started to think about setting out the requirements that all GPs who offer services to NHS patients ought to make available? If that means them working in bigger practices then so be it, because that is in the interest of patients.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there is scope to examine different ways of working in primary care. I would have to think about whether I would go quite as far as he has, but the point of principle he makes is a very sound one. That is why the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund is encouraging GPs to think out of the box in the way they make themselves accessible to patients.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill [HL]
A Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972; and to make provision for the Secretary of State to repeal any enactment that has been a consequence of the European Communities Act 1972.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Serious Crime Bill [HL]
My Lords, under this Government crime is down by more than 10%, but there is much more to do. Serious and organised crime remains a pernicious threat to our national well-being, our economy and our security, costing the country at least £24 billion a year. Later in the Session, your Lordships will have the opportunity to consider a Bill that deals with the evils of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. But serious and organised crime takes many other forms, including drug trafficking, high-value fraud, counterfeiting, organised cybercrime and child exploitation. This Bill is aimed at tackling all such manifestations of serious and organised crime.
Alongside the establishment of the National Crime Agency last October, we published a comprehensive Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. The aim of the NCA and of the strategy is nothing less than to deliver a substantial reduction in the level of serious and organised crime. The National Crime Agency assesses that there are around 36,600 individuals operating in 5,300 organised crime groups in this country. I am sure most people are taken aback by these figures.
A key strand of our strategy is to prosecute those individuals and otherwise disrupt their activities to make it increasingly hard for them to operate. Ensuring that the NCA, the police and prosecutors have the powers they need relentlessly to pursue organised criminals lies at the heart of the Bill. One means of disrupting serious and organised crime is to deny criminals the use of their assets and to confiscate their ill gotten gains. Under this Government, more assets have been confiscated from criminals than ever before. Since 2010, we have seized more than £746 million and have frozen assets worth some £2.5 billion.
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 continues to provide a basically sound framework for ensuring that criminals are not able to enjoy the profits of their crimes. But it hardly comes as a surprise that criminals will use every tactic they can to frustrate and slow the process, exploiting any weakness or loophole in the legislation. Part 1 of the Bill seeks to close such loopholes and tighten up the operation of the Proceeds of Crime Act. The key changes we are making to POCA will enable restraint orders, which freeze a defendant’s assets, to be obtained more easily and earlier in an investigation; reduce the time allowed to pay confiscation orders; enable the court to determine a defendant’s interest in property, to ensure that criminal assets cannot be hidden with spouses or with other third parties; require the courts to consider imposing an overseas travel ban for the purpose of ensuring that a restraint or confiscation order is effective; and extend the existing investigative powers so that they can be used to trace assets once a confiscation order is made.
These changes will help to ensure that confiscation orders are satisfied in full. This is already the case with many lower-value orders. With higher-value orders, criminals have greater capacity to hide away their assets, including overseas beyond the effective reach of UK law enforcement agencies. To further incentivise payment of these high-end confiscation orders, Part 1 of the Bill also significantly increases default sentences for non-payments.
The maximum default sentences for orders between £500,000 and £1 million will increase from five to seven years’ imprisonment, while for orders over £1 million the maximum sentence will increase from 10 to 14 years. We are also ending automatic early release at the halfway point for orders over £10 million. In such cases, offenders could now find themselves spending up to 14 years in prison, rather than just five years as is currently the case. We will keep these changes under close review and, if more needs to be done to incentivise payment, the Bill includes powers to make further changes to the default sentencing framework.
Cybercrime poses a major threat to our national security. Although now almost a quarter of a century old, the offences in the Computer Misuse Act 1990— among other things, criminalising hacking and denial of service attacks—have stood the test of time. However, given the potential far-reaching consequences of a cyberattack on critical national infrastructure, the 1990 Act currently provides for woefully inadequate penalties.
The current Section 3 offence, which criminalises unauthorised acts with intent to impair the operation of a computer, has a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. Given that cyberattacks could lead to loss of life or significant damage to the economy or the environment, this punishment simply does not fit the crime. The new offence, provided for in Part 2, carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment in cases involving loss of life, serious illness or injury, or serious damage to national security, and a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment for damage to the environment or the economy.
Part 3 of the Bill provides for a new offence of participation in an organised crime group. The offence of conspiracy has served and continues to serve us well, but with conspiracy the prosecution needs to be able to prove, to the criminal standard, that there was an intentional agreement between two or more parties to commit a criminal act. Not all members of an organised crime group will be direct parties to such an agreement. Organised crime groups use a range of associates to help them in their criminal enterprises. There will be members of a group who facilitate the commission of offences, perhaps by delivering packages, renting a warehouse or writing a contract, but without asking incriminating questions that would make it possible to pin on them a charge of conspiracy. The new participation offence will address that gap in the criminal law, affording prosecutors an additional charging option in such cases. The new offence will attract a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
Part 3 also improves the operation of serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions. This reflects the strand of the serious and organised crime strategy aimed at preventing people becoming or remaining engaged in serious and organised crime. These civil orders have proved an effective means of achieving this by placing prohibitions and requirements on the subject of an order or injunction, breach of which is a criminal offence or contempt of court. With the benefit of a number of years’ experience of their operation, we have identified a series of enhancements that can usefully be made to these civil orders.
The Scottish Government, too, have recognised the value of serious crime prevention orders, and so the Bill extends their application to Scotland—another example of the value of the union in securing the collective security of the four nations of the United Kingdom.
In relation to gang injunctions, Part 3 recognises the increasing interrelationship between urban gangs and organised crime. This is particularly evident in the case of the illegal drugs trade. We are therefore extending the circumstances in which a gang injunction may be obtained to include involvement in gang-related drug-dealing activities.
Part 4 deals with another aspect of the illegal drugs trade.
Before the noble Lord leaves Part 3, I wonder whether he can help me on one issue that slightly bothers me—that is, why we have to move beyond the existing law of conspiracy into this new offence. As I understand it, he is saying that if someone did something unconnected with the actual offence, such as delivering a package—if it were connected, you could charge conspiracy—then you would be able to bring him within the scope of the criminal law and charge him with this offence. Would you not still have to prove some kind of criminal intent? If the man is delivering a package and does not know that a crime is going to be committed, he has not committed the new crime any more than he is part of a conspiracy. On the other hand, if he knows that it is in pursuance of some crime, I would have thought the existing law of conspiracy would probably be enough.
My Lords, it is our view that it is not enough. I thank the noble Lord for raising the question. We will obviously have the chance to debate this at length in Committee but, in essence, the conspiracy charge requires a direct relationship between the organised crime activity and the individual involved in the conspiracy. The noble Lord is wise enough to know that, in the real world, there are individuals who have managed so far to distance themselves sufficiently from the conspiracy but have, none the less, been aiding serious criminal activity through their deeds.
I am sure we will have good debates on this. It is not about people who unwittingly find themselves on the wrong side of the law in this regard. It is about those who are either knowingly Nelsonian in their view of what is going on or who deliberately choose to aid a client or some other person in this way. I hope the noble Lord will understand why this is in the Bill and why it is an important extension of the conspiracy provision which will, of course, continue to exist.
I come to Part 4, which deals with another aspect of the illegal drugs trade. Illegal drugs, especially cocaine, will be adulterated with other chemical substances to increase their volume and, therefore, the profits of drug dealers. Many drug-cutting agents—that is what they are called—including the most common, such as benzocaine, are far from harmless. Part 4 confers bespoke powers on the National Crime Agency, the Border Force and the police to seize and detain suspected cutting agents. They will then be able to make an application to the court for the seized substances to be forfeited and destroyed. By tackling the supply of drug-cutting agents we can reduce the availability of illegal drugs on our streets, which will, in turn, drive up the street price and help to reduce drug use as part of the Government’s wider drug strategy.
Part 5 takes us into the different, but no less important, territory of child protection. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who is not in her place today, has been among those who have argued that the offence of child cruelty lacks the necessary clarity when it comes to tackling psychological harm to children. I would be the first to admit that a law which, in its current form, was drafted more than 80 years ago uses rather archaic language in places. None the less—this view is shared by the Crown Prosecution Service—the offence in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 remains fit for purpose. However, we accept that it would benefit from making explicit that the offence deals with both physical and psychological harm, and Clause 62 amends Section 1 of the 1933 Act to this end.
This part also makes it an offence to possess an item providing advice or guidance about abusing children sexually. It beggars belief that such so-called paedophile manuals are circulating on the internet. However, sadly and worryingly, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the National Crime Agency—CEOP—has uncovered a number of such documents. The new possession offence provided for in Clause 63 will carry a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.
The third child protection issue dealt with in Part 5 is a strengthening of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and its Scottish equivalent. I know that this is an issue in which a number of noble Lords take an interest. Clearly, the challenges presented by the widespread practice of FGM cannot be dealt with by legislation alone. After all, FGM has already been an offence in this country for nearly 30 years. However, it is important that we change the law where necessary. The CPS has identified cases that it was unable to pursue because the extraterritorial jurisdiction provided for under the 2003 Act was limited to UK nationals and non-UK nationals permanently resident in this country. Clause 64 extends this to cover habitual residents. We are looking at other changes in the law in this area, which we hope will help to secure more prosecutions, including whether the victims of FGM should be afforded the protection of anonymity during the criminal process in the same way as rape victims.
Clause 65 deals with another aspect of extraterritorial jurisdiction, in this case in respect of certain offences under the Terrorism Act 2006. My noble friend Lord Marlesford, who I am delighted is in his place, is among those who have rightly highlighted the threat posed to the United Kingdom by “foreign fighters” returning from the conflict in Syria. The amendments made to the Terrorism Act 2006 will enable persons who, while overseas, have undertaken preparations for terrorist acts or who have trained for terrorism more generally, to be prosecuted on their return to the UK. While our priority remains to dissuade people from travelling to Syria or other areas of conflict in the first place, we must ensure that the legislation we have in place to tackle individuals engaging in terrorism overseas is as robust as it can be.
We all share the anguish over the humanitarian disaster that has befallen Syria but there are perhaps better ways to help the people there than by travelling to the region; for example, by donating to registered aid charities. Even those travelling for well intentioned humanitarian reasons are exposing themselves to serious risks, including being targeted by terrorist groups. Those who engage in terrorism or acts preparatory to terrorism while abroad should be in no doubt about the action we are prepared to take to protect the public, should they return to this jurisdiction.
Finally, Clause 66 ensures that two draft EU Council decisions relating to serious crime are subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and approval before UK Ministers can vote for them in Brussels. The first of these draft decisions relates to the continuation of a funding programme to protect the euro from counterfeiting. The second draft decision will repeal a now-expired programme to fund measures to protect critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks.
Under this Government we have, by establishing the National Crime Agency and revitalising the regional organised crime units, put in place the necessary capacity and capabilities to tackle serious and organised crime. However, as those who engage in organised crime evolve and adapt to the countermeasures we take, we in turn must adapt and respond. The Bill will ensure that the NCA and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to continue effectively and relentlessly to pursue and disrupt those who engage in serious and organised crime. I commend the Bill to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the Bill. There is always a sense of déjà vu about Home Office legislation. I have been in your Lordships’ House now for just four years. This is the ninth Bill and the fifth that I have spoken on from the Front Bench in that short time. That is a lot of legislation. But it is legislation that is concerned with some of the most serious and important issues facing society and a priority of any government—the safety and security of citizens and the ability of government to play a part in reducing crime and taking action against criminals including, with specific reference to this Bill, those criminals engaged in serious and organised crime.
Any approach to the criminal law has of course to deal with four aspects: the offence and the detail of exactly what that offence is; the appropriate penalties for breaking the law; any defence or mitigation; and, perhaps most crucially, the enforcement and resources available to prosecute—nothing brings the law into disrepute more quickly than erratic enforcement or non-enforcement. I use as an example the sensible law of not using a hand-held mobile phone while driving. We all know that that is dangerous but, as we watch somebody negotiating a roundabout with the steering wheel in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, we know—and, worse, they know—the probability of them being prosecuted is very low. More serious are the current problems with enforcement of legislation on asset recovery and the proceeds of crime. We welcome measures to address current failures, but improvement in legislation cannot make up for the lack of enforcement. There must be a determined commitment to effective policing and enforcement, without which any laws are meaningless.
The issues raised in this Bill are important and we have called for action to better protect children, to tackle cybercrime and to ensure that criminal gangs are not allowed to stash their ill-gotten gains to pick them up later. We will scrutinise these proposals for their workability and for effective enforcement and there is cross-party support on many of these issues. We want to ensure that legislation is as robust as possible.
On Part 1, on proceeds of crime, it is clear that confiscation orders are not working, given that criminals currently get to keep £99.74 in every £100. In 2012-13, there were 6,392 confiscation orders seeking the return of £380 million from a total criminal pot of £1.6 billion, but eventually only £133 million was recovered. The cost of recovering those ill-gotten gains is extremely high. The estimate from the National Audit Office is that investigation, prosecution and enforcement costs 76p in every £1 collected. The value to the Government from that initial £1.6 billion is just £31 million, and only 2% of offenders paid in full. The National Audit Office has identified that the amount collected and the number of confiscation and restraint orders have fallen in recent years. That is a seriously worrying trend. Restraint orders freeze assets so that they cannot be hidden abroad. They have fallen by 27% under this Government. There are a number of reasons why that is the case and I hope that the Government will be willing to engage with us to address the practical and legal reasons to improve implementation.
Noble Lords will be aware that we have called for the ending of early release from sentences for those who have failed to pay back amounts specified in confiscation orders. Currently, automatic release is available at the halfway point. I am pleased to see that ended in the Bill, but that is proposed only for orders involving amounts over £10 million. The Minister in his comments said that there are order-making powers that would enable that level to be lowered, so perhaps we can revisit in Committee whether that is the appropriate level at which to end these early releases. We have also called for the law to make it easier for prosecutors to freeze suspects’ assets quickly and close loopholes that allow criminals to hide stolen assets, sometimes with family members. We welcome the Government's response to that and again we will examine the detail in Committee.
I know that the Minister shares my concerns that some previous measures introduced in the Crime and Courts Act on the proceeds of crime and the National Crime Agency still do not apply to Northern Ireland because the Government failed to get a legislative consent Motion. Obviously, the measures applying to Scotland and Northern Ireland in this Bill relating to criminal assets also require an LCM, without which there would be a massive loophole. I urge that past mistakes are not repeated and every effort is taken to ensure that no part of the UK can become a haven for those hiding their criminal gains from justice. Finally on this issue, we think that it would be appropriate if the additional revenue that is raised is ploughed back into the communities on issues such as neighbourhood policing and criminal justice and we would welcome a commitment from the Minister that the Government would also support this.
Part 2 deals with computer misuse. The phenomenal technical changes we have seen in recent years bring new threats to individuals, businesses and national security. When we debated the Government’s flawed policy of opting out of all EU police and criminal justice measures, cybercrime was an issue we highlighted where international and European-wide co-operation is absolutely essential. The extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction is welcome because, as the Minister knows and as we know, such crimes know no boundaries. We have some questions about the practical application and how decisions will be taken between UK-based prosecutions and extradition, but the measures proposed have our broad support.
Part 3 deals with organised, serious and gang-related crime. Clause 41 seeks to reach all those who actively support or benefit from criminal activity, including those whose specific role appears to be legitimate. Many criminal gangs include corrupt and complicit professionals who use their expertise and skills to seek to evade the law. Obviously, we want to ensure that those who are genuinely innocently caught up in illegal activity are protected. For example, would housing associations, local authorities or private landlords who, despite their best efforts, find their property being used by a drug gang be liable for prosecution? Perhaps this could be seen as the “Al Capone” clause. In a sleazy, corrupt criminal prohibition era, Al Capone and his crime empire were responsible not just for bootlegging, but for prostitution, smuggling, murder and dirty politics, where voters and politicians were threatened or bought and feared for their lives. Some noble Lords will recall the television series with Robert Stack—I am far too young. Despite the best efforts of Eliot Ness and his “Untouchables”, Al Capone was never brought to justice for his worst crimes but for tax evasion, for which he went to prison and his empire was dismantled. If only he had had a better accountant.
The activities of serious and organised crime gangs today are more modern but equally evil and exploit the weak, poor and vulnerable: drug trafficking, people trafficking for slavery and prostitution, organised illegal immigration, extreme and violent pornography. The human misery caused by such gangs is almost limitless and defies imagination. If we are serious about really tackling such evil, we agree that the law should be able to reach all those involved in and benefiting from such activity. Obviously, anyone, including qualified professionals, who knowingly profit from criminal activities should be held legally accountable for their actions. We want to ensure that it is effective in practice. It would be interesting and very useful to have information from the Serious Fraud Office and the police as to how many and what kind of cases they feel they have been unable to pursue because the law is inadequate.
Part 4 concerns the seizure and forfeiture of drug-cutting agents. We do not oppose these clauses, but I question whether they are adequate. We are all aware of the human misery and suffering caused by drugs and the criminal industry behind their sale. In the information provided, I was struck by the number and amount of seizures of chemicals used as cutting agents by drug sellers. Adulterating a hard drug, such as cocaine, with a significantly cheaper compound increases profit and, of course, the dangers for the drug user. However, the seizures to date seem to be minimal. Only 75 seizures, of around 2 tonnes in total, is clearly a fraction of the amount being used. Therefore, although obviously worthwhile, is this the right target and approach, or should it be extended? The Minister said in his introduction it would lead to higher prices and therefore decrease consumption. I am not clear that higher drug prices necessarily reduce consumption by an equivalent amount, so it would be useful to have the evidence for that. I was surprised not to see some measures in the Bill to tackle so-called legal highs. So many young people are being conned into believing something is safe, as the law has not caught up with that particular compound, and a number have already paid with their lives.
Part 5 deals with the protection of children. There is a unity of purpose in your Lordships’ House to do whatever we can to protect children and young people from harm of any kind. We welcome the fact that the Bill seeks to make it explicit that, under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, emotional cruelty likely to cause psychological harm is an offence. Noble Lords will be aware that there remains some concern from charities and organisations representing children’s interests that, because cruelty to a child must be wilful to be considered an offence, this can be misunderstood. It would be helpful to explore this point further in Committee to ensure that the law is as effective as it possibly can be.
I listened to what the noble Lord said about manuals on child sexual abuse and paedophilia. Like other noble Lords, I am horrified to know that such things exist. Obviously, they should be banned. It serves to highlight the inadequacy of current legislation in protecting children online and from what I understand is called the dark web. It is alarming that online abuse is increasing while the number of arrests is falling. Over the past three years we have seen a 60% decline in the number of arrests made by CEOP although referrals rose by 14% in the last year. The Minister may recall that, in our debates on the Crime and Courts Bill, we raised concerns about CEOP being part of the National Crime Agency rather than remaining a separate specialist and dedicated body. We welcomed the concessions that the Government made and would welcome further information about the operation of CEOP within the NCA. As I stated earlier, having the right structures and resources for enforcement is as important as any legislation.
In the anti-social behaviour Bill earlier this year, the Government accepted our arguments on new amendments to provide some extra tools to the police and local authorities to tackle child grooming, and introduced a new measure on Report. Obviously, there is still more to be done and I hope that the noble Lord will be willing, in the same spirit of co-operation, to consider this matter further; for example, the strengthening of child abduction warning orders may be an issue that we could examine in Committee. There may indeed be other areas we can look at.
The Government have made clear their commitment to opposing female genital mutilation at home and abroad. Like the noble Lord, we regret the lack of prosecutions to date. FGM is a barbaric evil and we support these new measures to tackle it. Noble Lords will be as shocked as I am that in London alone nearly 4,000 girls and women have been treated for FGM since 2009. Again, I reinforce the need for proactive and determined enforcement and prevention, including sex and relationship education in all schools.
On the final part of the Bill, we support measures to tackle terrorism at home and abroad and we will examine the detail on this. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and we look forward to our further deliberations on this Bill in Committee.
My Lords, I confess that I am at a loss. For once, I am not struggling to ask apparently innocent questions as a painful way of masking criticism. My scepticism has also been confounded because so often legislation is added to the statute book when the offences have already been defined and measures have been put in place. I am not a fan of using legislation to promote a message, but the Bill does seem to be about filling lacunae, and I congratulate the Minister and the Home Office on that.
That does, however, make it rather difficult to find a thread running through it on which to base my remarks today. No doubt a theme common to all the issues covered will be—as has already been said—that legislation cannot do everything and that good practice is fundamental. I know that the House will do what it does so well, which is to focus on workability. I am very glad that the Bill has started at this end and I thank the Minister for his introduction.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford talked quite a lot about tracking down and recovering the proceeds of crime in the context of legal aid. He kept saying, “Just find the money”. The Bill cannot assist investigative skills and I am aware from another part of the legal forest—matrimonial work—of the resourcefulness that some people use to conceal their assets. HMRC is pretty good at ferreting out where assets have been hidden.
I am a bit uneasy about using taxation as a sanction—perhaps this is the “Al Capone” clause. I am not entirely sure that I understand the tax provisions. Is there to be a tax assessment when the source of the income cannot be identified but comes under the spotlight as perhaps coming from criminal assets—my civil liberties antennae are twitching slightly—or are we levying a percentage at the marginal rate on income rather than on the whole of the income-producing asset? We will ask questions in Committee. While my antennae are still active, I note from the material I read from the Home Office that the Crown Court must determine whether the defendant has a “criminal lifestyle” and is to apply the balance of probabilities in assessing whether there is “general criminal conduct”. I can see some questions arising from this.
I welcome the priority given to the victim surcharge and compensation, and the use of the assets. I was reminded by a case study in the material provided by the Home Office—for which I and other noble Lords will be grateful—that we are not dealing with the proceeds of crime in a vacuum: it is the crime itself which we seek to reduce or eradicate. That case study could also be a case study from material for the Modern Slavery Bill. It is the underlying crime that makes these provisions so important. But that will not stop us examining, for instance, the Secretary of State’s powers to amend provisions regarding default sentences; and Clause 14, which allows the Secretary of State to amend primary legislation. I was guilty of the perhaps unworthy thought that parliamentary counsel had simply not had enough time to produce the substantive provisions which the Government have in mind. If not, do the Government intend to produce a draft order so that we can understand what they have in mind here?
As for organised crime groups, the current money-laundering rules are a burden on professionals, and Part 1 might add to that. I am aware that another policy aim of the Government, of course, is deregulation. We have had briefings, from the Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in particular, about Clause 41 and organised crime groups. Prejudice is often expressed against fat cat lawyers. There may be some, although many are very lean, and there may be some lawyers and accountants who are not straight, and I do not defend them. However, there seems to be a lot of justified concern about how this clause will work. We are told that there has been no prior consultation, so the most important question for now is what plans the Home Office has to engage in discussion with the professional bodies. Everyone has an interest in this provision working well.
Before I received the briefings, I was concerned about things such as the burden of proof, serious crime prevention orders as prevention without a conviction, and the definitions. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I thought that the meaning of the term “helping” in the context of criminal activities could be taken to absurd extremes. Perhaps the question about gangs is how successful the gang injunctions have been so far and their relationship with joint enterprise. A criminal group seems to be three-plus, so more are needed for joint enterprise. Only 25 of the 33 local authorities who are in the Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme responded to the data request. Is this an indication that they are under enormous pressure and are underresourced, because this is described as a “potentially beneficial tool”? Intriguingly, we are told that gangs can disappear from the radar in one area and reappear in another. Do the Government intend to produce guidance on what enables those people to be identified as being the same gang? We will deal with what constitutes harm to children. This made me wonder whether gang-related violence included psychological harm. I am thinking of vulnerable youngsters—particularly how girls may be used by gangs, becoming part of them but being victims of them at the same time.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is taking part in this debate, because she always has such sensible things to say about drugs policy and drugs legislation. I accept the need to deal with cutting agents; their use is pernicious in several different ways. The responses to the Government’s consultation on this mentioned legal clarity, but I can see evidential issues raising their heads as well. I wondered about the equipment used for cutting agents. Do they—I am sorry, I cannot now avoid the pun—warrant attention as well as the agents themselves?
As regards children, the House sometimes has a tendency to divide into sort of a Bill half full/Bill half empty approach. It is very likely that the part of the Bill on the protection of children will attract proposed additions, as it gives an opportunity for colleagues to pursue their often very justified concerns. My noble friend Lady Walmsley, who has been unable to change her arrangements for this afternoon to be here, already has an amendment, agreed by the Public Bill Office to be in scope, that would make it a duty for people who work in regulated activities with children or vulnerable adults and who suspect abuse to report it to the local authority.
The change to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to spell out that harm includes psychological harm is the result of sustained work by many NGOs and the Private Member’s Bill from my honourable friend the Member for Ceredigion. It is blindingly obvious to us in the year 2014, but the same issue of what is meant by harm arises in other legislation. It has been addressed recently in the context of domestic violence but outside statute. In that and other contexts, I confess that I am concerned that psychological and emotional damage may be regarded as excluded by implication, since it is to be explicitly included in this case.
Noble Lords will have received briefings from children’s organisations on other possible changes to the 1933 Act. I find quite persuasive the argument that the term “wilful” to describe actions is very narrow. Again, I wonder about guidance and the CPS’s view. It is important that the language that is used carries its natural meaning, so that it is easily used by practitioners.
There is also the issue of the age bracket for victims, possibly taking it up to 18. I doubt that anyone who has had more than fleeting contact with teenagers could argue that they are more resilient than younger children, as has been said. I, too, was horrified by what I read in our briefing about the paedophile manual. I was surprised that it needs specific provision, but for the moment I will just ask whether internet service providers have been consulted on Schedule 3.
All the legislation in the world will not deal with the deeper-rooted cultural issues surrounding female genital mutilation. The Government, I know, are very well aware of that and have been very determined in their approach. I count the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green as a real friend and a long-standing colleague as well as an honourable friend, and I can vouch for the activity that she, among many others, has undertaken.
I end with a positive story. I was at a meeting on Thursday, in the margins of the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, with a number of Members of other parliaments. A representative from Portugal recounted a tale of the boyfriend of a potential victim protesting and campaigning against the abuse. In a gloomy subject, I thought that was a cheering report.
There may be a common thread to this: that practice is important and that being alert to what technical changes are indeed necessary to implement existing policy is something on which we can profitably use our time.
My Lords, this is not an easy Bill to read, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was indicating at the beginning of her speech, as so much of it is concerned with updating existing legislation in those fields with which it deals. Updating is really the thread that runs right through the Bill, from start to finish. In itself, I suggest that is to be welcomed. In each of those fields, experience has shown us that there are gaps that need to be filled. We know that where there are gaps in legislation of this kind, they will be exploited. Where there is room for evasion, it will be exploited, too. All the areas of law with which the Bill is concerned are vulnerable to being undermined in this way or are lacking in the power that comes with the increased sentences to which the Minister referred.
Serious and organised criminals—those who deal in illegal drugs, attack our computer systems or are engaged in paedophilia or terrorism—are not going to go away. Their presence in our community is a constant threat. We need to keep our lines of attack and defences up to date, so it is not surprising that the statutes with which this Bill deals are in need of amendment, although some were enacted not all that long ago, and that new measures are required in support of those we already have. Speaking broadly, the Bill deserves our warm support.
I am especially grateful to the Minister for the information pack that we were given the other day to help us through these provisions. It contains fact sheets and Keeling schedules, which are of course extremely useful, but they do not tell one everything. I was troubled by the fact that on my first reading, it seemed that the provisions in Clause 3(3)(b) and Clause 24(3), amending Sections 33 and 183 of POCA, which deal with appeals against the making of confiscation orders, provided appellants with an unqualified right of appeal to the Supreme Court. Everyone else has to go through a permission process before an appeal can be heard there and, as a result, appeals in the Supreme Court are available only if a point of general importance is involved and the decision appealed against raises a point that ought to be considered by the Supreme Court. On my first reading of this part of the Bill, I asked myself: why should the appeals in this field be any different?
The answer was provided by two of the Supreme Court’s judicial assistants but they did not find it in the Keeling schedules because it is to be found in delegated legislation set out in two orders made by the Secretary of State in 2003, details of which I need not give. However, the result is that the appeals referred to in these clauses are subject to the ordinary rule, although that is not apparent on first reading. I am greatly relieved that that is so and I hope that my researchers have provided me with the correct answer.
Some of the provisions, although at first sight well meaning, may require careful scrutiny. One of them is Clause 41 in Part 3, to which the noble Baroness referred and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, drew our attention. In response to what the noble Lord said, it seems to me that the way in which the issue of organised crime is being approached in Clause 41 is, in principle, the right one. He mentioned the alternative of using the law of conspiracy to deal with matters of this kind. When I was serving as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary I was involved in a case where a conspiracy charge was used in connection with money-laundering. In the days when it was used, the rules for the framing of counts in indictment were subject to what is called the duplicity rule. It was very complicated and I shall not trouble to explain it but the point was that conspiracy was used to get around the difficulty. When the appeal reached us, we had to quash the conviction because the evidence necessary to prove conspiracy was not there.
It is quite a complicated area of law. Although, as a Scots lawyer, I hesitate to make suggestions for the English, I think conspiracy should be avoided if it is possible to do so. The great advantage of Clause 41 is that it goes straight to the heart of what it is seeking to attack and describes it in simple language. To that extent, I welcome Clause 41 and hope that the noble Lord feels able to defend it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, indicated, there is concern that some well meaning, law-abiding professionals might be brought within the reach of the clause when what they are doing is providing advice and intelligence to the authorities. They might feel deterred from doing this—from getting too close to the people that Clause 41 is talking about—in case they become drawn into some kind of criminal prosecution. It is all about how the offence is defined in Clause 41(2) and the way the defence in Clause 41(8) is worded. It is not necessary to say more about this, but it is a clause that will require detailed examination in Committee.
I welcome the opportunity that the provision in Clause 62—particularly Clause 62(2), which deals with the meaning of “unnecessary suffering”—gives us to debate the issue. I say that against the background of a case of domestic violence, Yemshaw, in which my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood and I were involved some years ago. In that case, the House was asked to consider whether the phrase “domestic violence” in the Housing Act 1996 to describe circumstances in which it would not be reasonable to expect a person to live with someone else in the same accommodation, required there to be, and be limited to, some form of physical contact. There had been two Court of Appeal decisions which said precisely that. Although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, hesitated somewhat, we were persuaded in Yemshaw that, because of the way in which people look at these matters, it would be unreasonable to confine domestic violence to physical contact. So many cases of that kind are the product of intimidation and psychological abuse, which is equally untenable and makes it equally difficult for someone to live with someone else. Psychological harm was, therefore, said to be included within “domestic violence”.
The concern is that, if the issue of unnecessary suffering, as defined in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, were to come to court against the background of Yemshaw, the court might feel that it should extend it to psychological as well as physical damage. There will be differing views in the House as to whether this would be desirable. My only point is to welcome the opportunity that we shall have to debate it. I mention Yemshaw because it indicates that this is an area of law that others are working on, as well as us. It is eminently desirable that Parliament should clear this up, rather than have the matter debated, with perhaps less range of discussion, in the courts. That is to be welcomed, whatever the end result may be.
There are one or two other matters that I should like to mention, particularly in relation to Scotland. This is the result of studying the Bill with the Scottish jurisdiction in mind. I have given the Minister notice and I hope he will at least be able to give me some indication in his reply as to what the answer would be. The first relates to Clause 63, which deals with the paedophile manual. The curious feature of that provision is that, according to the wording of the clause, it extends only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and not to Scotland. That is confirmed by Clause 69(2)(c), which deals with the extent of the Bill and makes it absolutely plain that it does not extend to Scotland. I take it that it is no accident that it is drafted in this way.
That seems at first sight to give rise to a very strange situation. We all live on the same island, as we keep hearing in the debates about the referendum. You could imagine that if someone who lived in Carlisle or Berwick-upon-Tweed wished to get access to one of these manuals, he would have to drive only a short distance to Gretna Green or Eyemouth and find someone who was in possession of one. He could consult it and then go back to Carlisle or Berwick-upon-Tweed and do whatever the manual had taught him to do. It is very puzzling that this does not extend to Scotland. So far as my researches go, there is no equivalent provision, at least in these terms; I discussed this question this morning with a criminal law practitioner and he said that to me. It is true that a recent measure in Scotland, the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, covers a lot of ground and it may be that the Scottish Government are reluctant to expand on it at this stage, but some explanation is required as to why this measure, which seems eminently desirable, is confined to south of the border and why it appears to be assumed that people in Scotland will not be engaging in the same malpractice.
The second point is rather more technical. It relates to the provision in Paragraph 23 of Schedule 1, which provides that the civil standard of proof will apply to any proceedings in the High Court of Justiciary or a sheriff court relating to serious crime prevention orders. I suggest that the clause may be too widely drawn. It is mirrored to an extent by the provisions relating to England and Wales about the standard of proof, but the point that emerges from a detailed reading of these provisions is that the civil standard applies to proceedings in the High Court, which in England is mainly a civil court and deals with the making or amendment of these orders, whereas the criminal standard applies to proceedings brought in the Crown Court, which is the equivalent of the High Court of Justiciary or the sheriff exercising his criminal jurisdiction. It is not immediately clear to me why the civil standard should be expressed so broadly in relation to criminal jurisdiction in Scotland when it is carefully separated out in the equivalent English provision.
The names of the courts are bit confusing but I am sure that the draftsmen understand that the High Court of Justiciary is entirely criminal—that is its jurisdiction exclusively—and that it is therefore right to be very careful about altering the standard of proof there. The point is that there could be proceedings under these orders that relate to serious crimes—an attempt to pervert the course of justice in relation to these orders, for example—which one surely would have thought could be prosecuted according to the criminal standard. Again, this matter requires some explanation. It may be that those north of the border have some guidance to give us as to what the answer should be.
My final point is a quibble about drafting. I am reminded that there used to be a practice when I first came into this House in the middle of the 1990s; from the Cross Benches you would see Lord Simon of Glaisdale and one or two others sitting looking at Bills to find bits of grammar or drafting that they could draw to the House’s attention. Usually this was a bit tongue in cheek, but sometimes there were bits that really were worth mentioning.
There is one minor complaint that I should like to voice about what one finds in Clauses 57(1) and 58(3). Clause 57(1) deals with the jurisdiction in the magistrates’ court, but magistrates’ courts do not sit in Scotland. In Clause 58(3) we find that appeals, apparently from a magistrates’ court, may be taken in Scotland to the sheriff principal, who sits only in Scotland. Again, if one delves around in the Bill, the answer is to be found later on: in Clause 61(4) we find that a reference to the magistrates’ court is to be read as a reference to the sheriff. However, it is rather untidy to have to go there to interpret magistrates’ courts, when in Clause 58 it is all set out in full for you so that you have the proper English court and this court in the same clause. It would have been better either to group all the Scottish bits in Clauses 57 and 58, or to leave Clause 58 as one that apparently dealt only with England, and then clear it all up as is apparently done in Clause 61. That is the kind of point that Lord Simon would have raised. He would never have dreamt of putting down an amendment to deal with it but would have thought it proper to draw the House’s attention to it, and I should like to do that.
My Lords, I very much welcome this Bill and think it is timely and appropriate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and his colleagues at the Home Office on pointing us in this direction. Noble Lords will have seen in the briefing that it is based on a strategy described as the four Ps: Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. For somebody like me, such laboured alliteration might indicate an overambitious sermon and I want to check the level of the ambition and what might be appropriate.
This Bill, timely and appropriate as it is, is really about Pursue—the pursuit of justice and criminals, and I fully support the proposals. I am especially pleased to see proposals that were endorsed by the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill—on which I had the privilege to serve—about longer sentences for those who default on confiscation orders and lowering the standard of proof for restraint orders freezing defendants’ assets. These measures will not just attack criminals but help victims, which is a crucial part of this legislation. Of course, I support the tougher pursuit of those who inflict FGM and child cruelty, targeting of manuals for grooming and abusing children, and measures against cybercrime and gangs. However, the question is how we are going to deliver that kind of agenda in a realistic way, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said.
This Bill is a first step but we have to remember that organised crime is a huge and expanding industry and flourishes by targeting the most vulnerable people. We are dealing not just with highly sophisticated corrupt systems, but with the brutal abuse of vulnerable people. I have experienced that in my work with modern slavery and drug addicts. As we pursue the crime and the criminal we have to ask how we are going to have an effective response when this criminality is an expanding industry. What does that say about the world we live in and the world we are trying to legislate for? It is very topical at the moment to talk about values and the buzzwords, I understand, are freedom, tolerance and democracy. In 1861, the Bishop of Oxford, who sat on these Benches, gave a famous speech in Salisbury where he recognised the welcome advance of values such as freedom, tolerance and democracy but said there would be a danger that such freedom and spaciousness would give more room for what he called “sin and selfishness” and what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, called “evil”.
This modern crime is not just about technical ingenuity; it is about people choosing the freedom to abuse others and society. We are already aware of cynicism about politics but I think what we are looking at here is an energetic alternative set of values being pursued vigorously in our midst with alternative ways of valuing people and society and doing economics. The alternatives are all based on putting the self first and abusing vulnerable people. That is a very dangerous state of affairs for a nation. The Government have a key role, not just to pursue criminals but to challenge this abusive, expanding lifestyle that reaps such rewards for so many people across all sectors of society. St Paul called it living according to the flesh—that is, according to the most immediate desires and not having a wider hinterland about other people and their needs and especially the vulnerable. This industry is expanding at a time when many of us are preparing to commemorate the First World War. As we collect stories and witness to that war I am struck by the heroic self-sacrifice for others that was involved—something people recognise and value and want to appreciate today.
We have these two streams in our society. The Government have a role not just in pursuing the crime but in looking at the culture and, therefore, at how we can manage pursuing the crime and supporting the victims. I therefore invite the Minister to say something not just about the pursuit but about Prevent, Protect and Prepare; we may come up with different alliteration by the end of the debate. The Home Secretary makes a strong and proper appeal for what she calls “strong partnerships” to deal with this complex culture and this deep challenge. Can the Minister say something about the partnerships that he sees needing to be developed, by working not just through the Home Office but with the Department for Education, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the faith and voluntary sector? Unless we work at that part of the agenda too, we can make all the laws we like but the detection, pursuit and support of victims will still depend on so many other factors. We need to take those into account to make our lawmaking as effective as possible.
My Lords, I start by offering my thanks to my noble friend Lord Taylor for his useful introduction to the Bill and for the amount of information with which he has provided us in the run-up to this Second Reading; the meetings he has held with all parts of the House on a party basis and an all-party basis; and the various documents he has provided, including the Explanatory Notes and Explanatory Memorandum—even, dare I say it, the impact assessments, although I found them fairly obscure. I am trying to work out which of the five or six impact assessments relates to which part of the Bill, but that is somewhat difficult. No doubt my noble friend will assist us in that at some later stage.
Some years ago, when I sat where the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, is sitting now, dealing with both justice and home affairs in opposition, I criticised the Home Office and other departments on a number of occasions for this vast legislative steamroller that seemed to churn out Bill after Bill. The noble Baroness said that she had seen nine Bills come from the Home Office in the four years that she had been in this House. I simply cannot remember how many we had claimed we had seen between 1997 and 2010: certainly our figure never quite agreed with the figure of the Government of the day. However, we all had our own views that there were too many.
I then ended up in the Home Office and had to rather change my tune. However, it is important with any Bill—particularly as there is a great deal of all-party support for this Bill, as the noble Baroness made clear—that we look carefully at how much of this legislation is genuinely necessary and how much might just be what one might call legislation for legislation’s sake: making it look as though you are doing something even though there are perfectly adequate laws already in place dealing with this or that matter. This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Richard; I will get to that when I come to that part of the Bill.
It is important that we in this House go through the Bill very carefully in Committee, to make sure that we know exactly what is there and why, and make sure that that degree of cross-party support does not prevent us from giving the Bill a genuinely critical look.
In my few opening remarks, I also thank my noble friend for providing us with a Keeling schedule. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made clear, it is not an easy Bill to read, as it makes a whole series of amendments to other bits of legislation. I was therefore certainly grateful for that Keeling schedule, and am sure that other noble Lords will be as well.
I want to touch on Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Bill: “Proceeds of Crime”, “Computer Misuse” and “Organised, Serious and Gang-related Crime”. I will touch upon them in light of the few opening remarks I made about the importance of scrutinising the Bill to ensure that it is not that legislative steamroller that churns out legislation merely for the sake of legislation.
We start with the amendments to POCA in Part 1. It is now 12 years since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was brought in by the previous Government. Despite the figures given by the noble Baroness, it has had some successes in recovering the proceeds of crime from criminals, albeit at some expense. It has continued to have further successes since 2010 under the Conservative coalition Government. My noble friend was quite right to say that, broadly speaking, it is the right framework within which to work. However, some improvements, which my noble friend set out, need to be made to it. Further powers also need to be taken to make sure that we can pursue criminals and that they cannot hide their money—for example with spouses, or abroad—and to make it harder for them to use it. I think we would like to know what estimates my noble friend and his colleagues in the Home Office have made so far about just what the improvements will do: how much more is it likely to bring in, what further sums are we likely to see, and have any estimates been made of what sort of success it will have?
Secondly, I will say a word or two about Part 2, on “Computer Misuse”, which covers Sections 37 to—I forget where it goes to. Starting with Section 37, how much of that is new legislation? How much of the various offences that are enunciated in new Section 3ZA are already covered by existing legislation? I would have thought that many of them would be, but again, I would welcome assurances from my noble friend that those could be covered; some of them, for example, could be covered quite simply by the Theft Act. I would welcome comments from my noble friend on that section. Having said that, I am grateful that in Section 39 he seeks to extend the territoriality of the Bill to make sure that we can get people who are abroad. That is a good measure, and I am sure that the House will welcome it.
The third section I will touch on is Part 3: “Organised, Serious and Gang-related Crime”. Again, I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said about using existing laws relating to conspiracy. My noble friend responded to that and explained exactly why that was needed. That was questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but was then defended by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead—and I very much welcome what he said. However, the noble and learned Lord went on to suggest that it could bring in some innocent professionals. I agree with him that we need to look very carefully at that matter in Committee, and we will need some carefully drafted probing amendments on it to allow my noble friend to respond when we get to that stage.
As I implied, I was going to be very brief in my response and wanted to deal only with those three sections. The rest of the Bill is equally important, and I am sure that the House will give proper and adequate coverage to it. I am very grateful for the assurances I was given in private on that, but again, I would be grateful if my noble friend could repeat them when he comes to wind up. I am grateful that he thought that we would need at least four days in Committee to deal with the Bill. It is a big Bill that needs proper scrutiny, and the mere fact that we have a degree of cross-party support should not prevent us giving it that cross-party support. Having said that, I offer my support to my noble friend, but I hope that he will allow us to be constructively critical on some occasions.
My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests. I advise Lockheed Martin and UK Broadband, which have interests in the policing sector. I chair the National Trading Standards Board and I co-chair the All-Party Group on Policing.
Following on from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, while we have to look at this Bill, there is a danger—the noble Lord, Lord Henley, called it “legislation for legislation’s sake”—that some of the content of the Bills we receive in this Session is being rather oversold. The Bills are no doubt worthy, but they do not necessarily address the major issues that they purport to address.
I suppose that is symptomatic of this stage of a fixed-term Parliament, with an ill-matched coalition whose members loathe each other and can barely mask their disagreements—that is just the Lib Dems. On the Conservative side of the coalition of course, we know there is perfect harmony. Indeed, not a scintilla of difference can be detected between the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education. Indeed, they are so united that they did not have to go through the charade, like Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, of having a pint together, which incidentally sets a very poor example for hard-working families of drinking during the working day. Mrs May and Mr Gove have none the less to go through a series of rituals: a ritual exchange of written apologies, the ritual firing of a special adviser or two—not that firing a special adviser does anything to solve the problems. One has only to look at the front page of today’s Times to realise that. Now all is sweetness and light between the two departments. The briefing campaign is apparently over. Or is it? I detect a guerrilla war going on between the advisers of the different government departments concerned. We have all seen the Home Office briefing on the Bill. It tells us that the purpose of the Bill is,
“to ensure we can continue to effectively and relentlessly pursue”.
Take that, Mr Gove: see how we have split the infinitive to show how pointless is your crusade for back-to-basics education. This is the level to which infighting in the Government has gone.
The Bill is the usual ragbag of Home Office measures: it must not contain anything that is too frightening for the Lib Dem portion of the coalition, but none the less everything within it has to be built up as more significant than perhaps it is. As usual, some of it sounds as though it has not been thought out as well as it might be. I was much taken by the briefing that we have no doubt all received from the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which says that the part targeting crooked lawyers and accountants will not make prosecutions easier because it sets a higher standard of proof than Labour’s Proceeds of Crime Act. What is worse, it will have a series of unintended consequences and potentially choke off valuable intelligence to help the police target serious crime. These are no doubt important issues that we will need to look at in your Lordships’ House.
The Bill is designed to make it easier to recover criminal assets. That is welcome, although there seems to be an element of catch-up on Labour’s proposals to do the same. However, we need to be satisfied that the Bill will have the effect of closing the loopholes that allow criminals to hide their assets with family members or overseas. Is that going to be achieved by the changes before us?
There is another problem here. I refer to the extent to which the agencies involved feel it is appropriate to invest the sometimes quite substantial resources required to pursue POCA proceedings. For many of those agencies, too high a proportion of what is seized, often after quite a protracted legal process, is retained by the Treasury rather than being available for the agency concerned to reinvest in crime-fighting. Will the Bill do anything to remedy that? I certainly hope that it is something that the Home Office will look at, perhaps with Treasury colleagues, to see whether more of those resources can be ploughed back to improve the quality of the work that is done in fighting serious and organised crime.
In that context, one of the groups that the National Trading Standards Board funds is the illegal money lending team for England, based in Birmingham. It works hard to recover POCA money from the loan sharks who prey on the vulnerable. It uses the receipts it obtains, after the Treasury has had its take, to plough back into local communities on programmes of education about money management and how to avoid loan sharks. That is a very useful and positive thing that can be done. A trading standards department in North Yorkshire puts great emphasis on working right the way through the prosecution process. It starts with obtaining material and evidence that can be used in Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings at a later stage and works right the way through the investigation. That enables it to plough some of the money it recovers back into further investigations of those who scam the public. I hope that the Minister will tell us what more is being done to try to ensure that more of the resources obtained from criminals can be invested in crime-fighting.
Part 5 of the Bill deals with the protection of children and strengthens and clarifies the law on psychological suffering and abuse. I am pleased to see those measures. It follows the lead of my late right honourable friend Paul Goggins, who campaigned on this issue. The Bill also creates a new offence of possession of material on advice on grooming children. That is all well and good, but is that the most fundamental issue in terms of protecting children and young people on the internet? The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, who is not in her place, has been doggedly pressing ahead with her Private Member’s Bill in successive Sessions of Parliament on precisely this issue and I find it surprising that the Government have not been more positive about its provisions.
Noble Lords who were present at Question Time today will know that I referred to the benefits of the Government doing more to sponsor proper identity assurance on the internet with robust age verification. That would not only protect children but would also do much to combat crime and fraud. Individuals would have the certainty of knowing who they were dealing with, young people would be prevented from accessing unsuitable material and older people would be prevented from accessing sites that were intended to be the exclusive domain of children.
Much of the Bill is about improving the effectiveness of the National Crime Agency, an organisation which is barely half a year old. It is interesting that perhaps some of these issues were not addressed when we first had the legislation which created the National Crime Agency. Some matters are still not being resolved. We still do not know how the work of the National Crime Agency can be extended to Northern Ireland. The issue of whether the National Crime Agency should take on board counterterrorism remains unresolved. My view is that that would be an unwise move to make, particularly given that the National Crime Agency is still so new. Why leave this hanging open? Would it not be better to put that to bed one way or the other, sooner rather than later?
There is also the question of the proper governance and accountability of the National Crime Agency. We have had the Home Secretary giving her instruction that the National Crime Agency, almost before it had started work, should investigate historic child abuse in north Wales. Where in the Bill are questions of accountability of the National Crime Agency being addressed?
Last week, the Daily Telegraph told us that a quarter of criminals tracked by the National Crime Agency and the Security Service have gone off the radar since the Snowden revelations and that hundreds of drug lords have gone to ground after being alerted to methods of surveillance. The noble Lord will recall that two years ago the Home Office warned of the need to address changes in communications data management by telecoms providers, but nothing has been done in the intervening period. This Bill could have provided an opportunity to address that very real problem. Communications data are vital for all sorts of investigations. They are used by trading standards in carrying out the consumer protection enforcement that I talked about, they were critical in the investigation of the Soham murders and they are often critical in many kidnap cases.
I accept that issues around the privacy of communications and metadata are not easy—they need a proper public debate. I have also been one of the first to acknowledge that the previous Government mishandled the public debate when the opportunity for it arose a few years ago. However, what we have had in the past four years has been a total absence of debate and a total absence of leadership from the Government in trying to resolve these issues. The consequence is that there is now a real danger that our ability to fight organised crime is being seriously corroded.
I started my speech by talking about coalition dysfunctionality, but the willy-waving of the Education Secretary and the Home Secretary—I acknowledge that the term may be inappropriate for your Lordships’ House and certainly inappropriate in applying it to Mrs May—is a side-show compared with the failure of the two halves of the coalition over the five years of this Parliament to address the diminishing capacity of our police forces, including the NCA, to access the communications data that they need to fight crime effectively and to protect the public. Therefore, while the Bill contains many worthy elements, it frankly does not address some of the most serious problems that exist in dealing with organised crime.
My Lords, in dealing with the Second Reading of yet another miscellaneous provisions criminal Bill, there is a sneaking temptation to have a tour d’horizon of the contents of the Bill and, indeed, to repeat a point that I have sought to make probably half a dozen times over the past eight or nine years—that is, that the legislative fecundity of the Home Office for such Bills should in some way or another be curbed. It may be that the only humane way of doing that is to have a written constitution with a Bill of Rights and to see to it that the Home Office is limited to no more than one Bill of that nature per annum.
On this occasion, however, I want to take a totally different course and concentrate completely on one single matter in the Bill: Clause 62. As the House knows—it has already been referred to by noble and learned Lords and by the noble Baroness—that clause deals with two amendments to Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The effects are limited. One is to see to it that that which may well have been implicit in the original wording of the measure is now made explicit—namely, that it should refer not only to physical but to non-physical consequences. The situation was somewhat complicated in 1981 when this House dealt with the matter of Sheppard. In relation to the situation of children, it held that Section 1 of the 1933 Act should not in any way deal with spiritual, educational, moral or emotional matters but only with physical ones. That decision, arrived at by this House, was a heavy gloss, which has now been undone by including psychological harm with physical harm. We will, no doubt, discuss whether the term “psychological harm” is wide enough to incorporate all the other, non-physical, matters at a later stage.
The other part of the amendment deals with the exclusion of Victorian verbiage which describes certain situations that are illustrative of child cruelty, and it is entirely proper to take that attitude. However, although these two amendments are entirely meritorious and proper, they fall very far short of what the aims of a progressive society should be, on the issue of child neglect, in the 21st century. As the House well knows, and as many people better qualified than me can testify, it is one of the most massive problems of the present day. Neglect leading to cruelty is often at least as serious as physical or sexual abuse of a child. In many ways, it may be more sinister as it is more difficult to identify and reveal. It is very broad in its possibilities and may range from failure to give a child the food and clothing it requires to the other extreme of failure to show a child the love and affection that one would wish every child to receive.
Many people are extremely well versed and have campaigned in this field. In particular, I note the contribution of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in this matter. Many come to the conclusion that as many as 10% of our children suffer some form of substantial neglect. We should look at this provision against that template. We are not ungrateful to the Government for their initiative, but it falls far short of what is necessary in the circumstances. I appreciate that this is Second Reading but, since I am challenging the Government’s fundamental approach, it is right to argue at this stage that a totally fresh approach should be taken. Why is this? The 1933 Act is 80 years old but its provisions are much older as they were taken, word for word, from Section 37 of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868.
That Act was passed in very special circumstances, to deal with a sect called the Peculiar People. They were very genuine people who were very firm in their religious beliefs, to the effect that if a person—particularly a child—was ill, one should not for a moment think of a cure or of approaching a doctor, or giving medicine. Instead, one should resort to prayer. If the child died, so be it: it was the act of God. To go contrary to this was seen as utterly blasphemous. As a result, many persons charged with manslaughter on the death of a child were found not guilty because of their innate—but utterly unreasonable—genuineness. It was for that purpose that that particular provision in Section 37 of the 1868 Act was passed. Much of that verbiage is still in Section 1(1) and (2) of the 1933 Act.
I am not arguing that just because there is Victorian verbiage one should get rid of it. I have lived as a lawyer for many years with the Offences against the Person Act 1861. I suspect that many generations of lawyers still to come will do exactly the same. It is a splendid Act and most of its provisions work really well. In this case, however, we are dealing with the cobwebs of a Victorian attitude which is utterly irrelevant and inappropriate for the problems that we seek to beat in relation to this matter. For example, even if the amendment is carried—and I have no doubt that it will be—the whole concept of child neglect and cruelty will turn on the question of whether the person who is perpetrating such conduct is doing it wilfully. To many lay people, magistrates, police officers and jurors, “wilful” means something that a person does deliberately. Conceptually, however, “neglect” is essentially a matter of omission. Lawyers understand the difference, but intelligent lay people do not find it so easy to make the distinction.
In addition, there are five ways in which the offence can be committed. First, we have a wide range of offences of assault, including common assault and sexual assault. Nothing needs to be said about that. Secondly, we have “ill treatment”, but apparently nowhere is it defined in the law, in statute or elsewhere, comprehensively. Thirdly, we have neglect, but that begs the whole question of the difficulties that we are talking about. Fourthly, there is abandonment. I suggest that that part of the law has fallen into desuetude: the last prosecution was in 1957. Fifthly, there is exposure. That has fallen into even greater desuetude: the last prosecution was in 1910.
These matters have to be tackled. I salute the efforts of Action for Children and other similar progressive bodies in this regard. A Bill has been drafted which concentrates essentially on defining the offence as maltreatment—which is an excellent expression—but it also refers to maltreatment that either causes or raises the danger of causing significant harm. What is the beauty of that? Significant harm is the essential core and kernel of harming a child under the Children Act 1989. Therefore the suggestion made by progressive societies, and the measure introduced in the House of Commons a year ago by Mr Mark Williams, the MP for Ceredigion, who is also my MP, would mean that for the first time the civil law and the criminal law would look at child cruelty in exactly the same way and according to the same definitions. Social workers and police officers would read from the same brief.
There is much more that one could deliberate on, but this is not the time to do it; we will have a full opportunity for that in the coming months. Knowing that the Minister is resilient to such appeals, I urge him to consider carefully that this is a glorious opportunity to erase completely a great deal of cobwebbed complication and that we can start afresh. Let us define this all-important aspect of the criminal law in such a way that it best serves the needs of our children. I give the Minister notice that we shall plumb the illimitable depths of his good will in this matter, and I very much trust that we shall not find him wanting.
My Lords, as has already been said, we have had a succession of Acts of Parliament tackling crime, terrorism and policing over many years. This Bill, which I welcome, is the latest. But there is a good reason for all this legislation. The challenges that we face are continually changing. Organised crime is becoming ever more sophisticated in the way that the criminals operate, the methods that they use, the way that they organise themselves and the way that they hide their ill-gotten gains. It is a constant battle. In the case of cybercrime, we are in a never ending technological race to keep up with the cybercriminals as they use ever more skilful and devious hardware and software and the dark side of the internet. We have to keep up with them, especially as we realise just how extensive these threats are to our commerce, industry, infrastructure, financial security, people’s personal lives, the environment and, most important of all, our national security.
We know that white-collar crime can be an ally, sometimes unwittingly, of organised crime, and organised criminals can and do use professional advisers to facilitate their criminal activity. On the separate subject of protecting children, the Bill at last updates the law, long overdue, by recognising that the harm done to children can be not only physical but psychological and, as has been said by several noble Lords, we are in debt to those doughty campaigners both in Parliament and outside who have campaigned hard on this issue. The Bill is also necessary because of developments in the Middle East and the threats posed by British citizens who go overseas to engage in terrorism, particularly to Syria, then return to the UK radicalised still further and dangerous.
All these developments have propelled this Bill before Parliament. I suspect that in an ever changing world with new developments and new threats, there will before long be a need for yet further legislation, although I cannot see the face of my noble friend the Minister when I say that. As all of us in this House know, it is fine passing a Bill but we always have to ask whether the authorities have the resources, capability and expertise to implement its provisions. We will want to look at this very carefully as the Bill is scrutinised in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred in her speech to the importance of enforcement.
On practicality, a number of specific points concern me and I will briefly single out two. In seeking to prosecute alleged rogue professionals—accountants and lawyers, for example—for acting as accomplices to organised crime, the Bill would require the prosecution only to show that the accused had reasonable grounds for believing that they were helping a criminal group. How would that work in practice? It might well—and certainly should—encourage professionals to delve more deeply into the affairs of some of their more suspect clients, but it may have quite the opposite effect of “best not to know”. How would that work in court? With whom would the burden of proof lie; the prosecution or defence?
A second area concerns the extension of the Terrorism Act 2006. I confess to being no expert in this area but, when we come to examine Clause 65 in Committee, I at least will find it helpful to know whether it is realistic to believe that sufficient evidence can be brought to court to demonstrate that an accused has been preparing or training overseas for engaging in terrorism. Having said that, I assure the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who is not in his place, that I certainly believe the Bill’s objective here is good and important, but it would be helpful to know how realistic it is.
Overall, I welcome the Bill and believe that it will, in all its different aspects, help create a safer society for our fellow citizens.
My Lords, despite the glowing reference that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, gave the coalition Government, as the Minister has already said, crime is significantly down since this Government came to power. Indeed, in many crime categories it is at the lowest levels ever recorded. However, as the Minister also said, serious and organised crime remains a very serious problem, not least because it is an area of crime that many members of the public are less concerned about—certainly less concerned than they are about personal crime such as burglary, robbery and anti-social behaviour—so there is the potential that police and crime commissioners, perhaps focusing on being re-elected, may be disinclined to champion it.
I would like to speak—it says here “briefly”, but I do not want to raise expectations beyond what I can deliver—on two aspects of the Bill. From my experience as an operational police officer, I very much welcome the enhancements to the Proceeds of Crime Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, rightly pointed out the very small proportion of proceeds of crime that are confiscated, which to me merely demonstrates how difficult it is and how necessary are the changes. It is a sad fact that those involved in serious and organised crime can amass great wealth from their criminal activity. It is also a sad fact that they can therefore afford to employ the best lawyers to help them move their assets beyond reach. Establishing third-party claims at an earlier stage in the process, as the Bill proposes, should help prevent spurious third-party claims further down the line and increase the success in confiscating such assets.
While some criminals in the past have felt that spending additional time in prison is better than giving up their criminal assets, the increase in default sentences—including having to serve the full term of up to a maximum of 14 years in the case of default on a confiscation order over £10 million—will provide a real incentive for them to pay up. It is important that criminals know that the confiscation order remains in force, even if the default sentence is served—as does any compliance order, such as a ban on overseas travel to prevent assets being disposed of.
Of particular benefit are the powers in Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act by which criminal assets can be recovered where no criminal conviction has been possible, either because the criminal has remained remote from the commission of the crime from which they have benefited or because they have fled overseas. In my experience, this is particularly the case with drug dealers who run distribution networks between importation and street dealers. They are very often careful to ensure that they never handle the drugs themselves. It is difficult, however, for these people to demonstrate how they acquired such wealth through legitimate means. Applications for seizure in these cases are made to the High Court.
As has already been mentioned, Clause 41 will also assist in creating a new offence of helping an organised crime group carry out criminal activities: for example, putting in place infrastructure to assist in the commission of crime.
I also welcome the change to Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, in particular the clarification that cruelty likely to cause psychological suffering or harm is covered by Section 1, despite the fact that the Government believe that the other limbs of the offence, in particular ill-treatment, can relate to non-physical cruelty. This follows the work done by—and the Private Member’s Bill of—Mark Williams MP in the other place.
Having said that, women’s groups I have been working with are concerned about two aspects of this change. The first is that it could result in the criminalisation of non-abusing parents who are themselves the victims of coercion, control and psychological abuse. I will unpack that a bit. There have been cases where women, mainly, have been convicted of physical child neglect because they did not prevent the abuse carried out by an abusive partner, even though the partner was exercising coercive control over them as well as abusing the child. In these cases the woman could be said to be almost powerless to protect the child because of the control her partner had over her. With the extension of cruelty to cover non-physical cruelty, there is the potential for such injustices to increase unless there is also movement in recognising psychological abuse and coercive control in domestic violence against partners.
That brings me to the second point, which is that the Government have not taken the opportunity in this Bill to address what many women’s groups believe to be a legislative gap in domestic violence law to deal with psychological abuse and coercive control. Indeed, psychological abuse and coercive control, not individual incidents of physical violence, are the essence of domestic violence.
My noble friend the Minister will recall a recent debate in the House in which he reassured us that legislation to criminalise psychological abuse and coercive control was not necessary because it was already covered by existing legislation. The Government seem to be saying the same thing in this Bill—that non-physical cruelty directed at children is already covered by existing legislation—but none the less they are prepared to make this explicit by changes to Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act. Can the Minister explain why the Government are prepared to make the change in the case of child abuse but are not prepared to make a similar change in relation to domestic violence against partners, particularly now that they are prepared to set a similar precedent in relation to child abuse?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Paddick and to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, of the coalition’s unity of purpose on the Serious Crime Bill.
The point has already been made, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that we always seem to be getting Home Office measures. It is true that, like taxes and motorway cones, Home Office bills are always with us. That said, I am very much in agreement with my noble friend Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury in thinking that this measure is more than justified. Because of changing circumstances we have to keep ahead of many of the challenges of the age: computer misuse and drug-cutting present fresh challenges, while female genital mutilation and training for terrorism are issues that have come up on a regular basis in your Lordships’ House. Therefore, a response to them is needed.
As has been said, the cost of serious and organised crime is massive. The economic cost alone is £24 billion per year. More serious are the social consequences, and there are of course also issues of national and international security, which this measure tackles.
On the specific provisions of the Bill, it is right to look at ways of ensuring that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is tightened. As has been rightly said, there have been issues with collecting the proceeds of crime when money is sheltered outside the jurisdiction or is allegedly in the hands of third parties. This legislation will tackle some of those issues. Clearly we need to look seriously at this in Committee, but it is a measure that is to be welcomed because we need to revisit the working of the 2002 Act.
Secondly, there are the provisions on computer misuse. As I said, the fresh circumstances of using computers to commit large-scale cybercrime demand fresh legislation. Lengthening sentences to 14 years if the damage is economic or environmental, and the maximum to a life sentence if the damage is to life, limb or national security, seems right. It is necessary to prove intention—mens rea is either intent or recklessness—and that is entirely right. Again, this will no doubt be scrutinised as we go through Committee.
Much has been said about the participation in crime element and introducing a new crime to sit alongside conspiracy. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised this initially to ask why it was necessary. I listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said, but there are differences. This approaches it in a different way, in terms of not just the conduct that will be caught but also the standard of proof, which is lower in relation to this participation. The person must have reasonable cause to suspect and only reasonable cause to suspect. There is also a difference in the maximum sentence, which is five years, while conspiracy carries, I think, potentially a life sentence.
So there are material differences here and this is again necessary because of changed circumstances. It is largely, though not exclusively, directed at professional assistance for crime. It is not limited to lawyers or accountants, but certainly they would be caught within the ambit of what is to be looked at. I am sure that alongside other noble Lords I will be scrutinising this carefully in Committee, but it seems that there is a case to be made for looking at this differently from the classic conspiracy of people, perhaps around a table, discussing a crime. This is a different type of conduct that is to be caught.
The Bill also widens the categories of serious crime prevention orders that can be made. They will, of course, be made by the judiciary, so there is a limitation and a safeguard here, which is to be welcomed. A pre-emptive strike to prevent a crime is surely a sensible way of proceeding.
I mentioned that the part of the Bill concerning drug-cutting agents is required because of changes in conduct. We have to react to it and try to stay ahead of the game to ensure that we can tackle criminality in this way. Using substances that are not themselves illegal, but which are used to bulk out illegal drugs, ensures that criminals maximise their profit. To seize these substances, the authorities will have to get a warrant to enter the premises legally and they will need another warrant to destroy the substances. Given the dangers of drugs to individuals, which are well rehearsed, and the massive profits that are being made at the expense of, usually, young people, this is more than justified.
I accept that this is a bit of a hotchpotch of a Bill, but that should not detract from our looking at each part and saying, “Is it to be welcomed? Does it tackle criminality and is it necessary?”. I welcome the clarification about child neglect. I listened carefully to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and there are serious issues that we will need to look at in Committee. However, we should welcome clarification to tackle psychological as well as physical harm. I do not think that anybody could argue against making it illegal to possess paedophile manuals, or against extending the extraterritorial reach of prosecutions in relation to female genital mutilation, something that has been raised repeatedly in your Lordships’ House. I also very much welcome measures to tackle the overseas element of training for terrorism—again, a fresh challenge and therefore necessitating fresh legislation.
Obviously, we will be reviewing and scrutinising the legislation line by line as it goes through your Lordships’ House, but the broad sweep of the Bill is something that we should welcome very much indeed.
My Lords, I confess to having had some doubts as to whether I was justified in speaking on this Bill, given that I am so clear as to its essential merit and, indeed, so bereft of any constructive and useful criticisms. But given, too, how critical I suspect that I, and no doubt many others, am going to have to be when we shortly debate the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which we understand will be leaving the other House tomorrow, I thought it perhaps appropriate to express my support for the Government in what they are doing at least in the present Bill. My doubts arose afresh when I saw that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, was down to speak before me. Indeed, I passed him a note saying, “Will you leave me anything to say?”. It may be that your Lordships shortly come to doubt the correctness of his response.
In all events, I confine myself to brief comments on just four aspects of the Bill. The first is the proceeds of crime provisions, which of course are at the very heart of the Bill and indeed form the largest part of it. These provisions I certainly applaud. Indeed, anything that strengthens our legislation, designed to strip criminals of their ill gotten gains, is greatly to be welcomed, and Part 1 of the Bill should undoubtedly plug a number of gaps that have been found in the present confiscatory scheme. I particularly welcome Clause 11, which will enable restraint orders—that is to say, orders freezing assets and preventing their dissipation pending any eventual confiscation—in future to be made as soon as there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is guilty of an offence, rather than, which is presently the position, only when there is reasonable cause to believe. Of course, belief is the higher test. The future test is the lower test: reasonable grounds to suspect that a person has benefited from his criminal conduct. I add only that, for my part, the essential value of all this confiscatory scheme is impoverishing and therefore deterring the criminal rather than enriching the state, so I am perhaps less worried than the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, as to the comparatively high cost of enforcement.
Secondly, I also welcome Clause 41, the clause to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, spoke at a very early stage during the Minister’s opening of this debate. Clause 41 creates an offence of participating in the criminal activities of an organised crime group, and thereby gives wider effect than the United Kingdom has hitherto given to Article 5 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. Up to now, as has been explained, we have relied largely on the law of conspiracy in order to target those involved in some shape or form in organised crime groups, but this of course requires proof of the person’s agreement to carry out the criminal scheme.
This new offence is designed to target those who merely support organised crime—in other words, those who provide, in one way or other, services that facilitate criminal capability and activity but without those assisters being directly, so to speak, involved in the criminal plan itself. Henceforth, such people are going to be guilty of an offence if they turn a blind eye when, in the language of Clause 41(2), they know or have reasonable grounds to suspect—again, the lower test and not, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, suggested a moment ago, the higher test of belief—that they are in fact helping,
“an organised crime group to carry on criminal activities”.
This is designed not least to discourage corrupt and complicit professionals who provide services to organised crime groups. I do not for a moment suggest that more than a very tiny minority of professionals lend themselves to this, and it is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the representative bodies for both solicitors and accountants, to which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred, have expressed certain concerns about this new provision. For my part, however, these concerns are misplaced. Rather, it seems to me that this new provision may be expected to reinforce the integrity of these professionals.
Thirdly, I want to say a word about Clause 62, about which many others have spoken. It amends Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which criminalises cruelty to those under 16. The amendment expressly provides that is an offence to cause suffering or injury to health whether that,
“is of a physical or a psychological nature”.
Personally, and I think in common with the Minister, I doubt whether it is strictly necessary. Even under the existing wording, it seems to me reasonably clear that causing a child unnecessary psychological suffering would constitute an offence, but plainly it makes sense to update this now rather archaic language and to spell out in terms that causing psychological harm is also explicitly criminalised. Indeed, it has come to be recognised that, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made plain, these sorts of cases can indeed be some of the very worst cases of child cruelty.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has already observed, this proposed amendment is entirely consonant with a decision that we came to in the Supreme Court in a case called Yemshaw some three years ago, in which we held that the term “domestic violence” is indeed apt to include not merely physical and intimidatory behaviour but other forms of abuse, including, above all, psychological abuse that gives rise to the risk of harm. One wonders perhaps whether the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, might have overlooked that case in what he said as to how domestic violence is not currently apt to include it. It is true that in that particular statutory context—the urgent need to be rehoused as homeless—I doubted the correctness of the view of the majority, although I did not in the event dissent from it. In the context of outlawing child cruelty, however, it seems to me unarguably the right approach.
The final clause that I would mention, again with total approval, is Clause 64, which widens our extraterritorial jurisdiction under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Someone who, even outside the United Kingdom, mutilates a girl’s genitalia or aids, abets, counsels or procures a girl to do so herself commits an offence that is triable here, but under the present law only if they are UK nationals or permanent UK residents. The proposed amendment will extend such extraterritorial jurisdiction to those who are habitually resident here—in other words, even those who are not permanently resident here. Parenthetically, in Section 2, there is an offence of aiding and abetting the girl or woman to mutilate herself. I believe this is the only offence, apart from that of assisting suicide, which we shall no doubt discuss later, where the act of assisting and not the substantive act itself is criminalised.
I add my voice to those of the large number of noble Lords who have already spoken to express how appalling the continuing operation of this vile practice is among certain communities and how astonishing the failure of effective law enforcement procedures to stamp it out. Eight years ago, sitting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in the Appellate Committee of this House in a case called Fornah v Secretary of State for the Home Department, we granted asylum to a 15 year-old girl from Sierra Leone because of her fear that, if returned, she would be subject to FGM. There are plainly still communities here who, as in Sierra Leone, regard FGM as an acceptable, and indeed desirable, initiation rite into adulthood. How dreadful that is. If a victim were to arrive at, say, a school or hospital with gunshot wounds, the police would be speedily alerted. So it should be with those who on examination can be seen to have been the victims of this abhorrent practice.
I wish to make a final comment on the Bill as a whole. So plain does it seem that the provisions of this Bill are essentially well directed that I find it difficult to understand why no fewer than four days have been allotted to it in Committee. As other noble Lords have already made clear, certain provisions are going to need careful, detailed consideration, but if this Bill needs four days, goodness knows how many days the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is going to need when it comes. That, however, is for the future. As far as this Bill is concerned, so far, so good.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill. It is the latest instalment of an ambitious programme of work which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary set herself in the summer of 2010, shortly after taking office. Her goal was clear and unequivocal—to make this country a safer place in which to work, bring up children, grow old, study and visit. Much of that programme has already been delivered. Local policing is no longer the responsibility of the so-called tripartite cabal of ACPO, the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities. In its place there are now directly elected local police and crime commissioners, who oversee the local police force as part of their wider responsibilities for community safety. The College of Policing has brought together the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association and ACPO into a single body, under an independent chairman of integrity, to professionalise policing across the whole of England and Wales. The inspectorate has been strengthened and modernised, so that its work is seen to be serving the public rather than Home Office Ministers and officials.
The Bill is largely the product of another of my right honourable friend’s innovations, the National Crime Agency. The significance of the NCA as a crime-fighting organisation, headed by a professional crime fighter and reporting directly to the Home Secretary, is not often appreciated by the general public. Indeed, most home affairs commentators in the media do not appreciate the fact that before this Government the police department of the Home Office, in which I am proud to have served for many years, devoted most of its efforts to dealing with local crime and anti-social behaviour, although we did not use that term in those days. Serious and organised crime was something that Home Office Ministers were happy to leave to individual chief constables to tackle, working independently or through ACPO. For a short period between April 2006 and October last year, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency also played an important role in this field, but it reported to a board that was largely independent of government and headed by the chairman without any professional policing experience. As my right honourable friend said recently in an important speech delivered to the Royal United Services Institute,
“when I became Home Secretary four years ago the lack of a response”,
to the threat of serious and organised crime,
“both in policy terms and operational terms—was glaring. While the centre was bossy, clumsy and interfering when it came to local policing, it was weak, timid and sometimes entirely absent when it came to serious and organised crime”.
How different things are now. A few weeks ago, on 28 May, I attended a reception at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at which the heads of the national law enforcement agencies of the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Canada and Australia—known collectively as the “Five Eyes” law enforcement group—were guests of the NCA. Keith Bristow, the NCA director, chairs this group of top crime fighters. I used the opportunity to chat to the director of the FBI and the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Both these top law enforcement officials were fulsome in their praise for the work that the NCA was doing internationally, particularly the way that it was bringing law enforcement partners together to help to pursue serious and organised criminals and frustrate their activities around the globe.
The Bill gives the NCA and other UK law enforcement agencies some of the tools that they need to meet their objectives of keeping us safe. Most of its provisions, as many noble Lords have already mentioned, are entirely uncontroversial, and I very much hope that your Lordships will welcome them, as I do. Many provisions are years overdue, some by decades. For example, take the provisions concerning the misuse of computers. The Act that we are being asked to amend in Part 2 of the Bill received Royal Assent in 1990, which is equivalent in IT years to the Dark Ages. The owners of many of the largest and most profitable IT businesses in the world were still in nappies in the 1990s; a fair proportion had probably not yet been conceived. Similarly overdue are the provisions to update the definition of a gang, to deal with the cutting agents that are used to increase the profitability of the illicit drug trade, or to amend the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to recognise that child abuse may be psychological as well as physical. All these provisions should have been on our statute book years ago, and I very much hope that your Lordships will ensure that they get there urgently.
While I warmly welcome those provisions that are in the Bill, I want to mention two matters that are not included but have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. The first relates to the data retention directive of the European Union. On 8 April this year, a few months ago, at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg there was a decision that will have very damaging consequences for our fight against serious and organised crime. The court struck down the data retention directive of the European Union.
As your Lordships will know, the UK’s domestic data retention regulations are based on the EU directive and are the legal basis for the obligations we place on communications service providers to retain communications data for 12 months. Without these regulations, providers have no reason to retain the data and, given the current concern post-Snowden, do not very much want to retain it unless they are compelled to do so. I am aware that the Government are trying hard to find a way forward on this issue but I urge them to act boldly and courageously in tackling it. Communications data are now used in more than 90% of serious and organised crime investigations and are vital in bringing serious criminals to justice and protecting the most vulnerable among us.
There is one other matter relating to serious and organised crime that does not need legislation but which I hope will be tackled as a result of our interest in this subject. It is the question of the responsibility for counterterrorism. In that speech by the Home Secretary to which I referred earlier, she said,
“in 2010, I made sure serious and organised crime was included in the National Security Strategy … I am aware that it is a relatively new way of thinking to consider organised crime a national security threat, and I know that some people … may argue that individually none of these crimes represents a national security threat. But when you consider their collective effect, when you add up the total cost to society, when you realise the huge numbers of victims who suffer from organised crime, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a very real threat to our national security”.
It is obvious from many of the provisions in this Bill, particularly in Part 2 dealing with computer misuse, that when we talk about the threat of serious and organised crime we are talking about a threat that extends to serious damage to critical national infrastructure and therefore to our national security.
Given that the Home Secretary herself recognises that serious and organised crime encompasses terrorism and national security, is it not time to bring together in one organisation responsibility for both counterterrorism and serious and organised crime? In particular, responsibility for counterterrorism should be brought more directly under the Home Secretary rather than leaving it as it is today under the Metropolitan Police, which is accountable to the Mayor of London, and ACPO, which is accountable to itself. Given that the NCA has made a great start in the few months in which it has been fully operational and the respect it is accorded by the FBI, the RCMP and other leading law enforcement agencies around the world, I urge the Government to act on this matter and to transfer responsibility from the Mayor of London to the NCA—in effect to the Home Secretary—before the end of this Parliament so that the new arrangements are in place before the next mayoral elections in May 2016. It seems to me that the last thing we want is for the security of this nation to become a party-political issue in a local election. With this plea I commend this Bill to the House.
My Lords, when I picked up my copy of the Times on Thursday I saw a story headed “Criminal gangs are running swathes of Britain, says May”. The story went on to say that,
“the home secretary is believed to be referring to parts of … cities in which drugs gangs run protection rackets”.
The situation is bad and the Home Secretary does well to acknowledge it. This Bill, which takes new powers to strengthen the capacity of the National Crime Agency and other agencies to deal with a range of serious and organised crime, is conspicuously focused on drugs crime, and it is on that that I should like to focus my remarks.
The Bill is an iteration of the Government’s strategy of prohibition: the criminalisation of production, supply, distribution, possession and consumption of classified substances. Its thrust is logical as an extension of prohibition, which has been the global orthodoxy since the first of the UN conventions in 1961, and which is most significantly expressed in our domestic law in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Bill represents a new offensive in the war on drugs, which was declared on behalf of us all by President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, and our Ministers still march under the flag of that great leader. The Bill is “one more big push”, as the generals in the First World War used to say. The casualties were terrible then; the casualties are terrible now.
If the Bill proceeds to the statute book it will strengthen the arsenal of our law enforcement agencies, with new powers of investigation, the seizure of criminal assets, tougher prison sentences, “enhancements”—as the Minister called them—of serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions, a new offence of knowingly participating in an organised crime group and new provisions for the seizure of cutting agents used to bulk out illicit drugs.
In our enthusiasm to bring wicked people to justice and to put them behind bars, I hope that we shall, as we scrutinise this Bill, pay very careful attention to the Bill’s potential implications for civil liberties. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon have all drawn attention to Clause 41, which would create a new offence of participating in an organised crime group. We will need to be sure that the definitions that are legislated are appropriate and that the due diligence that will be required to enable lawyers, accountants and other professional people to demonstrate that they did not have reasonable cause to suspect that their client was seeking to manipulate ill-gotten gains is proportionate and manageable.
Gang injunctions presume criminality at a civil standard of proof, and we shall have to look carefully at that. As my noble friend on the Front Bench emphasised, we shall certainly need to make inquiries about the resources that the Government will make available to enable these measures to be effective. There is a crisis in our jails. A general election is coming along. Ministers in the Home Office are always particularly keen to be seen to be tough on crime in the run-up to a general election. We shall need to scrutinise to see which parts of the Bill are electoral puffery, which are reasonable and, above all, which might actually be effective. Will these measures help us at long last to turn the tide in the war on drugs? Will they even succeed in slowing the growth of the drugs economy?
In our era of prohibition, consumption of illicit substances in this country has soared. In the 1970s, one in 10 young people had taken cannabis. Now a quarter of 50 to 60 year-olds have used illicit drugs, as have a third of people in their 40s and more than half of people in their 20s and 30s. Ecstasy is enjoyed by 500,000 people a week. Cocaine, of poor quality, is available in towns and villages the length and breadth of the land. A new psychoactive substance arrives in this country at the rate of one a week. Britons are perhaps the biggest consumers of illicit drugs in Europe.
It would be helpful if, before we come to Committee, the Minister were able to let us have the Home Office’s own latest estimates of the scale of the consumption of mind-altering substances in this country, both legal and illegal. How many addicts are there in our society? What is now the size of the drugs economy? What are the costs to society, to the criminal justice system and to public expenditure overall? Some time ago I saw figures from the Home Office which estimated that the social and economic costs of illegal drugs in England and Wales amounted to £10.7 billion a year. Whatever the figure is, it is vast, and it is clear that we have not won the war against drugs.
Part 1 of the Bill, which provides new powers of confiscation and recovery of the proceeds of crime, certainly addresses an enormous problem. Money-laundering is big business in this country. The most notorious instance in recent years was that of HSBC. I believe that the members of the board of HSBC had no idea what their subsidiaries were doing in laundering money between Mexico and New York. Bankers in many institutions in the City of London, unburdened by civic responsibility or by any effective enforcement of regulation, came to the view that laundering drugs money was good business. They needed liquidity; they were addicted to bonuses; they risked, at the worst, fines which were a flea-bite. The Government have made the problem more difficult for themselves by encouraging wealthy people to come to live in this country as non-doms, but without interrogating them as they should about the sources of their wealth. The Chancellor is now enthusiastic about making the City of London a major offshore centre for dealing in the Chinese renminbi, notwithstanding that most new psychoactive substances are imported into this country from China. Let us hope that our new City regulators are less palsied than their predecessors.
We are talking not only of the City of London but of lawyers, accountants and estate agents throughout the country, who find it convenient not to ask the questions that the law already requires them to ask about the sources of their clients’ wealth and are too easily tempted by the high life which the processing of drugs money allows them to have. Less posh businesses on the high street—such as pubs, cafes, nail bars, taxi firms, even childcare organisations—are among the businesses that routinely transfer money out of the illicit economy into the licit one. Drugs would not be as ubiquitous as they are in this country if that were not the case.
How on earth is all this to be policed? Where will the resources come from, and what is the Home Secretary telling the police about their priorities? Of course the police achieve successes, and they should be congratulated and thanked for that. However, their task is impossible. They have to deal with 5,000 drugs cases a week on reduced budgets.
Clause 47, which enhances the injunctions to prevent gang-related violence and drug-dealing activity, is one that we shall want to look at. The Explanatory Notes tell us that the existing definition of a gang,
“is now considered by front line professionals to be unduly restrictive”.
I can well believe that. However, are these the same front-line professionals who have told us that it is their practice from time to time to go out to pick up small user-dealers as low-hanging fruit in order to meet their targets, and who have now been under instruction not even to do that after lunch because of the overtime costs of the bureaucracy, which extends so far into the evening?
The Home Secretary has done very well to challenge the police on practices that have meant that six times as many black people as white people have been stopped and searched on suspicion of carrying drugs. However, should we be worried that the new injunctions will similarly discriminate against young, black, poor men? Where are the Government’s policies to address the pathologies that generate the drugs culture—inequality, lack of mental health services, and a welfare state that fails to help people to turn their lives around?
The perversity of prohibition, which the Bill intensifies, is that it has proved to be an engine of crime. It has driven innovation in the drugs economy. You interdict the supply of a particular drug in one place, and the price of it rises. However, as my noble friend Lady Smith noted, demand does not consequentially fall. Demand for drugs, fed by addiction and peer pressure, is inelastic, so the drug dealers bring the drugs in by new routes, or, increasingly, they bring in new drugs.
The drugs economy and practice in drugs-taking constantly mutate. A drop in quality and availability was the prelude for the introduction of mephedrone into Britain. For a while mephedrone was cheap and legal. It was then banned, but even after it was banned its consumption rose by 20%. Its production was banned in China, but production shifted to India. The energies of the drugs gangs and the people who help them technically are for ever directed towards creating substitute drugs, many of them more dangerous than the drugs that have been proscribed and launched upon a market of ignorant consumers who know nothing about their composition, their toxicology and the dangers associated with them.
Over the past 50 years, prohibition has created and gifted to criminals across the world a vast, lucrative, destructive drugs economy. Governments and law enforcement agencies can try harder and run harder, but they catch very few of the criminals. The resources available to the criminals are often far greater than the resources available to the people enforcing the law and the criminals are utterly determined and ruthless. Globalisation has increased the scale of the problem vastly. Recently I stood on a cliff above the port of Salerno. Before me I could see containers piled high, stretching as far as the eye can see. Not more than some 2% of containers in world trade are inspected by the authorities.
The internet has transformed the marketing and supply of illicit drugs. The street corner is giving way to mail order. Mobile phones and social networking have facilitated communications between members of drugs gangs and between drug dealers and their clients. The European monitoring centre in Lisbon is currently monitoring 280 new psychoactive substances that are circulating in European markets. Moderately competent biochemists can with ease manipulate the molecular structure of one drug to create a new one. The dark web, encryption and bitcoins—which we shall come to at Clause 14(3)—have all made it easier to trade in drugs and harder to detect the trade.
Against that background, I was disappointed when the Home Secretary, in a response to the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that this Government do not think that,
“there is a case for fundamentally re-thinking the UK’s approach to drugs”.
I think it was Einstein who said that insanity consists in doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. I do not believe that it is a sensible strategy to overlay an anachronistic system of drug control that never worked, in a heavier version, on the new digital drugs economy. We need a different strategy. As the President of Guatemala has suggested, we should rid ourselves of this “global self-deceit”.
I challenge the premise on which this Bill is constructed, at least as far as its provisions about drugs are concerned. I do not advocate drug use. I believe that narco-criminals are evil and cause untold misery. Cannabis is certainly damaging to the mental development of young people. I sympathise entirely with parents in their fear of what may happen if their children get into drugs. However, I believe that we should base our policy on evidence. I believe that we should seek to minimise harms. There is no ideal solution available to us, but it will be possible for us to think again and instead adopt a policy, gradually and cautiously, of legalising and regulating the production and supply of selected drugs. At the same time we should give proper attention to education in our schools and to information to ensure that young people are properly informed and risk aware. I believe that it would be possible, using this entirely different strategy, to create a world that is much less bad in this regard than the world we have at the moment.
My Lords, I applaud some aspects of the Serious Crime Bill and raise some questions in relation to others. It gives me great pleasure to follow the powerful and challenging contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth.
First, the positives. As I said in my short contribution to the Queen’s Speech debate, I welcome Part 5 of the Bill, particularly, along with other noble Lords, the explicit reference in Clause 62 to amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to define cruelty to children as including both physical and psychological injury. As my noble and learned friend Lord Brown mentioned, there have already been indications of that, but I think it is important and overdue that it is absolutely clear. Anyone who has worked closely with child abuse knows that emotional cruelty by either parent, and sometimes tragically by both, can cause long-term damage to the child at least as great as any physical abuse. Having said that, an already severely traumatised child will be damaged further by the process of criminal proceedings against either parent, particularly in view of the inordinate time that such proceedings very often take. A criminal charge against either parent must surely be a very last resort. That is the essence of what I am trying to say, and I am sure that the Minister is well aware of this point.
I hope that clear recognition in law of the offence of emotional cruelty to a child will focus more attention on that possibility and ensure that appropriate interventions are put in place to rescue the situation. I have certainly been aware of cases where all the focus is on any possible physical abuse, ignoring the far greater issue of psychological abuse that is staring people in the face. That is why I strongly support what the Government are trying to do, despite the real risks of criminalising parents.
Very often, emotional abuse may result from a parent’s mental health and addiction problems. A criminal sanction in such circumstances is clearly wrong. I would never condone such a response. The parent or parents need skilled and appropriate addiction or mental health treatment and perhaps also support in developing parenting skills following a diagnosis of the problem. I hope that we can discuss with the Minister what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the right interventions are provided to avoid the need for costly and damaging criminal proceedings wherever possible, and certainly whenever a parent is unwell.
Another issue is the 16 year-old cut-off point in defining children in this context. As any parent knows, 16 and 17 year-olds can be very vulnerable, particularly when abuse is likely to have occurred over a long period, albeit that it may have come to light only when the child reaches maybe 16 or 17. It seems wrong for protection to be denied to young people at that age. The consequences of emotional neglect are likely to come out just then in the form of depression, self-harm or suicide. What are we doing by giving that cut-off point?
A final point on Clause 62, which I am sure we will raise in Committee, is whether, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, highlighted, the term “wilful neglect” is correct or too narrow. This point was raised by the Children’s Society and I support it, at least as a matter for debate.
On Clause 64, at this stage I only want to welcome the broadening of the scope of the Bill from permanent UK residents to include those who are living in this country but who may not have permanent resident status. Others have spoken at greater length on that point.
I now turn to Clause 47 concerning injunctions to prevent gang-related violence and drug-dealing activities. The principle of preventing activities can only, of course, be a good thing. However, I have serious reservations about the approach set out in the clause. The NGO release makes the point that injunctions as envisaged may not satisfy the basic requirement of reasonableness. This is particularly the case if they were to be applied to problem drug users.
Under Clause 47, a court may grant an injunction against a child of only 14 years, or just over that, if for example it is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the child has been engaged in or has assisted gang-related drug-dealing activity. A gang, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned, can comprise just three people. Let us suppose that a 14 year-old has become a problem drug user, and in order to afford the drugs he needs to feed his dependency he and a couple of friends, also drug dependants, agree to sell some cannabis to their school mates on behalf of a thoroughly undesirable gang in the neighbourhood. Clearly the situation needs to be dealt with firmly—I do not doubt that—but an injunction will simply not work unless it is backed up by a treatment programme.
What do the Government plan to do to ensure that an injunction is not issued unless the child or young person is at the same time referred for appropriate treatment? I think that at this point the Minister would expect me to refer to the Portuguese model, and I shall not disappoint him. The Portuguese have had a system in place for 13 years that deals firmly but sensibly with problem drug users and which has produced some good results: far higher numbers of people—young people, in particular—are receiving treatment; drug users are representing a very much smaller percentage of the prison population; and most important of all, in a way, the number of teenage problem drug users has fallen under that regime. Social use may not have fallen—it is roughly in line with that in neighbouring countries—but surely the important thing is problem drug users: we do not want them in our country.
These are the sorts of results that I think that our country would celebrate if only we could achieve them, so a constructive way forward would be to link injunctions to an aspect of the Portuguese model. Would it not be wise for a young person suspected of gang-related drug-dealing activity, as it is referred to in the Bill, to be referred to a drugs commission? Again, if we followed the Portuguese model, the commission would comprise three people—a psychiatrist, a social worker and a lawyer—to determine whether the young person was a problem drug user and, if so, to refer that person for treatment.
The system in Portugal is not a soft one. If a person does not comply with the treatment and is simply a problem drug user, they will receive an administrative penalty, but if they are dealing they will at that point find themselves drawn into the criminal justice system. The important point here is that treatment comes first, and I hope for some assurance from the Minister that that will also apply in this country. The Clause 47 injunctions could be applied to anyone suspected of gang-related or other drug-dealing activity who is deemed by the commission not to be a problem drug user. In other words, if they are playing around with drugs and find themselves drawn into a gang, then indeed a clear injunction might be very helpful.
I shall refer only briefly to Part 4. I simply want to ask the Minister how the Government will prevent the new powers to seize, detain and destroy drug-cutting agents from impacting on genuine businesses that use the same substances for medical products for human or veterinary use. No doubt we will return to this in much more detail in Committee, but that is all I want to say today.
In conclusion, the Bill has valuable sections, but we could radically improve it through our discussions with Ministers and through amendments in the coming weeks, as various noble Lords—and, I hope, I—have indicated.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his explanation of the Bill. There is not much meat left on the bones and I do not have that much to say but I do not subscribe to the recent analysis of the gracious Speech—far less the view of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on the health of the coalition Government.
The Bill may not be a flagship Bill; nevertheless, it is a very useful one, without any election puffery, and I shall be honoured to take part in its Committee and later stages. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, referred to the number of Home Office Bills in your Lordships’ House. I cannot recall a Session since 1992 when there has not been a Home Office Bill and perhaps an education Bill for good measure.
The good news for this Bill is that it seems to be welcomed by many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. However, many noble Lords have received the commendably short and evidently effective briefing from the ICAEW concerning Clause 41, which relates to participation in organised crime. I am not absolutely convinced that the ICAEW fully understands how the clause works. The Minister is very good at holding meetings with your Lordships and with outside organisations, and perhaps if he were to have a meeting on that, it might alleviate some of the concerns.
I welcome the tidying-up of the FGM legislation in Clause 64. I am clearly not an expert on this issue and others are. The whole House will recognise that it is exceptionally difficult to deal with but we seem to be making pitifully slow progress. There have been no prosecutions so far, although I understand that one is in hand. This morning, I looked at the aggravating factors for the offences of causing grievous bodily harm and child cruelty. By comparison, FGM appears to be off the scale of horror, yet it attracts a maximum of only 14 years in prison. At one point, I understand that the maximum sentence was only five years. Given the extreme difficulties of mounting a prosecution, I am not convinced that we are sending the right signals. On the other hand, the Minister was right when he indicated that we cannot solve this problem with legislation alone. He tempted us with the prospect of some further legislation on anonymity. It will be interesting to see how this will work, since the parents are usually involved. I am slightly pacified by the compliments paid to the Government by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but we should leave no stone unturned to eradicate this problem in the UK and overseas.
The House seems to be giving the Bill a reasonably warm welcome. That does not mean we should not scrutinise it very thoroughly indeed and I look forward to doing so with the rest of your Lordships.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK.
I shall focus on Clauses 62, 63 and 64, which many other noble Lords have also mentioned. In his opening speech, my noble friend said that the current legislation on emotional and psychological abuse was fit for purpose but its wording just needed to be updated for the 21st century. However, as we discovered in the passage of the Children and Families Act 2014, there is evidence that police and social workers were often concerned that the term “mental derangement” was so specific that it was not used as much as it should have been when judging how severely a child had been affected by emotional abuse. Some years ago, I talked to a social worker about some casework from my division in Cambridgeshire, where it was absolutely clear that emotional abuse was taking place. However the child was not “mentally deranged”, just very distressed with low self-esteem and in danger of harming herself. The social worker said that it would be so much clearer cut if only the person doing the abuse had provided some visible injuries as well, because they could not get the police or the Crown Prosecution Service to take it seriously.
The longer-term abuse referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is also important. There are parallels here with bullying research, which shows that the impact on life consequences for children with severe self-esteem problems following abuse is enormous—whether that abuse is from contemporaries, parents, or other people in a position of influence such as teachers—especially if it is not tackled early. I therefore welcome Clause 62, which will make the crime of psychological and emotional abuse fit for practice as well as fit for purpose.
However, further steps are needed to provide absolute clarity for professionals working with abused children. There has been some discussion about whether the word “wilful” in legislation is sufficient. This is another thing that is often misunderstood by professionals, including social services and police. I also support the proposal from the Children’s Society that “wilful” should be changed to “intentional and reckless”, which would enable more effective identification and response to the event. This also picks up the point made by my noble friend Lady Hamwee on behalf of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who cannot be in her place today. We need to make sure that this offence is defined as serious because failure to report will allow a child to continue to be abused and the perpetrator to continue finding more victims. It is good news that the Public Bill Office has confirmed this as a serious offence to my noble friend Lady Walmsley, which will mean that it is statutorily reportable. I look forward to seeing the amendment in Committee.
We also need to provide support for children and their families before neglect and abuse begin. The Children’s Society research in 2010 into adolescent neglect shows that professionals perceive teenagers as more resilient and better able to cope with maltreatment than younger children. These perceptions affect how cases of older children are assessed and whether protection is offered to them. However, an absence of emotional warmth and support is likely to be detrimental to psychological well-being and potentially to mental health. Studies of neglectful parenting indicate that young people may be more likely to internalise problems and become depressed. Young people also say that neglect can lead to difficulties with sleeping and to self-harm, and can even, as we have heard, be linked to suicide or suicide attempts. That goes back to my earlier point about the negative, very long-term effects on a young person who is faced with emotional abuse. The effects may not just be those of risky or anti-social behaviour but could turn a young person off learning and academic achievement, which could affect their working lives.
In these austere times, local government and the child and adolescent mental health services are under considerable pressure. Sadly, there is limited scope for preventive work. In fact, we keep hearing about more and more projects having their funding curtailed. This research shows that funding is vital and will save money later. A clinically depressed adolescent who cannot get help is much more likely to have problems later in life. The second group of children and young people who need help are those who have been emotionally abused.
The Bill is about crime, and we often talk about justice for victims. As I mentioned in last week’s response to the gracious Speech, access to mental health for children and young people is in crisis. Only one in four children diagnosed with a mental health problem is able to get access to therapy. Child victims of psychological and emotional abuse should be fast-tracked for assessment by CAMHS, and the implication of this clause needs to be woven into education, children’s services and health services. Therefore, I will table probing amendments in Committee to seek reassurance that that will happen. As I have said previously, we would not allow a child with a broken leg to leave hospital without a plaster cast; why do we allow children who are emotionally abused to walk away with no support?
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned, the legislation on emotional neglect covers only young people up to the age of 16. Recent court cases of grooming and coercion of 16 and 17 year-old girls have demonstrated that that needs to be extended to 18. A vulnerable young person remains vulnerable for some time to come. That is why I also support the comments of my noble friend Lord Paddick, who was concerned particularly about women—but it might apply to men as well—in families where adults are being abused mentally as much as children. As we did with the stalking legislation, it is very important to look at the behaviour of the perpetrator and to make sure that all the victims—whether it is just the children or also an adult in the family—are appropriately looked after. It would be absolutely wrong for a mother who has been bullied, coerced and abused by a partner to find that she is being accused as the aggressor in this type of instance.
Under Clause 63, online paedophile manuals will be incorporated into the legislation against access to paedophilic material, and so they should. I have great respect for the work of CEOP, the Internet Watch Foundation and all the ISPs, telephone companies and cable companies that contribute to the IWF. If that helps to make access to information on paedophilia much harder to get, that is good news.
As regards Clause 64 and the proposals on extraterritorial acts of female genital mutilation, my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone has made it a personal priority to start the cultural change on this barbaric practice, for exactly the reasons laid out by my noble friend Lord Attlee. The progress of convictions in the court is woeful at the moment. There are a couple of cases in train, but to have no convictions is embarrassing for this country as a whole. I hope that this clause will make it easier to hold these butchers to account.
We should be realistic that this law on its own, while it will be a useful tool, will not change things overnight. Sex and relationship education, working with the communities that practise FGM and more brave women such as Waris Dirie—now a UN ambassador for the abolition of FGM and the founder of the Desert Flower Foundation—speaking up will start to make things change. A UNICEF report shows that in seven countries almost all women and girls experience some form of FGM, with up to 140 million girls and women currently living with the consequences. So the extraterritorial acts clause will be important in chasing those who travel around the world to carry out this obscene practice.
I am proud that these three clauses are being brought forward by this Government. Inevitably, in typical scrutiny by the Lords, there will be an effective and detailed debate and, I hope, some amendment. Most importantly, it will help to safeguard some of our most vulnerable children and young people, and for that I welcome the Bill.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the excellent, detailed and knowledgeable speech of my noble friend Lady Brinton. When I was Home Office Minister, I dreaded speeches like that when I tried to put through a Bill relating to Home Office matters. We called them Christmas tree Bills because every department wanted to hang its own very important bauble on the tree—to deal with terrorism, children and various other aspects. Inevitably, as a Minister, one had to have a grasp of a huge range of subjects and when the Bill came to your Lordships’ House it brought out all the experts from every section. The other reason why I detested Bills like this is that one had to amend the original Act and one was required to have about five different Acts open on the table in front of one and six fingers on each hand to understand them. The final introductory comment I would make is to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that she handled nine Home Office Bills in four years. In the final couple of years that I was in the Home Office, in 1996-97, in that frenzy to pass legislation, I think I handled 15 Bills, including Private Members’ Bills. I am not sure whether it did me or the Government any good at the time.
I begin with the proceeds of crime part, which is very important. I am completely supportive of the intention here. I remember talking to policemen. Every single policeman of every rank that I spoke to said that the vital thing that mattered to criminals was cleaning out their money. They factored in going to prison for a few years or even up to 10 years if they had enough money stashed away to live on when they came out. They did not worry about prison. What they really worried about was losing their ill-gotten gains. I would say to colleagues that it is not about the Chancellor making more money, good though that may be, it is about cleaning out criminals and their profits from crime because that acts as a deterrent and a punishment.
Under Clause 10 there is a maximum of 14 years for defaulting on fines of more than £1 million, if the court imposes that maximum penalty, which is then automatically halved or reduced on early release. However, if the money is more than £10 million, the early release provisions do not apply. I admit that sums are not one of my strengths, but it seems that if one had salted away up to £9 million where the maximum 14 years applied and there was early release, and suppose that one was let out after seven or eight years, if the person had invested it reasonably at 7% interest, they would come out to an annual return of about £630,000. That is not bad. I also assume that if the police and enforcement authorities had not been able to track down that initial £9 million, they would not be able to track down the £630,000 per annum—or perhaps the taxman could do it instead. I should be grateful if my noble friend could look at that point and see whether I am almost right. I ask him to revisit the whole area of the figures and the length of prison terms because I do not think that it is adequate.
Clause 36 deals with confiscation orders by magistrates’ courts. Again I suggest that possibly the £10,000 figure may be too low in certain cases. Of course, if the magistrates’ court is attempting to sentence a criminal and feels that its powers are not great enough, it can refer them up to the Crown Court for sentencing. However, I can imagine cases where someone is convicted of burglaries, lower level drugs offences or dealing in stolen goods, where the magistrates may consider that it is not worth while sending it up to the Crown Court for greater sentencing—and the Crown Courts might not like it—but at the same time the only assets those people have may be their BMWs or their cars, which are worth considerably more than £10,000. One needs to look at this clause again to see whether, in certain circumstances, magistrates could have a power to impose penalties greater than £10,000. I understand that at the moment the Metropolitan Police is awash with Ferraris and Porsches that have been impounded because people have not paid their insurance. I am sure that the Metropolitan Police would be quite happy to impound vehicles from drug dealers and others whose vehicles could also add to its resources.
I am totally supportive of Clause 37 on computer misuse, but I am not clear who is capable of understanding it all and prosecuting. Is it the police who prosecute for computer misuse under the 1990 Act? The proposed new Section 3ZA carries a penalty of up to 14 years—or up to life if national security is involved—but the rest of the penalties in Section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act are for up to two or five years. Will my noble friend confirm that those other penalties in Section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 have also been upgraded to 14 years, or possibly life, in prison?
Parts 5 and 6 of the Bill deal with the protection of children and terrorism. I dislike the term FGM because I do not think it carries the right connotations or expresses the seriousness of this vile, barbaric practice. I recall that for years we talked about people trafficking. It was only when colleagues in this House and in the other place began to talk about modern slavery that we got traction on it—that the rest of us woke up to what it was about. The use of the term modern slavery as opposed to people trafficking really gave more life to that horrible practice. I do not mean to be derogatory here but FGM sounds like a food additive. It is too nice a term. It is vile, evil child torture. I would like those who have spent their lives trying to deal with this to consider whether we should think of using a more vicious terminology which properly describes what it is about.
I conclude my remarks on this business of terrorism, paedophiles and serious crime, because that is the mantra that the Home Office has been using for the past few years to demand better and greater RIPA powers. I have heard that mantra used again in the past few days by the Home Office. It says that unless it has greater powers there will be a data gap in tackling terrorism, paedophiles and serious crime. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, is not quite right in saying that nothing has been done on this. I had the privilege a couple of years ago of chairing the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. The committee was made up of noble Lords from this House and Members from the other place. Members of the committee had widely differing views. There were those who wanted the police to get every power under the sun and those who took a view that privacy of the individual was far more important. However, we ended up with a unanimous report and concluded that the draft Bill produced by the Home Office then—which was nicknamed the snoopers’ charter—was far too sweeping and we were rightly critical of most aspects of it. However, we did not simply crucify the Bill, say it was a load of rubbish and leave it at that; we made considered suggestions on how to draft a better Bill. Our overall conclusion was that there was,
“a case for legislation which will provide the law enforcement authorities with some further access to communications data, but that the current draft Bill is too sweeping, and goes further than it need or should. We believe that, with the benefit of fuller consultation with CSPs than has so far taken place, the Government will be able to devise a more proportionate measure than the present draft Bill, which would achieve most of what they really need, would encroach less upon privacy, would be more acceptable to the CSPs, and would cost the taxpayer less”.
My Lords, I stand corrected. It was wrong to say that nothing was done. A Bill was produced and a Joint Committee looked at it. Unfortunately, nothing very much has happened since then, which I think makes my point. It sounds as though the noble Lord did all the work for the Home Office and somehow it still has not happened. I suspect that this comes back to my earlier point about dysfunctionality.
The noble Lord is getting closer to the possible political reality. To be fair to the Home Office, it studied our report carefully. I and one or two others had the privilege of seeing the revised draft Bill, which took into account everything we had said and delivered about 95% of what our report suggested. Unfortunately, that revised Bill did not find favour with all the members of the coalition and therefore it has not emerged in that form.
I say to my noble friend the Minister that if in the next Parliament the Government produce a Bill largely along the lines of the redraft, I am certain that it will have a chance of getting through both Houses of Parliament. But if they are encouraged from any quarter to go back to the original so-called snoopers’ charter, they will merely tack on more powers to a discredited RIPA. In my opinion, RIPA is no longer fit for purpose. It was designed at a time when we had push-button telephones that could hold two or three messages at most, not the modern communications machinery that we have today. If they go back to that old charter, they will face massive opposition in the country and in Parliament, and they do not need to because the blueprint for a better Bill exists.
Finally, I will make a couple of observations that may be slightly more contentious. As we were deliberating on the powers the police needed to look at e-mails and other data in order to capture paedophiles, stories began to emerge of police forces around the country—for example, in Bradford or Leicester—which had ignored complaints over the past 15 years from hundreds of young girls of systematic and habitual rape. The police turned a blind eye to those cases and have only now started prosecuting. I believe that they turned a blind eye because the perpetrators were mainly from the Pakistani community and they did not want to prosecute because of political correctness. Of course the police and security services must have the powers they need to deal with paedophiles on the internet but they must also prosecute hard cases of children being raped and brutalised in reality in this country.
My very final point, which again comes from my experiences on the Bill, is that we discovered that police training was often inadequate to deal with the amount of communications data available. The executive from Twitter told us that she would often get a request from the police saying, “Give me everything you have on Blencathra’s tweeting”, when the answer was, “Look on the net yourself”. We do not need a special order for that. It is out there in the public domain, and they were not fully aware of that. There is a range of things that our modern iPhones and other Samsung-type devices have and the police need to get up to speed on the information that is currently available on the world wide web before seeking some draconian powers to look at a few hundred million e-mails each year.
With those little caveats and pieces of advice to my noble friend on how to take forward serious crime measures and a new data communications Bill, I warmly welcome the Bill.
My Lords, I wish I had as many caveats and as much good advice. I stand very briefly, first, to welcome this Bill and to keep my foot in the door in case I can be useful in the later stages; and, secondly, to welcome warmly, as others have done, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and my noble friend Lord Henley, the use of the much neglected Keeling schedule. I can almost hear the stopping of the rotation in the grave of my late noble friend Lord Renton, who campaigned tirelessly for this when I arrived in this House back in the 1970s. It is a useful thing, but has a danger in that it brings one’s notice to particular aspects which might take up time.
I apologise for spending a little time on my pocket computer, looking at the anomalies in the sentencing range for defaulting penalties—I am not a sentencing expert. They seem to range from 18 days per £10,000 in the top of band 1, to half a day per £10,000 at the point where the 50% extra penalty cuts in. That needs looking at.
The next thing that drew my attention, which my noble friend Lord Henley was the first to mention, was the gigantic Home Office engine churning out legislation. I was fascinated to hear that my noble friend Lord Wasserman may have spent many years stoking the engine and that my noble friend Lord Blencathra spent some time driving it. I suffered from it. My noble friend’s estimate was very high and I would agree with it. My other noble friend’s was rather low. I shall look at the record when I get home.
The other thing that needs saying is a word of caution. I understand my noble friend Lord Wasserman’s interest in getting a single coherent control of both security and serious organised crime, but bringing it into central government under the Home Secretary or the Home Office is something we have been very leery of for many generations. ACPO exists because of a fear of having a national police force, and it sounds to me as if this would rapidly grow into something like the FBI or something more sinister from Europe. It would need very careful control and if we are to have it, since it will already have its hand in security, the Select Committee in the other place must have oversight of the whole of its work. However, I would approach this with the greatest caution.
I will make one other reference to my noble friend Lord Blencathra. If we called the crime of FGM child mutilation, it would carry revulsion and also be quite an accurate description of what is done. I will detain your Lordships no longer. I apologise for taking so long.
My Lords, despite the frequency of Home Office Bills at times appearing to match the frequency of gas and electricity bills, the Minister has shown an enthusiasm for this Bill that has been surpassed, not for the first time, only by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman. This Bill has a number of separate intended courses of action, rather than a single new theme or policy objective running through its provisions, other than a desire to make serious crime a less attractive proposition for those tempted to go down that road—mainly, though not exclusively, through higher sentences and more offences. It covers the asset recovery process, through amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and increases sentences for attacks on computer systems, through amendments to the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
It moves on to serious, organised and gang-related crime generally, creating a new offence of participation in an organised crime group, and making changes to the law relating to serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions. It provides for new powers on entering and searching premises for drug-cutting agents, makes changes to the criminal law in respect of protecting children and it makes amendments to the Terrorism Act 2006 to confer or extend extraterritorial jurisdiction relating to the UK courts in respect of the offences of preparation of terrorist acts and training for terrorism.
We have had detailed and highly informative contributions in this debate, which have rightly addressed—and, basically, welcomed—the main provisions of the Bill. The issue, though, is not so much to question the changes it seeks to make, or the outcomes it seeks to achieve, but rather to question whether the Bill always goes far enough or simply restates existing legislation that is not being fully enforced; whether it will always achieve the objectives desired; and whether there could or should have been other issues covered in the Bill—a question that my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey in particular addressed.
We support doing more to recover the proceeds of crime. Performance in this area has actually got worse under the current Government. The amount collected by the police and the volume of confiscation orders has fallen, yet there are still some £1.5 billion of outstanding orders because assets have been hidden, moved away overseas or reduced by third-party claims. Only 18% of confiscation orders worth more than £1 million are recovered. The National Audit Office report indicated that just 26p of every £100 of profit that a criminal makes is confiscated.
We have been calling on the Government to end early release with regard to default sentences where organised criminals refuse to pay, and to stop loopholes enabling criminals to transfer assets to families. We will want to look carefully at the provisions to see whether they will be effective in confiscating criminal assets. It also appears that over the past five years or so, £200 million-worth of assets have been frozen by the UK courts in response to overseas requests for legal assistance, but that none of that money has been returned to the countries that asked us to seize and freeze those assets. Do the Government accept that that is the case and, if they do, do they think that will help in securing co-operation when we want it from overseas jurisdictions?
In her opening speech, my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon indicated our support for the measures in Part 5 on the offence of child cruelty and conduct likely to cause psychological suffering or injury, as well as physical harm; on the new offence of possession of paedophile manuals; and on extending the extraterritorial reach of offences under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. However, there has been a drop in Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre arrests and in the number of child abusers being caught. Child cruelty conviction rates have fallen. In 2009, there were just over 700 convictions—about 720—but last year it fell to just above 550. Why do the Government believe that these developments have happened, and what measures do they propose to address the situation?
Violent crime has also risen while the number of prosecuted criminals has gone down. Reports of rape and domestic violence, like those of child abuse, are up, but convictions are not matching those rising reports. What is going up is the cost of some police and crime commissioners. The Northamptonshire commissioner, for example, now employs 34 staff at a cost of £1.4 million. That is at a time when the proportion of adults reporting seeing a police officer on foot patrol in the local area at least once a week has declined.
The Bill creates new offences and increases maximum sentences for attacks on computer systems and cyberattacks. These are crimes that can have serious consequences for the economy of the nation, of individual companies or of groups of companies, as well as for our national security. Such crimes are planned, premeditated, probably sustained and carried out over a period, and the perpetrators know that they are hitting large numbers of people, including the most vulnerable in society. They should be dealt with severely. We should also be tough on those who through computer crime seek to trick and defraud large numbers of people who end up losing considerable amounts of their hard-earned money and savings.
However, the issue is not simply one of the level of sentences and breadth of offences provided for in the Bill. They may well be a deterrent—although, interestingly, the Government’s impact assessment says that there is no evidence that cybercriminals will be deterred by a longer sentence. The biggest deterrent, of course, is the likelihood of being caught.
Fraud and computer crime has been rising. It is a 21st century crime. It does not hit the headlines in the way, for example, that gun and knife crime or violent assaults do, but those who are victims of computer crime and fraud can also suffer devastating consequences. In some cases, it can have a serious effect on their health and, in extreme cases, even lead to death—as the Minister said in his opening speech. It does not hit the headlines because some feel almost ashamed of having to admit allowing themselves to be fooled—and perhaps because some of our major companies, including financial institutions, would not regard it as helpful if the full extent of the problem were widely known. It does not hit the headlines because there is no immediate victim in the way that there is in the case of gun and knife crime or violent assault, particularly when that is on a vulnerable person. Yet it is an area of criminal activity that is expanding fast and becoming of increasing concern, as reflected by the measures proposed in the Bill.
I hope that when he responds, the Minister will be able to say what the Government are doing to provide the necessary resources to fight this kind of crime at all levels. Police forces have made cuts; the temptation must be to make those cuts in areas that will have the least impact as far as adverse headlines are concerned. Have police forces around the country increased or decreased the number of officers engaged full-time in working to detect and prevent computer crime and the fraud associated with it? If the numbers have increased at a time of cuts in front-line policing, has that been in proportion to the increase in the volume of such crime?
On the national and international scene, this is an area in which the National Crime Agency and the City of London fraud unit are involved. Have their resources been increased and, if so, by how much? Are we still in a situation where the prospects of bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice are less than those of being able to disrupt the fraud or scam that is occurring, but without being able to call the key perpetrators to account?
The Bill does not offer a coherent government plan for tackling online fraud and economic crime. Recorded offences of fraud have increased by a quarter over the past year but prosecutions and convictions have gone down while business crime, which surveys indicate is going up, is not counted in official figures despite online crime exploding. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurance on these issues because, important though it is that sentences should fit the crime, it is equally important that the required resources are there to keep such online fraud and economic crime in check and not allow it to become a crime with, all too often, apparently easy and secure pickings for those who engage in it.
As my friend Lady Smith of Basildon has already said, we support further action against those aiding and abetting criminals, subject to ensuring that innocent parties are not sucked in as well. We also support the proposed amendment to the Terrorism Act, although we question whether the Home Office is doing enough within communities to deter young people from acting on the words of those who encourage them to go to Syria.
This is not one of those Bills where major battle lines over principles have to be set out at Second Reading. However, there are details about the effectiveness and potential consequences of at least some of the Government’s proposals which will need to be addressed in Committee, as will the extent to which the Government are actually providing the necessary resources to deter or bring to justice the perpetrators of some of the serious offences set out not only in the Bill but in existing legislation.
My Lords, this has been a good debate. Even though the Bill itself has been widely welcomed and there has been general agreement about its purposes, noble Lords have raised matters which we will be required to resolve and deal with in Committee. In handling this Second Reading debate, I will do my best to answer as many of the questions as I can. We have strayed a little; I am thinking in particular of my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s contribution regarding his communications data Bill, while the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, gave my noble friend Lord Faulks some indication that he might be troublesome on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that is to come. In the mean time, we can all agree that the serious and organised crime which this Bill is designed to address is a significant threat. We must equip the National Crime Agency, the police and others with the necessary powers to counter that threat.
We can also agree that we need a robust body of law to protect children from harm. Passing new laws will not, of itself, change anything on the ground. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, emphasised that, as did many other noble Lords. As we move from clause to clause, noble Lords will want to test whether the provisions of this Bill provide for adequate enforcement, as well as for the legislative changes that we are proposing.
A number of noble Lords have properly and helpfully used this debate to set out some of these issues. It is striking that many contributions have related to Part 5, concerning child cruelty and female genital mutilation, but it is not surprising given that so many Members of your Lordships’ House are committed to enhancing the protection and life chances of children. In responding to some of the specific points raised, I will start with these provisions. I thank my noble friend Lady Brinton for her contribution; she is very keen that we scrutinise these aspects. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, suggested that we should brush away the Victorian cobwebs which surround this area.
The Government accept that the current offence of child cruelty in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is still effective and that the courts are able to interpret it appropriately. We acknowledge that some of the language is outdated and that the law may be easier to understand if it is updated and clarified. That is a reasonable approach to take. It is why we are amending the 1933 Act to make it absolutely clear that children subject to cruelty likely to cause psychological suffering or injury are to be protected by law. My noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, questioned why the offence applies not to 18 year-olds but only to those up to the age of 16. We recognise that there are circumstances in which people of 16 and 17 require protection. Young people over 16 are lawfully able to be married and are generally deemed capable of living independently of their parents. They could themselves be parents or carers of a person under 16. Those under the age of 16 are generally more vulnerable and more dependent on those who care for them. That is why Section 1 focuses on protecting those under 16, though it is not to deny the vulnerability of those who are older than that.
With regard to Clause 62, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked that for child cruelty offences prosecution should be the last resort. I agree totally with that view; prosecution is a last resort, and in cases regarding children Section 1 of the 1933 Act is really only one part of a comprehensive legislative framework for protecting children. The role of social workers and partners in caring for young children is to protect the child and to support the parents to do just that. Our proposed changes to Section 1 of the 1933 Act will not change that responsibility.
My comments on this area did not really have to do with whether the legislation was adequate; rather, they were to suggest that we need to discuss what sort of support will actually be available for these children and their parents, particularly because—this is a slightly political point—there are massive cuts to local authority services and a risk that services will not be available along the lines that I was suggesting. If you find a parent emotionally abusing a child and causing severe psychological damage, there may be nothing between no intervention and some sort of criminal sanction. My point was about trying to look at whether guidance or something needs to be in place to ensure that the criminal route really is the last resort. I think that the Minister will understand what I am trying to get at.
I understand exactly what the noble Baroness is saying. All I will say is that at every point at which I have been taking Home Office legislation through the House, these sorts of points have been made. I hope that I have been able to emphasise that it is exactly the points that the noble Baroness has been making that are uppermost. We are urging local authorities and those with responsibility for the welfare of children to have a high regard for their role in preventing abuse, and indeed for detecting it. As someone mentioned earlier—I think it was my noble friend Lady Hamwee—it is schools and a whole series of individuals with responsibility for the welfare of children, in terms of their general activity of support, that are important to make success of legislation such as we are bringing through. It puts legislation in context to see it being a supporting pillar of a caring society, does it not? That is what we are seeking to do with this legislation.
That applies to FGM as well, on which we have had some really good contributions. In welcoming the measure, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said that more should be done to tackle this issue. Of course successful prosecutions are the key to stamping out FGM, and the DPP has announced the first prosecutions while the CPS is also considering 11 other cases. However, we agree that legislation cannot in itself eradicate FGM; it is important that we change the law where necessary, but there are other pressures that we can bring to bear. I note the robust comments by my noble friend Lord Blencathra in this regard and indeed the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Elton, both of which I think are worthy of our consideration when we come to the clauses in Committee.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked why the new offence of the possession of paedophile manuals does not extend to Scotland. This provision does not relate to reserved matters and, as such, under the Sewel convention, we would legislate here at Westminster only with the consent of the Scottish Parliament. We have discussed the provision with the Scottish Government and they have indicated that they will monitor the new offence and then take a view on whether to bring forward a similar offence in the Scottish Parliament. If, however, they change their mind before the passage of this Bill is complete then I am sure this House, and indeed Parliament in general, would consider such a request favourably as part of the legislative process.
Parts 1 and 4 of the Bill, as I have indicated, ensure that the National Crime Agency and others have the powers that they need to pursue relentlessly, to disrupt and to bring to justice those who commit serious and organised crime. We heard an excellent speech from my noble friend Lord Paddick, who informed our debate by drawing on his experience of policing. He and other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and my noble friends Lord Bourne and Lord Blencathra, pointed to the importance of ensuring that confiscation orders made under the Proceeds of Crime Act are robustly enforced. Serving time in prison does not excuse the liability to compensation. People who have not paid their compensation orders are still liable for them and will still be pursued because, as was said during the debate, the whole point of the exercise must be to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains. That is the fundamental point of these measures. The measures in Part 1 of the Bill, which I set out, will assist in that regard.
Let me deal with some of the particular points made. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that more needs to be done to strengthen default sentences. The Bill includes significant increases in the length of default sentences where an offender fails to pay higher-value confiscation orders. As a result, an offender who defaults on a confiscation order of more than £10 million will in future serve up to 14 years in prison rather than five years as now. The noble Baroness asked whether that was the right figure. We will no doubt be monitoring closely the impact of these changes, and provisions in the Bill enable us to make further changes to the default sentencing framework through secondary legislation. My noble friend Lord Blencathra referred to Clause 36, which relates to the making of confiscation orders in magistrates’ courts, for example. We agreed that the existing £10,000 threshold may be too low, which is why we have included an order-making power in the Bill to increase this figure through secondary legislation. I trust that that will be welcomed by my noble friend and I expect that we will be debating these issues in Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked whether enough groundwork was being done to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed the necessary legislative consent Motion. I understand her interest in making sure that that is the case. We have worked very closely with the Minister of Justice, David Ford, on the development of this Bill in general. The provisions in Chapter 3 of Part 1 have been included at his request and he has agreed, in principle, to pursue a legislative consent Motion for them. It is now a matter for David Ford to take forward, but we are ready to assist him in any way that he would consider helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked about the distributing of moneys under POCA. One of the key incentives of our criminal finances improvement plan, which is overseen by the Criminal Finances Board, is to ensure that the asset recovery incentivisation scheme works effectively. To this end, we intend to review the scheme later this year to ensure that it works to support front-line agencies in the way that he has suggested.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the participation offence; I expect that we will be returning to this in Committee. This new offence is designed to capture anyone who takes part in the criminal activities of an organised crime group. It is not just about corrupt lawyers and accountants; it is about anyone who is involved in criminal activities. Taking part in such activities will in future be a criminal offence rather than just an issue of professional misconduct. For the regulated sector, which would include lawyers and accountants, failing to report someone else who is known or suspected to be involved in money-laundering is a criminal offence, but that is not the same as an individual themselves taking part in the activities of the crime group. We will shortly be meeting with the Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to discuss their concerns. I am sure that elements of the new offence will be scrutinised when we come to them in Committee.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby wanted to hear more about other strands of the serious and organised crime strategy, namely the three Ps of Prevent, Protect and Prepare. I agree that they are just as important as the Pursue strand. The measures in the Bill to improve the operation of serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions are designed to prevent people from engaging in serious and organised crime. However, here, as elsewhere, prevention is better than cure. I noted very much the right reverend Prelate’s comments about involving the police, local government, education and faith groups, in the last of which he has shown what can be done, particularly in local circumstances.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, queried the draft of new Section 36A of the Serious Crime Act 2007, which is concerned with the standard of proof that is applicable to proceedings in Scotland in relation to serious crime prevention orders. The noble and learned Lord has made a telling point in contrasting the approach taken in the Bill with that taken in the 2007 Act as it applies to England and Wales. I undertake to consider the matter further before Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, felt that the Bill reinforced, in his view, another big push in a failed drugs strategy. I know that the noble Lord is totally sincere in his view that drugs are an iniquity and I know that he does not favour drugs but takes a more liberal view towards those who find themselves in a world of drugs. I think that he is wrong. Drugs are illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown that they are harmful to human health. They can destroy lives, as we all know, and cause misery to families and communities. The drugs strategy—reducing demand, restricting supply, building recovery and supporting people to live a drug-free life—aims to take a balanced, evidence-based approach to tackling drug use that works within international conventions. We are confident that our approach is the right one. Drug use has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1996. People going into treatment today are far more likely to free themselves from dependency than ever before.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and my noble friend Lord Wasserman asked about the responsibility for counterterrorism policing. Our position has not changed. We will take a decision following a review and conduct that review only when the NCA is more established. I remind the House that the NCA came into being only last October.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, referred to the provision in Clause 65 that extends extraterritorial jurisdiction for offences under the Terrorism Act 2006. That is an important provision to help further to protect the country from those who commit acts preparatory to terrorism or undertake terrorist training abroad.
I have a further point for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The Government are making £860 million-worth of investment over five years to 2016 through the national cybersecurity programme and have so far committed £72 million of that programme over four years to build law enforcement capabilities to tackle cybercrime.
I have been overtaken by time and a lot of issues have been raised. I hope that I will be able to help noble Lords by writing to them in the period between now and Committee. I will try to take the opportunity at that stage to reinforce those views so that they are on the record. In the mean time, I thank noble Lords and commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
My Lords, I wish to repeat as a Statement an Answer given to an Urgent Question in the other place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. The Statement is as follows:
“Let me start by challenging the premise of the Question posed by the right honourable gentleman. We do not have a prison overcrowding crisis. Today’s prison population is 85,359. This is against total useable operational capacity of 86,421. This means we have more than 1,000 spare places across the prison estate.
By next April we will have opened an additional 2,000 places. This includes four new house blocks, which will start to open from the autumn. We also have a number of additional reserve capabilities to cope with unexpected pressures. At the time of the election next year, we will have more adult male prison places than we inherited in May 2010, despite having to deal with the financial challenges that the previous Government left behind.
Since last September, the prison population has started to rise again. This has happened for a number of reasons. They include the significant increase in the number of convictions for historic sex abuse. Those people committed appalling crimes, and probably thought they had got away with it. I am delighted to be finding the space for them behind bars.
Because that increase was unexpected, I have agreed to make some reserve capacity available to ensure that we retain sufficient margin between the number of places occupied and the total capacity of the system until the new prison buildings come on stream later this year. What this means in reality is that, in a number of public and private prisons, a few more prisoners will have to share a cell for a few weeks. We may not need these places but I would rather they were available in case we do.
I am also taking steps to address what I believe is a weakness in our prison system: that we have had no access to the kind of temporary or agency staff that you find as a matter of routine in our health and education systems. I am therefore establishing a reserve capability among former staff to give us the flexibility to adapt to short-term changes of population by bringing reserve capacity into operation. We have some staff shortages in London in particular because of the rapid improvement in the labour market, and this will help us to cover any gaps.
Let me also set out for the House how we are managing the prison estate. My objective is to bring down the cost of running the prison estate while maintaining capacity levels. An important part of that is replacing older, more expensive prisons with new or refurbished capacity that is less expensive to run. So far this Parliament we have opened 2,500 new places, with a further 2,000 places due to open in the next nine months. This has enabled us to close a little over 4,500 places in older prisons in the past two years, saving a total of £170 million during the current spending review period.
In addition, we have launched a benchmarking programme across the prison estate to bring down costs. I introduced this programme in the autumn of 2012 as an alternative to privatisation, at the request of the Prison Governors Association and the unions. The leaders of the Prison Officers’ Association described my decision to do so as a ‘victory’ for them. I am grateful to our staff for their hard work in taking these changes forward.
This programme of change has been praised by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. The NAO said recently:
‘The strategy for the prison estate is the most coherent and comprehensive for many years, has quickly cut operating costs, and is a significant improvement in value for money on the approaches of the past’.
We will end this Parliament with more adult male prison places than we inherited, more hours of work in prisons than we inherited, more education for young detainees than we inherited and a more modern, cost-effective prison estate than we inherited. That is anything but a crisis”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating his right honourable friend’s Answer but, as far as this side is concerned, it does not begin to deal with the questions that have been raised in the past few days. Last week, the highly respected Chief Inspector of Prisons voiced serious concerns over the impact on prisoners and staff of overcrowding in the prison estate. He referred to a rising trend of suicides and self-harm, of tension and violence, and of the inability to offer meaningful work or recreation. It was frankly astonishing to hear the Secretary of State for Justice airily dismiss these concerns on the “Today” programme, sounding like a political Dr Pangloss of whom Voltaire would have indeed been proud. He seemed to think it was only a matter of prisoners doubling up in their cells for a few weeks until the crisis passed, as if that was merely a trifling inconvenience for the prisoners and—as importantly if not more so—for those whose task it is to ensure good order and their safety.
When will the Government acknowledge and act on the facts that violence against prison staff has increased by 45% since 2010; that there has been a 60% rise in the number of times the prison riot squad has been called out; and that the use of Gold Command to deal with serious incidents has doubled in the past two years? It is time for the Secretary of State to stop playing to the gallery, to start listening to the chief inspector and to deal properly with the crisis in the service.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, suggests that there is a great degree of overcrowding. He will know, because he is experienced in the field, that there is a difference between the certified capacity and the certified normal accommodation. It is true that, in the short term, some prisoners have to double up, but they double up in the context of cells that have been approved for occupation by two, and of infrastructure that has also been approved in the prison in which they reside. Of course, in an ideal world most of these cells would be occupied by one person, but none the less these are prisoners who are in their cells in circumstances where there is temporary overcrowding and where they are in fact serving a prison sentence.
I reject the suggestion that the Secretary of State is somehow cavalier about the problems of so-called prison overcrowding. Of course, any death in custody or any self-harm is a matter of great anxiety to all those concerned with the management of prisons. We are fortunate in having prison officers of a very high standard and prison governors who are concerned for the welfare of prisoners.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly what is causing the increase. The fact is that, unfortunately, the suicide rate among young males is reflected to some extent by an increase in the general population outside prison as well. Every death is subject to an investigation by the police and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and there is, of course, a coroner’s inquest. The Secretary of State has commissioned an independent advisory panel on deaths in custody to review self-inflicted deaths of 18 to 24 year-olds in custody from 1 April 2007, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who I am glad to see in his place.
The Government are by no means complacent about any incident of self-harm or death and are doing their best to avoid such consequences. However, it does not help the morale of prison officers or the welfare of prisoners generally to manufacture some crisis which, in truth, is no more than and no different from the situation that prevailed in many years when the party opposite was in government. For example, the so-called overcrowding figures were higher between 2003 and 2010 than they are now. This is a storm that has been manufactured and does not help the welfare of prisoners.
My Lords, whether or not the present shortage is under control, as the Statement asserts, can the Minister assure those of us on these Benches that the Statement should not be taken as suggesting that the more prison places there are the better? Will he confirm that the Government’s aim remains to achieve a reduction in the prison population by reducing reoffending and keeping offenders out of custody through rehabilitation where possible? Is that policy not achieving some success? Does he also accept that an obvious way to free up necessary space in prisons is to enable the early release of the 3,500 prisoners who have already passed their tariff date for release but are still serving indeterminate sentences for public protection, which were, after all, abolished by the Government to their credit in 2012?
My Lords, the Government take no pride in the increase in the prison population, of course, but it is a matter for the judges to decide the length of sentences and whether an individual is sent to prison. It is the Government’s job to ensure that there is prison capacity to deal with the sentences that are passed. The Government are indeed anxious to prevent the cycle of reoffending. As my noble friend quite rightly says, the Transforming Rehabilitation programme is particularly designed to deal with the many short-term prisoners—less than 12 months—who have unfortunately simply gone in and out of prison as a matter of routine. He is right to refer to the fact that the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which went on stream in June, is going to mean that for the first time those prisoners have support outside prison from the probation service and that they receive contact with the probation service before they leave prison. That should help to reduce the prison population in the long term.
As to his observation about IPP prisoners, to whom I know he was referring, of course there is some anxiety about this. The Government, as he correctly acknowledges, repealed the relevant legislation. Steps are being taken to ensure, in so far as it is possible, that prisoners can be released when it is safe for that to happen. That will sometimes involve prisoners going on appropriate courses, but it should not be thought that simply going on a course automatically makes them appropriate for release. It is a matter for anxiety and the Government are particularly concerned that those who should be released are released and that the prison population should be kept as low as it can be, commensurate with public safety.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are many ordinary, decent, right-thinking members of society representing all manner of political persuasion or none who find their minds exercised by two considerable ironies? One is that while for many years the level of crime has been falling substantially, the prison population has nevertheless been going in a totally different direction. Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, despite the historical traditions of decent and law-abiding attitudes in the United Kingdom, of all the major countries of Europe we, per 100,000 of population, incarcerate many more than any other major country. I am not entirely certain of the figures for France, Italy and Germany, but they are far below ours. The figure for Britain, I remember, is 149 per 100,000. Is there no possibility of a deep and searching study into those two considerable ironies?
My Lords, as the noble Lord says, the level of crime has gone down under this Government. Sentences are longer than they were, as the sentencing guidelines suggest. Unfortunately, while serious crime remains a problem, that is unlikely to change. I take the noble Lord’s point, but I cannot announce any investigation from the Dispatch Box.
My Lords, the House has just given a Second Reading to the Serious Crime Bill, which creates new imprisonable offences and provides for longer sentences for existing offences. Does the Minister not think that the Home Office should think more carefully before it introduces torrents of legislation that place great pressure on the Prison Service, which is already highly stressed and at the limits of capacity?
Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Iraq
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on Iraq and on last week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Statement is as follows.
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I will make a Statement on Iraq and update the House on the outcome of last week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The Sunni extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, issued a series of attacks and car bombings in Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi and Jalawla, over the past 10 days, culminating in the capture of Mosul on Tuesday. From Mosul, ISIL, with other armed groups, took control of the towns on the main route to Baghdad, including Tikrit, 110 miles north of the capital. The Iraqi security forces initially proved unable to resist these attacks, although there are now signs of a fight-back in the area around Samarra.
These are extremely grave developments. ISIL is the most violent and brutal militant group in the Middle East. It has a long record of atrocities, including the use of IEDs, abductions, torture and killings. The reported massacre of 1,700 Shia air force recruits is more evidence of its brutality.
ISIL’s aim is to establish an Islamic state in the region, and it is pursuing this goal by attacking the Government of Iraq, gaining control of territory and inciting sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The group has bases in northern Syria as well as in Iraq. While the majority of its members are Iraqi or Syrian, it also includes a significant number of foreign fighters among its ranks. As I have previously told this House, we estimate the total number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals, who could present a particular risk should they return to the UK. Some of these are inevitably fighting with ISIL.
Over the past few days, I have held discussions with Foreign Ministers from the region, including with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, with whom I discussed the welfare of more than 60 Turkish citizens kidnapped in Mosul. Our national interest lies in supporting a sovereign and democratic Iraq to resist those threats, offering assistance where necessary, and working with others to prevent the spread of terrorism in Iraq and throughout the region.
On Friday, I held talks with Secretary Kerry in London. We agreed that the prime responsibility for leading the response to these events lies with the Iraqi Government. The United States, which is the country with the most appropriate assets and capabilities, is considering a range of options that could help the Iraqi security forces push back on ISIL advances. President Obama has been clear that action taken by the United States will succeed only if accompanied by a political response from the Iraqi Government.
We are taking action in three areas: promoting political unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state and stability in the region, offering assistance where appropriate and possible, and alleviating humanitarian suffering. We have made it clear this does not involve planning a military intervention by the United Kingdom.
On the first of these points, yesterday I underlined to the Iraqi Foreign Minister the need for his colleagues to form a new and inclusive Government who will bring together all Iraq’s different groups and will be able to command support across Iraqi society. ISIL is taking advantage of political disaffection, including among Saddam-era officers and soldiers, and Sunni tribal fighters, who have lost trust in the Iraqi Government. Overcoming this will require a concerted political effort by the Government, including working with the Kurdistan regional government against this common threat. I welcome the fact that the Iraqi Supreme Court has today ratified the large majority of the results of April’s elections in Iraq, and I call on it to announce the full results as soon as possible to allow for the rapid formation of a new Government.
On our second objective, we are examining what more can be done to assist the Iraqi authorities directly in their security response. We are urging the Iraqi Government to take effective measures to organise their security forces effectively and push ISIL back from the areas it has occupied while protecting civilian life, infrastructure and vital services. We are discussing with the Iraqi Government areas for co-operation, including the possibility of offering counterterrorism expertise. We are also providing consular assistance to a small number of British nationals who have been affected. For this purpose, a UK-MoD Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to help assess the situation on the ground and assist the embassy in contingency planning.
Thirdly, we have responded rapidly to the humanitarian emergency. Around 500,000 people are reported to have been displaced in the north and now need urgent support. Last week we were the first donor country to send a field team to the Kurdistan region, where they met UN and NGO contacts and the Kurdistan authorities. My right honourable friend the International Development Secretary announced on Saturday that we would provide £3 million of immediate assistance including £2 million from the Rapid Response Facility to NGOs for water and sanitation and other emergency relief and £1 million to the UNHCR for mobile protection teams and for the establishment of camps. We are considering urgently what further assistance we could provide.
The rise of sectarianism and religious intolerance is fuelling instability in the Middle East. This has been compounded by the brutality of the Assad regime, whose relentless war against its own people has created an opening for extremists. That is why we will continue to support the moderate opposition in Syria who have had the courage to fight directly against ISIL and other extremists, as well as urging the Iraqi Government to take the political and military steps required to defeat such groups in Iraq. We are also working to reinforce stability across the region, including through providing significant security support to the Governments of Lebanon and Jordan, as well as £243 million in humanitarian assistance. We will intensify our efforts in the coming weeks and days to tackle this serious threat to international peace and security.
Addressing the crises of today should never prevent us from dealing with the longer-term issues that are fundamental to conflict prevention in many parts of the world. Last week I co-hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the largest ever summit held on this issue. One hundred and twenty eight countries and 79 Ministers attended, along with eight UN agency heads, as well as presidents, prosecutors from the ICC and international tribunals, and another 300 delegates from conflict-affected countries.
The summit had two primary objectives: to agree practical action to tackle impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war, and to begin to change global attitudes to these crimes. We opened the summit up to thousands of members of the public at 175 different public events. Our embassies held events to mirror what was going on in London for the entire 84-hour period and we mounted an intensive social media campaign that reached all parts of the world.
This was the most important milestone in our efforts to address this issue and my intention is to create unstoppable momentum in addressing these crimes, which are among the worst experienced in the world today. We set in motion a series of practical steps and commitments. We launched the first ever international protocol on how to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict, as a means of overcoming the barriers to prosecutions of these crimes.
I announced £6 million in new UK funding to support survivors of rape, and the US, Finland, Bahrain, Australia, Japan and others also made new and generous pledges. The African Union also announced a pilot project in the Central African Republic to respond to the urgent needs of victims of sexual violence. The Somali Government launched a new action plan on Somalia, supported by the UN and the international community, for addressing sexual violence, which has blighted the lives of thousands of women, men and children.
Within the summit, I convened a special meeting on security in Nigeria following the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in April and a summit on this issue in Paris last month. We agreed that a regional intelligence fusion unit should be made operational immediately. The countries of the region also agreed rapidly to implement joint or co-ordinated patrols along their borders, and Cameroon committed to add a battalion to the regional task force. The UK, the US and France pledged to support these regional efforts. On behalf of the UK, I announced a separate package of support for Nigeria, including tactical training for the Nigerian army, assistance to regional security and intelligence co-operation, and a joint UK-US educational programme to educate an additional 1 million children in Nigeria. All the parties present also agreed on the need for UN sanctions against Boko Haram’s leadership and Ansaru, another dangerous terrorist organisation in Nigeria.
Finally, states and delegates at the summit joined together to sign a statement of action, uniting Governments, UN agencies, civil society, experts and survivors with a shared determination to end sexual violence in conflict. We will now work hard to ensure that the momentum is sustained and accelerated in the months and years ahead. We will publish a comprehensive report on the summit that will distil the expert recommendations and political discussions that took place. This will serve as a reference point for future work.
We will turn our focus to practical implementation of the international protocol in priority countries. We will ensure it is translated and disseminated around the world, and we will champion its use and promote its principles in the projects that we fund and in international institutions. We will continue to use our team of experts to strengthen the capacity of affected countries to address accountability and to work with UN special representative Zainab Bangura and UN Action to improve international co-ordination and the capability of militaries to respond and prevent sexual violence.
For the past two years the United Kingdom has led the way internationally in addressing these vital issues and we must continue to do so until the scourge of sexual violence is finally confronted, addressed and defeated”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating her right honourable friend’s Statement made in another place earlier today. Let me come to Iraq first. Iraq clearly faces fundamental threats to its integrity, security and stability. Faced with a lightning advance by a few thousand ISIL fighters from their base in Syria, the Iraqi army’s presence in the northern and western Sunni-majority provinces of Iraq effectively has collapsed.
Beneath these latest advances for ISIL is a deeper and fundamental question, not just for Iraq but also for its neighbouring countries across the region. That question surely is: can they in time develop a pluralistic, democratic politics where people live together as citizens rather than divide along sectarian, ethnic or religious lines? Alas, the answer today still remains uncertain.
Inevitably and understandably, these events have rekindled the debate around military intervention in Iraq 11 years ago. For most British people, including many of us who supported the action at the time, the fears of those opposed to the intervention have been vindicated by subsequent events. It is futile to deny that subsequent history as surely as it would be folly to repeat it, yet it is also facile to suggest that the crisis affecting Iraq today can be attributed solely to the consequences of intervention. Such an account denies the truth that the slide towards crisis in Iraq has been exacerbated by the civil war in Syria. These are two nations, both sitting astride the Sunni/Shia fault line, engulfed increasingly by sectarian violence while the rest of the region has looked on as sectarian tensions rise. Tragically for Iraq, the hallmark of Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated Government has been a sectarian rather than an inclusive approach. By way of contrast, the welcome progress made since 2003 by the leadership of the Kurdistan regional government only serves further to highlight the extent of the Iraqi central government’s failures in moving the country forward
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Can she set out what specific steps are being taken by the UK Government in co-ordination with allies to encourage the formation of a new Government in Iraq, bearing in mind, as she told us, that the large majority of results now in April’s elections have been ratified? Secondly, what conversations are taking place to urge Prime Minister Maliki to take concrete measures to reduce sectarian tensions, empower regional government and reprofessionalise the Iraqi armed forces?
The Foreign Secretary today and in statements over the past week confirmed that military intervention in Iraq is not being contemplated. We welcome that assurance. We do not believe that the Government should agree to any proposals significantly to increase the nature or scale of support that we are already giving to the Iraqi Government without a much wider debate in Parliament and indeed in the country. I hope that the Minister and the Government agree.
It is clear that Iran is heavily engaged in Iraq today and it is disappointing to hear Tehran apparently ruling out direct talks with the US earlier this morning, but we very much welcome confirmation that the Foreign Secretary has been in touch with his Iranian counterpart earlier today. Does the Minister agree that there is now an urgent case for ensuring an effective British diplomatic presence in Tehran to help co-ordinate discussions? The Minister may be able to tell us that there will be some news about this matter very shortly. Certainly, her right honourable friend hinted as much in another place this afternoon.
As the crisis continues, the scale of the humanitarian suffering of course also grows, so we warmly welcome the additional humanitarian funding that the UK Government have already announced. Will any further requests from Iraq’s Government for additional humanitarian support be considered promptly? Many British citizens will have watched the scenes both in Syria and in Iraq with growing concern and anxiety, so it is right that we pay tribute to the British intelligence and security forces who are doing such vital work to keep us safe. Will the Minister set out the Government's latest assessment of the threat posed by British citizens returning from the region?
The Government will be concerned, as we all are, with the safety of British diplomatic staff in Baghdad, Erbil and Basra. Will the Minister assure the House that all the necessary plans are in place to guarantee their safety? The most urgent task now is for Iraq’s leadership to unite and galvanise its response to this crisis. The future of the whole country and the fate of millions depend upon it.
I turn briefly to the preventing sexual violence in conflict summit in London, which the Minister spoke of. That summit was a real credit to the work of the campaigners and activists across the world who tirelessly worked to raise this issue up the political agenda. The British Government and the Foreign Secretary have done a great deal in recent months. We from this side commend them sincerely for that work. However, not least in this House, if I may say so, it is important that we commend the Minister for her important part in this exercise. Indeed, I had the pleasure of reading two—I do not know how many she made last week—fairly short speeches in which she puts the overwhelming case very well.
The Foreign Secretary was right though to say in his Statement that the priority has to be to translate words into practical action, and we welcome the further £6 million pledged by the UK to support survivors of sexual violence in conflict. The statement of action to tackle the culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence in conflict, which is referred to in the Statement, was indeed an important step forward. Alongside agreeing a coherent legal framework, can the Minister set out this evening, or in writing, what further steps may be taken to tackle some of those underlying issues that contribute so much to impunity—such as the independence of the judiciary—within conflict-affected states? We look forward to the publication of the comprehensive report on the summit. It may be too early for the noble Baroness to give us any indication of how long it will be before that is published, but we hope it is not too long. The real test, as I know the Government recognise, is now whether the summit here in London can make a real difference on the ground in conflict zones across the world. The Minister and the Foreign Secretary will have our support to make sure that work is done.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord opposite for his support, both in relation to a difficult emerging situation in Iraq and his kind words about ending sexual violence in conflict. There is no doubt that sectarianism, which appears to be the root cause of so much of what we see across the region, can be resolved only by making sure that Governments respond to the needs of their citizens and respond in a way that is pluralistic and does not make communities feel isolated. There is no doubt that successful elections and the subsequent formation of an inclusive Government is going to be an essential part of rebuilding Iraq.
I heard the very gracious words from the noble Lord in relation to the Iraq war. I, of course, come at it from a very different perspective. I was part of the anti-war position. Even I would have to say that it cannot be said that intervention was the sole cause of what we see now, but we would all probably have to admit that it had a significant impact on the region. In terms of working with the region, it is right that the relationship with Iran has been strengthened over time. Noble Lords will be aware of an imminent announcement—something could be said tomorrow—about what we intend in terms of our relationship with Iran. The noble Lord asked what steps we are taking to support the new Government. I think the new Government have to be formed as soon as possible and have to be inclusive. It is right that we support the Government of Mr Maliki, but also that we demand of him conditionality in relation to how he makes sure that all Iraqis are included in any future Government. I take it upon myself to ensure that the House is always informed of changes and I assure the noble Lord that if there are to be changes to our approach in Iraq I will certainly bring the matter back to the House.
We stand ready to provide further humanitarian support. I am proud of the fact that we were among the first to respond and we keep that support under review. Of course, there is an ongoing threat from returning fighters. The Home Office is very aware of this. Noble Lords will be aware of high-profile arrests that have been made. It is important that we continue to monitor that situation, as well as supporting our staff and ensuring that our travel advice is kept up to date. Of course, a number of British nationals either live or work out there.
Turning briefly to ending sexual violence in conflict, the noble Lord is absolutely right: of course it is great that we had this conference but it must translate into real action. If everybody does what they pledged to do at the summit last week, we will have a real, genuine and long-term impact on tackling and ending sexual violence in conflict. It is important for this to be translated into practical action, including tackling what is known as the underlying impunity. The way we do that is by supporting the legal systems of individual countries and ensuring that the evidence is gathered properly and prosecutions are prepared properly and that we get convictions for these offences which send out a very strong message.
Of course, the particular part of the summit I led on was the work and role of faith communities in ending sexual violence. Sometimes in those situations they are the first point of call and only form of support. More fundamentally than that, if there is to be a culture change, where the shame sits on the perpetrator and not on the survivor, faith communities have an incredibly important role to play and must lead this challenge.
My Lords, of course I welcome the powerful message from the violence in conflict conference last week. That was a very good initiative. Obviously, it needs to reach not just states and Governments but all the non-state actors and private armies around the world that are engaged in violence.
Does my noble friend not agree that what is happening now in northern Iraq is an immediate threat to our national direction, purpose and security of a very high order, putting in question many of the policy assumptions we have had in recent years? I see no particular point in rowing backwards now to the issues of the difficult past in Iraq but will she assure us that we will continue to work very closely—as I think she has indicated that we are doing already—with the regional powers? That is obviously with Iraq itself but also with Turkey, Egypt and Iran, and even with Saudi Arabia, which of course has a Sunni affiliation but can do a great deal, I think, to help reduce support for the butchers of Mosul, and of course with the United States as well, with its technology and the proposals it has already made. Does she agree that in doing so, sensibly and with our own unique experience, we could help to halt this grim development which breaks open the old assumptions that have governed the nations of the Middle East since the end of the Ottoman Empire, and that we should do so, even if at the moment we do not like Mr al-Maliki’s divisive policies? They may have to be changed, but the immediate task is to prevent a further smashing up of the Middle East order, which we have sought to protect over the past few years.
My Lords, as always, my noble friend makes an important point. He will be heartened to hear that over the weekend my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Foreign Minister of Iraq, Zebari; the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Davutoglu; the Foreign Minister of Iran, Zarif; and to John Kerry on Friday. He and the Government absolutely accept that this has to be resolved as a regional issue. Every state has a responsibility to support stability, including Saudi Arabia. We cannot accept that countries are affiliated to certain elements within Iraq. We have to encourage all Iraqis—the Sunni community, the Shia community and indeed the Kurds and the Kurdistan regional government—to work together to provide that stability, which is so badly needed.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that since 2010 I have been raising the issue of the 300,000 women in Bangladesh who were raped by the Pakistani army. Therefore, as a campaigner I take pleasure in congratulating her on her leadership and that of the Foreign Secretary. I welcome the international protocol that has been announced. It marks a crossroads in protecting vulnerable women, although I know that in the end implementation is everything.
The £6 million that has been announced is much to be welcomed, especially if it adds to the pot of the international community. Given the past week’s momentous event, would the Minister say whether there is any room to create a constructive provision of support and resources for the survivors of past atrocities and conflicts? In particular, what is her view about measures to provide justice, reparation and apologies to the 300,000 Bangladeshi women victims of the Pakistani army in the 1971 war?
The noble Baroness makes an important point and has tirelessly campaigned on this issue for many years. As the Minister with responsibility for both Pakistan and Bangladesh, I was incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to convince both countries to sign the international declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict. I was delighted to see that both countries took that pledge. This could have consequences for their own nations and states, but both countries are also huge providers of peacekeeping troops, which are sometimes the first point of defence where this sexual violence happens.
Supporting victims was an essential part of the summit and one of the priorities. It includes supporting victims now, but also supporting victims from the past. As the noble Baroness will be aware, many of these horrific stories of sexual violence do not even come to the fore because victims are not prepared to speak about them. One thing that we can all agree on is that the summit gave a voice to survivors, and that in itself will start to tackle the cultural impunity.
My Lords, one of the reasons why my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford and I always attempt to speak at the same time is because we so often agree completely with what each other has to say. In addition to endorsing everything that my noble friend said, I simply want to address two or three issues.
While I congratulate the Minister and the Government wholeheartedly on the ending sexual violence summit, she will understand if I concentrate my remarks on Iraq. I understand where the Government are coming from in keeping their assistance extremely limited at the moment, but will she tell the House whether the Prime Minister continues to abide by his royal prerogative in taking any measures that he considers necessary in order to persist with bringing about a resolution to the situation? This is the gravest political situation that we have seen since 2003, because if ISIS gets control of a swathe of territory we are in real trouble.
My second question relates to what the Foreign Secretary has been doing in his conversations with the Prime Ministers of the regional powers. Are we encouraging Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have recently thawed relations with each other, to continue to resolve this situation together? The noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to Iran not having direct talks with the United States, but if Saudi Arabia and Iran can work together, that would be significantly helpful.
Finally, has there been any discussion in the Foreign Office and government about taking this issue to the United Nations Security Council? If there is one point where we need decisive action by the international community, it seems to be now. Events are moving very quickly indeed, so I exhort them to do so.
My noble friend will be aware that the United States has said that all options are still on the table, but I can say that the United Kingdom is not planning a military intervention. We are looking urgently at other ways to help, examining where, for example, we can give support in relation to counterterrorism expertise.
My noble friend makes an important point about regional players. Saudi Arabia and Iran of course have a role to play. Many of these groups and countries unfortunately feel a sense of affiliation to certain sections within Iraq and it is important that we stress again the need for stability and communities to work together. I am not aware of any proposals at this stage for United Nations Security Council involvement, but if I do I will certainly write to my noble friend.
My Lords, with regard to Iraq, can the noble Baroness say whether she has any information about the alleged presence inside Iraq of units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or indeed of any other Iranian forces? I ask that because, if there is any truth in that allegation, it could have a very destabilising effect. Secondly, will HMG consult with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government with a view to finding out whether Kurdish military forces could come to the assistance of, and possibly recover, the city of Mosul? If that could be done, it would enable a large number of displaced people to return to their homes and avoid the necessity of their being in camps.
My Lords, the situation on the ground is of course becoming clearer as each day goes by. Even the Iraqi Government were to some extent caught by surprise by the pace of what happened in the north. I cannot provide specific information on the noble Lord’s questions. I can say that the Iraqi Government will lead the protection of their communities. Of course, that will include the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is a part of the wider support in bringing stability to the country. We will of course support the Iraqi Government. That is why it is important that they are formed as soon as possible.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend, the Foreign Secretary and all those working on the Ending Sexual Violence initiative at the Foreign Office on the global summit last week. As a member of the steering board of the initiative, I spent much of the week there, and it was truly impressive. It was a coming together of government Ministers from across the world, NGOs, campaigners and survivors. The events were numerous and very moving. I hope it has started a global movement that will draw a red line that makes sexual violence unacceptable in future.
What is happening now in Iraq is an illustration of exactly how important the initiative is. There has been so much sexual violence, often not publicly spoken about, in Syria, and it will be happening right now, as we speak, in Iraq. Can my noble friend please assure me that the situation for women and children there will be considered when the Government are thinking about how to address the overall situation?
I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend. She has worked tirelessly on the issue and has been a huge asset in making the summit a success. Of course, sexual violence unfortunately takes place where security breaks down. We heard the harrowing accounts from victims where, tragically, women’s bodies are used as battlegrounds when conflict strikes.
I think my noble friend will accept that this change will take time. Ultimately, it will happen when there is a culture change, when communities stand up and say, “This will not be tolerated”, wherever the conflict zone and whatever the situation on the ground, and when that support mechanism is there. When perpetrators know that if they commit, command or condone any form of sexual violence, they will be brought to justice, we will truly start to end this scourge.
My Lords, I will be very quick, I promise the noble Lord.
First, I congratulate the Minister and her right honourable colleague the Foreign Secretary on their commitment and on the conference last week. It was a huge privilege and very moving—I agree with the noble Baroness—to attend that event, as I did on behalf of the equality scheme. I know that my colleagues from the FCO team were also there. It was also good to bump into my noble friend Lord McConnell and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I spent most of Thursday there, and I was particularly impressed and moved by the exhibition by the women from the Congo and the workshop of young women from all over the world. It was a brilliant event, and I did tweet about it like mad all the way through.
Can the Minister give us some idea about the likely timescale and whether some thought has been given to the markers that will need to happen to get to where we want to be? She is quite right that this is a long haul. It is going to take some time but it seems that there are events happening across the world that need to be used to take this forward. I wondered whether some planning had been put into that.
I also wondered whether the Minister was as irritated as I was, and as I am sure other people were, by the comments that John Humphrys made on the “Today” programme this morning. He seemed to suggest that because Angelina Jolie is a very beautiful and famous woman it somehow undermined her support, which has been totally admirable and long-term, for this issue and that this meant that our Foreign Secretary did not have his eye on the ball on other issues. I wondered whether everybody else was as irritated as I was by that discussion.
First, I thank the noble Baroness for her contribution at the summit and for her support for it. She is absolutely right that we must have milestones going forward and she will be heartened to know that already the work has started. Expert teams have been put in place and are working on the ground to help countries prepare their action plans. She will also be aware of two new indictments that have been accepted at the ICC, both with specific reference to sexual violence crimes. It is important that we see more prosecutions but those will be milestones in themselves. Further work will happen at the United Nations General Assembly meeting later this year but she can be assured that the Foreign Secretary is incredibly passionate about this issue. He and his team will make sure that it will continue to be taken forward.
In terms of the comments, that is everyday sexism—what can we say about it? If there are men out there who believe that women cannot be beautiful and brainy, perhaps they should read the speech that the Foreign Secretary gave in Washington last year, when he said that it is finally time for women to take their place at the important tables where decisions are made and for their full economic, political and social participation, and that it is only then that we will have a truly fair society. I hope that the BBC will pick up Hansard.
I congratulate the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government on last week’s superb conference, which I had the honour to attend and speak in. However, does the Minister not agree that it throws up a curious anomaly, which should be addressed—and I believe she would wish to address it—between the principled stand of the United Kingdom and that of the European Union on rape as a war crime? The European Union overrules the Geneva Convention by saying that medical care for women victims who have been impregnated in the war should not include abortion if that is against local law. The Minister will of course agree that the United Kingdom is the single biggest donor to ECHO and that the second and third biggest, which are France and the Netherlands, agree with us. Is there a possibility that the Minister would be willing to work on this important issue, since the European Union provides medical care for every single war zone globally and is therefore treating women victims purely on humanitarian grounds and not under the Geneva Convention?
While the Minister is concentrating on that question, perhaps I might ask an important question about Tikrit in northern Iraq. Will the British Government associate themselves with Tikrit in future as a wholly Kurdish city or would they be willing to comment—perhaps to the KRG as well as to the Baghdad Government—that since maybe only 25% of Tikrit’s population is Kurdish, having the Peshmerga contain the city as it is at the moment might cause further unrest in future once Mosul has been cleared? If Tikrit is already clear, might the Government be willing to put some pressure at that moment on the KRG?
My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. I will go back on that issue and write to her because she raises a significant point about sexual violence in conflict. In relation to Tikrit, where conflict happens it creates an opportunity for some of these ongoing challenges around disputes to rear their head again. I am sure these will form part of the discussions that we will have with the Iraqi Government about forming and creating an environment in which these discussions can happen. We can then deal in a united way with making sure that the country is stable.
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister and to noble Lords that my slight impediment made me miss the first minute or so of her Statement. One is greatly heartened by the participation we have had in the conference to end sexual violence which arises as a result of warfare. I would like to ask the Minister specifically about Iraq. We and the West played a huge part in what is happening today. We gave our blessing to Nouri al-Maliki. For more than 10 years, 1,000 people a month have died in Iraq. It may be called democracy, but it is not what democracy is intended to deliver. I worry that we almost pass over the hint that our US allies talk about making an arrangement with Rouhani in Iran. Under Rouhani’s presidency we have had two executions virtually every day since he was elected. He and his Iranian revolutionary guards, the Quds force, have put tremendous pressure on al-Maliki. We have seen some of the outrages, such as the slaughter of unarmed Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf on 1 September 2013. In the present situation, should we not be looking outside the box? Are we not going to have a similar civil war—
I will do my best. Is it not a fact that we will have a similar civil war to that happening in Syria if we do not—as the Minister suggested—get international intervention? She should know as well as I do that, unless we resolve the Iraqi problem with some sort of federal solution, we will not make any impact for the good of that community.
My Lords, of course we have interests with Iran and feel that it is an important player. It is an important part of the stability that can and will be created in the region. Even for somebody who was vehemently against the intervention in Iraq, it is wrong to distil everything down to a simplistic analysis. Not everything is due to western action or inaction. We have to be quite bold in saying to the region, to the people and to the Governments in these regions, “You have to take responsibility and create pluralistic Governments and societies where people feel that the rule of law applies”. It is only then that stability will be created.
House adjourned at 8.04 pm.