|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge and recognise that there are certain defined areas that for special reasons accommodate the antisocial behaviour of young people far more readily than others? For example, a couple of derelict buildings in an estate may attract that sort of behaviour. Another example is a shop that is open late at night. A range of locations, given their design and structure, lend themselves far more readily to antisocial behaviour and cause a nuisance to local residents. Does
Mr. Hughes: The experience and advice of the police suggest that that would not be especially helpful. I have talked to the most senior police officers as well as those on the beat. Crime can be displaced quickly. A trouble area one week is not a trouble area the next; trouble moves around. That happens in our part of the world, which is no different from anywhere else. The problems can be tackled in other ways.
If we want to tackle youth crime, we should start not by imposing more curfews, but by dealing with bullying in schools, and ensuring that there are enough detached youth workers, out-of-school activities, police on the beat and community police. Many measures are far more effective than the proposed tokenistic, shop-window, pre-election gimmick, which has added nothing to the debate and will contribute nothing to the solution to crime in any part of the country.
We have held no major debate on DNA, and people do not realise what the Government propose. People who are under investigation may be required to give a DNA sample. Even if proceedings are dropped, or someone is subsequently tried and acquitted, and affirmed to be innocent, they will be included on the list of those about whom the state holds information.
Of course, such a measure enables the powers that be to know more about defendants and to consult a larger database when crimes are committed. However, if we take that argument to its logical conclusion, we should all be on the database. At birth, our names, parents and birthplace should be registered and a DNA sample taken. That would be a disgracefully large leap in the interests of beefing up the powers that be. We could convict people more readily, and lock up many more people, if we simply gave the state more power. But is that the sort of society we want?
Mr. Hughes: Yes, says the junior Whip. Thank you very much. Authoritarian Labour people in councils such as his symbolise centralisation and the corruption that often accompanied it. I take no lessons from Doncaster or from old Labour fiefdoms such as Southwark, where power went to the centre and corrupted, which meant that the citizen was less free.
Mr. Lock: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that people who have committed an offence should be convicted of it? If the police have evidence, does he believe that it assists justice, or victims, if they are prevented from using it?
Mr. Hughes: Evidence that police have accumulated from innocent people, against their will and under duress, should not be held to facilitate the police's power to do their job. We cannot suddenly claim that society consists of two tiers of people--those who happen to be picked up by the police, irrespective of the merits of the case, and everyone else. I am sure that the Minister does not support that. Home Office Ministers are trying to persuade themselves that they want to give the police more power whenever they ask for it, irrespective of individuals' rights.
The Minister says that we should stand by our beliefs. We shall do that. The Bill has so much merit that we shall not try to prevent its passage to another place. The Government have a majority, so it will go through anyway. However, in another place, we shall try to remove the provisions that we do not like. If there is an early election, we will insist that those aspects are not retained. Liberal Democrats will not agree to a measure that provides for curfews for the under-16s, a range of fixed-penalty notices or DNA samples. Those provisions will not appear in the Bill if an election is held in May.
It may not be popular to stand up for defendants, protesters, suspects or young people, but a Parliament in which people do their job properly will defend the victims of crime, as we have done consistently, and those who may, for various reasons, be imprisoned, or addicted to drugs or alcohol, for a while. We must have a balanced view in this place. Unfortunately, some good Government ideas have been mixed with some poor ideas, some ill-thought out ideas and some illiberal ideas, which should be resisted. I am confident that the House of Lords will resist them, and that if there is an early election, they will not be on the statute book before the election.
I was glad to be a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, which should, if passed--I know that it will be tonight--enable the police and others to deal more effectively with a range of disorderly and criminal behaviour. I was grateful to be a member of the Committee because it enabled me to pursue some particular concerns that I had raised on Second Reading, which partly related to constituency matters.
I had planned to range over a large number of issues, but aware that time is tight and that we want to hear the Minister's full considerations, I shall concentrate on a couple of specific issues that affect my constituency and, indeed, Cambridgeshire.
The first issue is DNA samples and fingerprinting. As we know, forensic science is, rightly, growing in importance in the fight against crime: in convicting or, it should be stressed, in exonerating an individual accused of a crime. The advance in the science and technology of DNA will make it more useful to the police, provided they have the powers to make optimum use of it. I should like the House to pay tribute to Ben Gunn, chief constable of my local force, Cambridgeshire, who has worked closely with others at national level in considering the present proposals and has given great help.
I have been told by my local force that the police are grateful for the support that the Government have given them on those issues. I should also mention the £208 million of extra funding that the Government have invested in DNA over the next three years, which will underpin police powers to make maximum use of it.
I was concerned to hear from my local constabulary, where I have spent some time on useful secondment under the parliamentary police scheme, about the national automated fingerprints identification system--NAFIS--due to be completed this May. Considerable funding has been spent, rightly, on state-of-the-art equipment. I hear that it has produced excellent results so far, but that there may not be enough skilled operatives to use it properly, particularly in smaller forces such as Cambridgeshire.
The new system means the devolution of record keeping, which was previously maintained by New Scotland Yard. Unless that extra responsibility is backed by appropriate funding, the result is likely to be a lower rate of successful identification, rather than a higher one. Indeed, I am told that there is already evidence of that in certain areas.
Finally--it is the key point of my comments--I was extremely glad to support the Government's new clauses in response to concerns that were expressed in the Chamber and outside about unacceptable levels and kinds of protest and their intimidating effects on individuals and groups. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) for his moving and effective comments on the issue.
The new clauses propose to give the police new directions to stop harassment of a person in the person's home and to amend the Malicious Communications Act 1988 in a number of ways, making it more appropriate to the present day of electronic communication, so that it is no defence for a perpetrator to state that he or she believes that his or her threat to another is reasonable. Rather, the issue will be whether it is reasonable according to agreed and shared definitions.
On Second Reading, I voiced my concerns about the level and nature of protests by animal rights activists against employees and others associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences, some of whose employees or associates are my constituents.
I have examples of the tactics used that have constituted the harassment and victimisation of individuals. I pay tribute to Opposition Members who raised those issues effectively in Committee, in the Chamber this evening and on other occasions. We are talking about demonstrations outside people's homes; verbal abuse using a loud hailer; graffiti on homes and cars; and abusive telephone calls to relatives, friends and children's schools. In Committee, I read some of the letters that I have received that detail the abuses. I welcome the amendments on this subject. I do not believe that anyone in this House or outside would support such abuses of individual rights.