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Mr. Baldry: There is considerable scepticism and cynicism. People living in the constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House are sceptical and cynical about the fact that the Government have been prolific in introducing measures, spinning them and talking about flagship legislation. However, until people
Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton): I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. The Bill contains many measures that will be widely welcomed and which many people think are long overdue, such as making kerb crawling and hit-and-run driving arrestable offences. Much has been said about animal rights activities, and it is important to recognise that it is not just the laboratories that have been, and are, under attack by animal rights demonstrators.
There is a guinea-pig farm on the border of my constituency and the activities of animal rights demonstrators has been causing great concern to some of my constituents. I acknowledge that many people sincerely hold the view that there should be no animal experimentation whatever--a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). I am sure that we all look forward to the day when such experiments are no longer necessary. It is a fundamental right of citizens to take part in peaceful protests, but it cannot be right that people are terrorised in their own homes.
In my constituency, as in other parts of the country, demonstrators have targeted the homes of those connected with animal rearing and testing establishments. They live in continual fear, and it is not only those who have such connections who are affected--the neighbours of employees, contractors and sometimes whole streets of people have their lives disrupted.
I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he will consider amending the Bill to try to introduce measures that will give the police the powers so that the lives of people, such as my constituents, will not be blighted by threats, intimidation and fear.
I turn now to other proposals in the Bill. It is right to give the police extra powers to tackle disorder in public places. However, it is important that in proposing to raise the age involved in the child curfew scheme and tackling the yob culture, we remember that we are talking about
I welcome the proposals to tackle under-age drinking, but we need to continue to consider the level of excise duty on alcohol, not only because I represent the capital of brewing, but because of the effect on our young people of the sale of illegally imported alcohol. Most young people are well behaved, and we should listen to them and try to meet their needs, but a small minority cause intolerable disruption. The Bill will give extra powers to the police to address the problems that can wreak havoc on local neighbourhoods.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said, the extension of curfews could help parents to support their children when the parents may be in despair because their offspring will not accept their care and advice. I hope that they will find the backing of curfew orders helpful.
The Bill contains good proposals to make the licensing laws more effective. Several hon. Members have mentioned the crime figures. We sometimes think that violent crime affects only the elderly. They are certainly frightened about the crime statistics, especially when we talk about increases in violent crime. It is important to recognise that most violent crime is perpetrated by one young person, usually male, on another. I hope that the measures to tackle the excessive consumption of alcohol will have an impact on that violent crime.
In supporting the Bill, including the proposals to tidy up and strengthen laws relating to alcohol abuse, I hope that, in the near future, legislation will be introduced to modernise fully our rather antiquated licensing laws.
I raise this issue because of a constituency case that I brought before the House in an Adjournment debate on 10 March 1999. It was about my constituents, Robert and Gill Smith and their late daughter, Louise. To put it briefly, Louise left home on the Christmas eve of 1995 to go with her friends to a local night club, and she never came back. On Christmas day, her family reported to the police that she had not returned home and a long investigation followed.
There was a mass search for Louise's body and it was eventually found eight weeks later. A DNA sample was taken and the police were faced with the task of trying to match that sample as part of their inquiry. The largest mass screening that had ever been undertaken began and, by the following April, 400 tests had been carried out on local young men. By November, the figure had reached 2,000 and, by the following Easter, it had reached 4,500. Eventually, along with other elements of proof, the DNA match enabled the killer to be identified and he was convicted of this dreadful crime. As the Home Secretary suggested earlier, the DNA was also used to clear the innocent early in the inquiry and to ensure that the police were not diverted down a false avenue.
However, the family were disturbed to learn that those 4,500 samples could not be retained even if those who had given them wanted them to be kept because the police were obliged to destroy the samples. I wish to explain the scale of the effort involved. The samples were collected over 16 months. The estimated cost of collecting and analysing each swab is a little under £40. If we add to that the costs of cameras, film, cool boxes and other items, the whole inquiry involved about £250,000 of police expenditure. It also involved the expenditure of police time and the time of the volunteers who gave the samples and who in most cases would probably not have had any problem if the samples had been retained with their informed consent.
Louise's parents came to me about the issue and they were determined that something positive should emerge out of something so dreadful. They launched a petition with the aid of a local newspaper, The Gazette, and my support, and it was not an easy campaign to run. It is easy to obtain signatures against a proposal to shut a hospital, but it was difficult to explain the complexities of this issue given the intense personal pain that the family felt. They stood out in shopping centres, explaining to passers by why the campaign was necessary, and they accumulated nearly 10,000 signatures on a petition that I presented to the House in March 1999.
The following day I had the Adjournment debate to which I referred earlier and to which the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), responded. He was very generous in giving time to the family that day and they very much appreciated that. He assured us then that legislation would be forthcoming on this issue, and I am pleased to welcome the fact that the promise has been honoured in clause 81.
I do not want to detract from the warm welcome that I give to the fact that the Government have introduced the specific provision to deal with DNA samples and mass screening in which consent can be voluntarily given. I welcome the fact that the Government have honoured their promise to introduce such a change in the law.