Policing Large Scale Disorder

UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE    To be published as HC 1456-v

House of commons

oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Home Affairs Committee

Policing Large Scale Disorder  

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Councillor Chris RobBins and Gary Broadhurst

GINNY LUNN, ARNOLD SEBUTINDE and nathAn chin

Mr kenneth clarke and rebecca endean

Evidence heard in  Public Questions  605 - 707

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the  Home Affairs Committee

on  Tuesday 25 October 2011

Members present:

 Keith Vaz (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Dr Julian Huppert

Alun Michael

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick

 ________________

 Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses:  Councillor Chris Robbins, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, and Gary Broadhurst, Tottenham Hotspur Foundation’s Community Development Manager, Kickz Project, gave evidence.

Q605 Chair: This is the fifth session of the Committee looking at the recent disorders that occurred in London and in other cities. Could I ask if any Members have any interest to declare over and above what is in the Register of Members’ Interests? Good.

I welcome Councillor Robbins, the Leader of Waltham Forest, and Mr Broadhurst, thank you very much for coming. I don’t know whether you have been following the sessions so far. This particular session is focused on the issue of gangs, although obviously you can raise with us any other issues that are relevant to the work that you do.

If I could start with you, Councillor Robbins, can you just outline the level of disturbance there was in Waltham Forest during the disorders?

Chris Robbins: Thank you, Chair. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. By the way, Chair, we have produced this booklet that gives some detail on the gang strategy, which the Committee may find useful. Geographically, I think it is worth mentioning that we border Haringey, Enfield and Hackney, so we were physically right at the centre of what was a very difficult week. The effect on our borough, however, was far more limited. We had approximately 70 businesses that were affected over a wide range, from a brick through a window to substantial looting in BHS and in Tesco.

Q606 Chair: So if you were putting a value on it, what was the value of the damage in Waltham Forest?

Chris Robbins: To try and get the businesses back in it has cost £85,000, but in terms of the looting which took place, in Tesco for example, it was upwards of £100,000 that was taken. For some of the smaller shops it was simply a question of boarding up the shop and replacing the windows.

Q607 Chair: So in terms of the overall disturbances, this was a minor disturbance?

Chris Robbins: Well, we did not call it a minor disturbance at the time, obviously-

Chair: No, but in terms what happened in other parts of London.

Chris Robbins: -and that is why we thought it was of immense interest to everybody that, as we were physically right in the centre of huge disturbances taking place, almost within walking distance in Hackney of our borough, and also across the way in Haringey, that we escaped the worst of what happened.

Q608 Chair: What are the reasons people suggest why you escaped the worst of the disturbances? Is it because of your anti-gang strategy, which is what we would like to question you about today? It is called "The Better Way" and it has been running since January. Very briefly, can you outline-thank you very much for this booklet, it is very helpful-why you think that this strategy contributed to the disturbances being slightly of a lesser order in Waltham Forest than, for example, in nearby Tottenham or Hackney?

Chris Robbins: Fine. Chair, we don’t want to overplay our hand, because these are early days. It just seemed to us interesting that, during the course of what was an immensely difficult week for London, we were able to escape some of the severe problems. There were two things that we considered had an effect, and I should not underestimate the first, which was our relationship with our local police, which has been excellent over recent years and was superb during the course of August. The second one is the strategy itself. The Better Way, by the way, is the title for the voluntary sector part of this. "Enough is Enough" is the strategy.

We want to see how much time goes by before we say this was the answer to the gang problem, but we do feel that it played a powerful part in ensuring that our community was calmer.

Q609 Chair: Practically, what does it mean? What did it mean?

Chris Robbins: It meant that we had very good intelligence, immediate intelligence. In fact, I was telephoned by a young member of the community in Waltham Forest at 12.00 on the Sunday to inform me that messages were going around through BBM, and to inform me that Walthamstow, in the middle of the borough, was probably going to be attacked that evening. I rang our Borough Commander, he responded by saying, "That adds to the intelligence we have already received from members of the community," and that is a direct consequence of the relationships we have set up through the Enough is Enough project, which in itself, I have to emphasise, is a young project. It came into operation early in 2011, so it does need to mature, but it did exist before the riots took place, so we felt that it must have provided some substance to why we escaped the worst of the riots.

Q610 Chair: And this means engaging with members of gangs over a period of time?

Chris Robbins: Absolutely. We prepared an audit of all of the most difficult families in the borough and then we isolated that to 28 in particular, and it was that relationship we had with the 28 families that enabled us to go deep into that family and to provide the offer of an alternative way of life. If the family rejected that, clearly that is still an ongoing issue, but a number of families responded positively to our approaches to them, which was to offer a range: first of all, if need be we would move them out of the borough or relocate them as individuals, or we would find work for the individuals, or education. It is a slow process, a very expensive process, and there are limited numbers of people that it hit, but they are significant people.

Q611 Chair: I am sure my colleagues want to go into greater detail. One final question from me on police numbers: were you satisfied with the number of police officers who were on the streets of Waltham Forest on the Sunday and on the Monday of 7 and 8 August? In the inquiry so far, we have had a number of local people from different areas criticising the police for not being out. Were you satisfied with the numbers?

Chris Robbins: We were. I cannot overestimate how important that was. We had plenty of police on the ground. The Borough Commander and I, from the Sunday evening, did a walkabout almost every other hour through the borough, and we had sufficient police for the issues that we had to deal with. Their response in Waltham Forest was magnificent.

Q612 Mr Winnick: I am sure the police will appreciate the comments that you have just made, Councillor Robbins. Would we be right as a Committee to conclude that basically your area, the borough as a whole, is working class, lower middle class, with quite a lot of social deprivation?

Chris Robbins: Certainly within the south of the borough, in Leyton, in the Leyton area, Leytonstone, that is exactly right, and in Walthamstow as well. There would be a mixed group within Chingford in the north, for obvious reasons, but I am sure the majority of our residents would be proud to say they are from a working class area, yes.

Q613 Mr Winnick: The initiative that you took about gangs, which certainly we are all most interested in, that is a recent event, is it not? It does not go back in years as far as I see from this, as the Chair said, excellent pamphlet you produced. It seems to relate to 2010?

Chris Robbins: Well, we have recognised that there is a major gang problem in Waltham Forest for a number of years. We have engaged with a number of academics and with the police to identify the extent of the problem. So it is something that has grown over the years. This is the culmination of probably a five-year period of identifying that gangs are a problem.

Q614 Mr Winnick: Going back five-years?

Chris Robbins: Yes, a growing problem within Waltham Forest, so it didn’t just happen, but this was launched in February this year as a new feature, a new extension of our financial commitment, first of all, from the borough, and our greater relationship with the police-which has improved over the past two years-and the third aspect was that it became a major priority for us. Instead of just assuming that it is something that you live with, we felt that as an Olympic borough leading towards 2012 this problem with gangs will simply get out of control if we don’t hit it hard. That is where Enough is Enough came from. It didn’t just come out of one meeting, one idea; it grew organically over a four or five-year period, and will continue to grow, by the way.

Q615 Mr Winnick: I know that, with due modesty, Councillor Robbins, you would not want to tell other local authorities in London, or indeed elsewhere, what they should or should not do, but having said that, do you think it has been an experience in your borough that other local authorities, if they have not already done so, should look at relating to gangs?

Chris Robbins: Yes, you are right; we would not profess to know all the answers-it is a growing exercise. We will build upon this, because when this came in nobody had any idea the riots would occur, so we will learn from the riots and we will build that into the Enough is Enough programme, and it will start to evolve even further.

I am sure that other boroughs have their own schemes, and I am sure that they had problems that we did not have that caused greater effect of the riots during that week, so I would not presume, as you say, to teach other people how to do their job, but it is an interesting exercise, it is worth looking at, it is worth analysing. It cannot just be a coincidence that we have reduced our violent crime figures; that we came out of the riot relatively unscathed. It can’t just be a coincidence, there has to be a reason. We are searching for that in our programme and we would encourage others to do the same as us.

Chair: Mr Broadhurst, don’t worry, we will be coming to you shortly.

Q616 Dr Huppert: Before we do, Mr Broadhurst, can I press you slightly further, Councillor Robbins? I am trying to understand what role you think the gang work particularly played because your evidence to us said the major explanatory factor is the successful working partnership between the police, the council and the local community. As you know, there is a lot of controversy about the extent to which gangs were particularly involved in the rioting. We went to Croydon and Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution yesterday as a committee and the stories we heard there were not focused on gangs, so that is part of the evidence. I am still trying to understand whether you think it is more about a good working relationship with the police, or it is specifically about the gang prevention programme, because those are two very different things?

Chris Robbins: Yes, but they do live together. They do sit together. The relationship with the police and the local authority is absolutely paramount, if only for one reason-financial reasons. Our borough has put in the £3.5 million to pay for this particular programme. We pay for all the police officers that are involved in the process. Now, if only for that crude reason, it is important that you have a good relationship with the local police because we synchronise our priorities.

Q617 Dr Huppert: I don’t think anybody is suggesting that we would like to see you not working well with your local police, but the question is, are the benefits from this specific programme or from working well with the police, which could be a whole range of different programmes, like neighbourhood activities-there is a long list of what you could do? Do you think it is the close working or is it just about the gang stuff?

Chris Robbins: It is not just working with the police, obviously it is working the local community as well. It is ensuring that within the council itself we join up our Housing Department, with our Social Services Department, with our Community Safety Department, so there is, a corny phrase, a holistic approach to how we deal with gang problems. I don’t think I am answering your questions properly.

Q618 Dr Huppert: My question is, the whole council works with the police and the community, that is great, you presumably do that over more than just gang issues?

Chris Robbins: Yes.

Q619 Dr Huppert: Do you think the fact that Waltham Forest came off relatively well is because of the close working in general or specifically because of the gang issues?

Chris Robbins: No, I think it is both. I really think it is both. I think our working relationship with the police ensured that we had enough police on the streets during that week. That was a very practical thing which had nothing to do with the gangs. That was us working with the police, sharing intelligence about where they go. With regard to the gangs, in the work that had been done prior, we had taken out, albeit a few, significant numbers of people within the gang hierarchy, to ensure that they were not able to react-that is what we believe happened-as effectively, looking at it from the gang’s point of view, as they did in other boroughs. But for us to be able to do our job with the gangs, we need that police support as well, because obviously you are not only offering a way out, you are saying to some of these people, "Well, if you don’t take that path, then we will enforce," and that is where we need the police to do their job properly, and it is our community, so the police have to work with us to ensure that does not damage community relationships as well.

Q620 Mark Reckless: Mr Broadhurst, could you tell us how the Kickz scheme operates to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour and particularly any evidence you can present to show it is effective in doing that?

Gary Broadhurst: Sure, just to give you a bit of a brief background as to how the programme was developed, it has been running for five-years now, and originally it was a concept derived by the Premier League to tackle youth-associated crime and anti-social behaviour. There were three London clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, Brentford, Fulham, and also Manchester City, piloted the programme. The model itself is quite a flexible model but it worked around a framework. It is three nights a week of provision, and the key to the success, in my opinion, is around the fact that we are actually taking the programme to targeted areas that have been identified by the police. So we work very closely with the Safer Neighbourhood Teams in each of our respective boroughs and we deliver nine hours of contact. Again, that sustained contact with young people is something that we feel is absolutely crucial. Historically, youth engagement programmes tend to be kind of piecemeal, an hour a night, maybe two nights a week tops, but that nine hours’ contact really allows our coaches-and I like to refer to them as informal educators-to do some key work with those young people in their own environment, where they feel safe, to allow them to develop their own potential.

Q621 Mark Reckless: And your funding, could you tell us where that comes from and prospects for that in the future?

Gary Broadhurst: Sure. At the moment there is current funding in place until 2013. The Premier League have put £6 million towards the programme, the Metropolitan Police have themselves put £3 million to the programme and V, the youth volunteering charity, has put together £500,000 to support the programme. That money allows the football club community schemes or foundations, as we are, to go out and drive match funding opportunities as well. So that money acts as a bit of a catalyst to draw down up to £7.7 million worth of additional funding.

Q622 Mark Reckless: You speak of match funding opportunities but have the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation or related bodies been able to lever in more taxpayers’ money, for instance, with this judicial review that you had of the Olympic Stadium? Has there been any trade-off in that area?

Gary Broadhurst: No, the money that we draw down for Kickz in particular comes from-I will give you some examples. We work very closely with local housing associations and with the local authorities, we may work in partnership with the youth offending teams, or with the children in care virtual schools, and so on. Other police forces nationally will bring money to the table as well, and other Government funds as well. The Home Office Communities against Guns and Knives initiative has supported some programmes in London and externally as well. Also there are other private trusts. We operate as a registered charity, as do many football-based community schemes at the moment, so the majority of the money that we access is public funding.

Q623 Mark Reckless: But it has been widely reported that Tottenham Hotspur has been using the lever of this judicial review over the Olympic Stadium award to West Ham to agree a financial package with the Mayor of London, including for Tottenham-led community initiatives. Are you denying that?

Gary Broadhurst: I am not denying that. To be fair, that is something you would have to ask my chairman. As a representative of the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, we operate in a standalone capacity. We are, yes, the corporate social responsibility under the football club, however we are an independent charity and self-financing, so I cannot comment on that.

Q624 Chair: What surprised me is the fact that the football ground is in the middle of the area of the worst rioting in Tottenham, which I visited with the local MP David Lammy. Are you concerned that, despite having all this funding and working with all these young people,. this didn’t really seem to have any effect on the disorders that occurred?

Gary Broadhurst: I think we can always do more. At the moment I think one of the things to state is that we have a duty of responsibility for our community but we can’t be the saviour of our community. We can certainly help to contribute to certain local issues, and young people is an area that we have a high focus on, and have done for many years. Through initiatives like Kickz, some statistics that I can relate to you show that when the projects are running there is a serious reduction in youth-associated crime and anti-social behaviour. What is interesting to see is, on the evening of the riots in Tottenham, we were actually advised by the police not to run our programmes, for safety reasons to our staff, because obviously there were rumblings that there may be something in the making. Up until that point nobody could really foresee what was going to happen that weekend, but the work that we have done to date has been effective, and we are constantly striving to do more.

Q625 Chair: Were some of your young people involved in these disturbances?

Gary Broadhurst: No.

Chair: Because the football club is right in the middle of the worst affected area, some of them must have been involved; they couldn’t not have been involved.

Gary Broadhurst: Nothing that has been brought to my attention to date. I know there are ongoing arrests currently around some of the young people, but none of the young people that are registered on our Kickz programmes, and other youth engagement programmes, have been involved to my knowledge. We have a very close working relationship with the police and nothing has been raised on that front.

Q626 Alun Michael: Before I come on to my question, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the nature of gangs in your area. The term can be used to describe anything from a loose group of friends, the Famous Five or whatever, right through to extremely violent, highly criminal and well organised gangs that I have seen something about in Los Angeles and heard about in some places in London, where there are regular shootings as result of that activity. Where in that range of things, or what range within that range, was your experience before you started the gang programme? It is a question to both of you.

Chris Robbins: Most of the gangs-and we have quite a number of gangs in Waltham Forest, right the way through from the north to the south-have a very narrow territory. They are very often estate based. That is not always the case with gangs outside the borough. We did a study about five-years ago which identified-relatively crude figures-250 hardcore gang members, but their activity is pretty wide and pretty dangerous. They carry guns, they carry knives, they are involved in drugs.

Q627 Alun Michael: So these are quite organised and quite structured groups?

Chris Robbins: Yes, but they are very local.

Q628 Alun Michael: You are not talking about a group of people who associate just because they are on a certain estate?

Chris Robbins: No, there will always be groups of people in gangs in the old-fashioned sense, but these are very dangerous and very-

Q629 Alun Michael: That is the point I wanted to clarify, so thank you very much for that. Now, in dealing with that sort of gang, what are the partner bodies that need to be involved? You have already referred to working with a variety of other bodies. Who essentially are your partners and who is it essential to have within that partnership?

Chris Robbins: We have our residents’ groups obviously on the various estates that we work with, and the group that we are working with-a Better Way group-are a committee of local people who come together and work with us to ensure that the priority is that we share intelligence basically about where the gangs operate, whether there is any intelligence about the geography starting to widen-because that is a very dangerous stage of the development of gangs, and if it started to broaden and there was a positive link between Waltham Forest and Hackney gangs, then that would be a very dangerous step, and that does sometimes happen.

So the Better Way group is our main focus of attention, and it is important that we ensure that there is that relationship with the police, with the community and with us. It goes around in a triangle. It is not us and the police with the local community, it is all enmeshed together. We try to ensure that we have regular meetings with them at all levels. When the police take the enforcement side and there are raids, the police involve us and members of the group I have just mentioned as well. So it is a clear understanding about who the police are going for, and why they are going for them, because it is so important to ensure that community relations are maintained during these crisis periods, such as a raid in a particular street.

Q630 Alun Michael: There has been a reference to Kickz but what about other initiatives in relation to youth employment, training, youth activities, particularly related to work I suppose?

Chris Robbins: Yes, there are two other pillars, obviously, of this approach. One is to find what we generally refer to as diversionary activities for young people. I think it is worth mentioning that in Waltham Forest we opened 34 schools during the summer-coincidentally, it wasn’t prepared for the riots obviously, but we had 34 schools open. The previous year we had 12, so we have begun to increase that. We feel that is an offer that is worth making to our young people. It was extremely successful. There were hundreds of young people from 11 up to 19 who attended various things, everything from football to-

Q631 Alun Michael: So this would be staff and volunteers running this?

Chris Robbins: Yes, the staff, we would pay for that, we invested in that, and it ran side by side with what we refer to as our summer university, which concentrates more on academic attainment. It was extremely successful, and we intend to increase the schools to 50 next year. That also must have had an effect during the course of the riots, because it took people away from possibly getting involved in some of the activities. That is still being analysed, but it was a broad range of young people.

On the jobs front, we feel that we are looking for answers but that is a terrible problem for us. Unemployment in East London is not coming down, it is going up; we try to take advantage of the Olympics, and that has been successful in many areas, but the overall increase in unemployment is a serious issue for East London and a very dangerous one as well. You cannot have thousands of young people unemployed and expect that they will just simply wait years for a job. You need to provide them with something.

As part of the Olympic programme we were fortunate that we set up a construction college in Leytonstone that currently takes 1,000 students a year, not necessarily young people, mature people as well, that is something that we had introduced and in which we feed people back into the jobs market. It is very effective.

We felt that opening the schools, finding activity during the summer, helped. We do what we can to provide jobs and encourage businesses but that is one of the pillars that is very difficult for us to deal with.

Q632 Mr Clappison: Can I take Mr Broadhurst back to the evidence he gave moments ago when he was saying that none of the people on the scheme have been involved in any sort of trouble as far as you know.

Gary Broadhurst: Not in the recent disturbances, no.

Q633 Mr Clappison: The young people who come and take part in your scheme are from a wide variety of backgrounds, including people who might otherwise be expected to?

Gary Broadhurst: Absolutely. I mentioned earlier that the beauty of the programme is that is actually self-referred. We do work with a small amount of formally referred young people through youth offending teams and so on, but we find because it is a self-referred programme it doesn’t get stigmatised as a programme for young people to be sent to. Because of that organic approach we find, and police statistics have shown, that quite a high percentage of the young people that do attend are known to them in one way, shape or form. But because of that regular contact what we do is we create a safe environment, and it also allows us to do some early intervention work with siblings of active gang members, or friends or relatives, and try and steer them away from potential involvement going forward.

Q634 Mr Clappison: You are probably going to agree with this, but I would like to get it on the record from you, it is sport that is the ingredient, as far as these people are concerned, to get them on the right way?

Gary Broadhurst: Sport, and primarily football, is the initial engagement tool. As I mentioned earlier, we are the biggest identity in our area, and we do attract-we have that kind of niche hook for young people that they want to be involved in Tottenham Hotspur and the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation. Albeit that football is a primary hook, we do deliver a range of other sports-basketball, boxing, cricket and so on. I think one of the key elements of the programme, as I mentioned earlier, was three nights a week, one of those nights is referred to as a flexible evening and we deliver a key range of workshops that address issues that are currently affecting young people, such as the dangers of drugs and alcohol; the dangers of involvement in gangs, guns and knives; and so on. We don’t go out and preach to young people, because we have identified that they tend to be reluctant to listen to a formal setting workshop, so we drop these key messages in through our mentors and coaches. We find that we start to organically spread those messages and educate the young people as to why they should not be involved in those sorts of things.

Q635 Mark Reckless: Have you any academic evidence on the effectiveness of the programme, i.e. comparing results and behaviour for people involved in the programme with a control group of similar people not involved in the programme?

Gary Broadhurst: I can speak from a Tottenham Hotspur Foundation perspective. A colleague of mine uses a phrase, and I think it is a very effective phrase, "Kickz is a bit of a portal for lots of other things." We act as a conduit or a portal. One of the things we have developed within the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation is a pathway into further education for our young people that are involved in Kickz. We have linked in with Waltham Forest College, Southgate College and St Thomas More School in our surrounding boroughs, to get people back into education. A large proportion of the young people that come through our doors on the Kickz project aren’t involved in training, education or employment, so we signpost them back into education through that way.

Q636 Mark Reckless: But if you are spending all this money on these interventions, would it not be sensible to test it by monitoring the people who are in the programme compared to a control group who aren’t, so you can see if the spending is effective?

Gary Broadhurst: In terms of education?

Mark Reckless: Well, in terms of education and other results, involvement in crime, be what it may. You are spending all this money and telling us that it does all these good things, but why don’t you see if you can generate some evidence of that by comparing people who are in the programme against people who aren’t?

Gary Broadhurst: That is something that I would have to speak to the Active Communities Network and the board around. The current model does allow us to give some statistics around crime reduction, education, training and employment, but there is no comparable at this moment with people that are not involved in the programme. I am sure that is something we can write to you about in the future.

Q637 Chair: Is it a disappointment that there are so few football clubs involved? You mentioned the three clubs, but presumably you would like to see many, many more.

Gary Broadhurst: At the pilot stage there were three London clubs, currently there is a total of 43 professional football clubs nationwide delivering Kickz, so that is 113 separate schemes, and that is working obviously with the Metropolitan Police in London and also 19 other police forces nationally.

Q638 Chair: So with 43 involved, is it possible to get the kind of statistics that Mr Reckless has just asked for?

Gary Broadhurst: I am sure that would be something that we could look into providing for you, but I think it is important to remember as well-and I use the phrase "flexible model"-the needs of north London are very different to the needs of north Liverpool, for example. So some of those statistics and comparables would be something we need to look into in a bit more detail.

Q639 Chair: One final question on knife crime. We have the Lord Chancellor coming in in half an hour, as far as knife crime is concerned, would you support, Councillor Robbins, the banning of knives, the automatic imprisonment of anyone under the age of 18 caught carrying a knife? At the moment the proposal is it should be 18-plus.

Chris Robbins: Yes, I would, totally. We have had in our borough knife arches in schools for quite some time. They are not fixed in schools, they go around the schools, because they are very expensive and it is difficult to have them in. We have found them to be extremely effective, not in terms of finding knives but in terms of creating an atmosphere of a no go zone for knives and also making pupils in the schools feel safe, at least for that day.

May I just add a point, very quickly? In terms of the 28 families that we have worked with, we have one individual that has gone back to university and two that have gone back into college. But we will be commissioning somebody to evaluate our work and that will come back by the end of next year, which will maybe answer some of the questions that the Member asked.

Q640 Chair: None of them have decided to stand for Parliament yet?

Chris Robbins: Not yet, but you never know.

Q641 Chair: Mr Broadhurst, on knife crime.

Gary Broadhurst: Currently with Kickz we do a lot of work around knife and gun crime as I mentioned.

Q642 Chair: What about the mandatory sentence?

Gary Broadhurst: My personal opinion, yes, I think it should be enforced.

Chair: Excellent. Councillor Robbins, Mr Broadhurst, thank you very much for coming today. We may write to you again with further information. Thank you.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ginny Lunn, Director of Policy and Strategy, Prince’s Trust, and Nathan Chin and Arnold Sebutinde, young people formerly involved in gangs, gave evidence.

Q643 Chair: Thank you very much for coming. You have heard a bit of the previous session, I know, and of course the reason why we have you here is to talk to you about the recent disturbances and also the good work that the Prince’s Trust is doing.

On 11 August the Prime Minister said, "At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of street gangs. In the past few days there is some evidence that they have been behind the co-ordination of the attacks on the police and looting that has followed." In the work that you will have done in the Prince’s Trust, is there evidence to support the view that gangs were involved in the disturbances in August?

Ginny Lunn: Just to start with, the Prince’s Trust has been doing a number of things over the past few months, and you may have seen, firstly, that His Royal Highness visited some of the areas and spoke to young people. We particularly had some young people talking to him in Tottenham. We also announced that we would invest further funds to work specifically with the young people who had been impacted in those areas. Then in the last few months-and Arnold and Nathan have both been involved-we have done a number of different events and spoken in many venues. We did a showcase event at the Home Office recently. Gangs are not the only issue, as recent announcements have shown. For us, it is very important to say that the majority of young people are not involved, and the young people we work with would be as equally appalled at the situation as everybody else. We are really keen, which is why we are here today, to make sure that young people are heard in all of this, that they get a chance to say what they think is the issue, what they think the solutions are, because as Nathan and Arnold both have spoken before-as have many others-they have ideas for what should happen next. It would be good to hear from them as much as possible.

Q644 Chair: Excellent. We will most certainly be asking them questions. Since I raised knife crime with the previous witnesses, maybe we could have an answer from you, Nathan and Arnold, about this. Arnold, do you think a mandatory ban on carrying knives would have an effect on knife crime?

Arnold Sebutinde: A ban I don’t think would necessarily have any effect. It’s the same as smoking drugs. Smoking drugs is banned-people are banned from smoking drugs but it is still going-there is always going to be-

Q645 Chair: Sorry, I have not expressed myself properly. I mean a mandatory custodial sentence, so they would go to jail if they had one.

Arnold Sebutinde: Okay. That is a tricky question, and I think we better be very careful about this, because I don’t believe that imprisonment is always the right answer for everybody. Someone can get caught carrying a knife but then put him into jail, he is going to come out a robber or a drug dealer. He is going to meet some hardened criminals and they take advantage of people like these, like especially if it is a young-I mean, I don’t know if there is any age limit, but the young people always-there is a risk.

Q646 Chair: Indeed. Nathan, just specifically on carrying knives and mandatory custodial sentences, do you think that that would have an effect on young people carrying knives?

Nathan Chin: Yes, 100% I think it will have an effect. At the end of the day I got locked up for carrying a knife, and to be honest it did me the world of good, because when you look at the bigger picture of things, you are saving lives, you are stopping people from getting a serious knife attack at the end of the day. So, if it is used as a deterrent and you know straight away that you are going to go to prison for carrying a knife, I reckon people won’t carry knives and it will be back to the old days where people settle their differences in a different way. Do you know what I’m trying to say? I am not saying that you should have a fight, or that is the answer, but it’s better than people getting stabbed. I think society has lost that; young people are quick to use weapons and hurt people and look to kill people rather than sorting out their differences and learning new skills. So I think it is very important that that does happen.

Chair: That is very helpful. Now, returning to the riots, Dr Julian Huppert.

Q647 Dr Huppert: One thing I am quite interested in is the age profile of the people who were involved in the riots, but also driving the riots-there has been lots of stuff in the media about how it was young people. We went, as I said earlier, to Croydon and to Feltham Young Offenders Institution yesterday and I think we were told on many occasions, while there were some young people involved, there were in each case significantly older people controlling and driving what was happening. We heard some very interesting stories about people being directed which shop to go and loot by older individuals. Have you done any work or have any sense as to whether it was a young people’s riot, whether there were lots of young people involved, or what that profile looked like? I would be happy to hear from any of you.

Arnold Sebutinde: Well, I think it was a bunch of opportunists that decided, not necessarily young people or older people, just anybody that felt they were in a situation where they could either make a profit or it could benefit them in some way or another. Because I genuinely believe-we have seen looting, we have seen cars getting burned, we have seen houses getting smashed-that some of these conducts are neighbourhood disputes as well, and when a riot happens, if people have a conflict with neighbours or any altercations in one way or another, they can set their neighbours’ cars on fire. I think it was just out of control and there are a lot of people that decided to jump on the bandwagon and cause chaos.

Q648 Dr Huppert: But was it older people or younger people? Do you have any sense of what you think the breakdown is?

Arnold Sebutinde: It depends, when you say old and young-by young are we talking under 18?

Dr Huppert: I would be interested in what you think it was, whether it was under-18s, under-30s?

Arnold Sebutinde: I think it was pretty much any and everybody. I think it is all down to the mind frames really, because you can have someone that is younger and they are more mature and think in older ways than someone that is maybe even older than them. But I think there is a real problem with so many youth out there whose minds are in a state where they feel they have nothing to lose, or they feel they don’t have as many opportunities, or they don’t feel like they’ve got hardly any opportunities to make a success of themselves. This is where the Prince’s Trust comes in, because I was in that situation myself. I ended up serving two and a half years in jail. I said to Suki, one of our people from the Prince’s Trust, on the way here, when I was inside, I was thinking, "Okay, when I come out I’m going to be a lot worse than I was, because there isn’t anything out there for me to try and rebuild the life I had," and I felt like all doors were shut. Then, when I heard about the enterprise course I was just starting to draw and I thought, "Okay, maybe they can help me use my talents to benefit myself," and so I received a loan from them to help me set up my business, and I am actually inspiring other people, because I don’t believe that we should just hand out. I heard someone say unemployment is going up instead of coming down, and this is an opportunity for young people, with the right help, if we can channel them and say, "Okay, there is this kind of help, enterprise is the way forward."

Chair: Very helpful, thank you.

Q649 Mr Winnick: Both of you, Nathan and Arnold, you were involved in the beginning with gangs. If I can ask you first of all, Arnold, was it the question of pressure for you to join a gang, or you thought it would be the best thing for yourself, or self-protection, as the case may be?

Chair: If we could start with Nathan.

Nath a n Chin: I think it was because I had a lot of issues at home and I thought that the school system failed me. At the end of the day when I got kicked out of school, I had nowhere else to go, so the only thing I could do really was go on the streets and be a street person. The system let me down, never supported me enough to help me with the issues that I had growing up with my parents and different things like that.

Q650 Mr Winnick: How old were you when you first got involved with a gang?

Nath a n Chin: From the age of 13, 14.

Q651 Mr Winnick: Was that gang trying to get you into criminality of one sort or another?

Nath a n Chin: Well, I wouldn’t even say that, it just started off as probably just your friends in the local area, because obviously near neighbours, you’ve grown up with these people all your life because of the area you live in, because there wasn’t much for us to do. Obviously, we don’t have any money, and there are a lot of social problems, so we used to just hang together, and that is when problems occur-when you have young people and there is nothing to do.

Q652 Mr Winnick: Thank you. Arnold, is that more or less the experience you had of being involved in a gang in the beginning?

Arnold Sebutinde: Well, just what Nathan said. In fact, I will just add to what Nathan said, it is also a sense of having nothing to do. Like I said, there is a saying, "The devil creates work for idle hands." I don’t know if any of you remember the Birmingham riots, not the ones that just happened, the ones before. I had a few friends of mine that got involved and got caught up in those riots, and the mind frame that I was in at the time, I was actually thinking-what saved me at the time was because I was in London, I was at university at the time, but I felt, okay, if I didn’t have anything going on at the time, I would definitely have been involved in the riots. As far as the person that I am today and the person that I am now, I feel I have a lot more to lose if I was going to do anything like get myself into trouble. It is that sense of pride and that sense of responsibility that I feel is lacking with a lot of youth of today.

Ginny Lunn: I think that is something consistent that comes up. A lot of young people have said that it is not having anything to lose, which I think is quite important. I think someone else was saying it earlier on: it’s really important to keep young people engaged, utilise their talents, really give them some hope. What we see a lot is young people feeling that they don’t have hope for the future-they feel a bit isolated. It is really important to keep young people engaged, make sure they have opportunities to do things. Also, I think it is so important they see that they have opportunities, and that is part of why we do a lot with young people standing up and showing how they have made a success of their life, like Nathan and Arnold.

Mr Winnick: I was going to say, both of you, Nathan and Arnold, have demonstrated that you can be quite successful, as you are doing now, and we certainly wish you the very best of luck for the future.

Q653 Michael Ellis: Clearly, under the leadership of the Prince of Wales, the Prince’s Trust has been in existence for many years and has done a wonderful job. I think it is right to say that several Governments have tried to emulate the work of the Prince’s Trust in wider schemes, and it affects and works with some 50,000 young people, I am told. What advice would you give to Government as to how they can improve work with young people to prevent them getting involved in crime and disorder?

Nathan Chin: Plenty. I think there are plenty of things you can do. Let me give you a bit of the story of what we do. I work with kids that have been excluded from schools, and we found that when we engaged them in media activities, such as music and other things to express themselves, that academically they do a lot better in school as well, so we are ticking those boxes also. We need more activities for the kids to do-places to go to, drop-in places, old school community centres where you can play a bit of table tennis, socialise, engage with young people, all that type of thing-rather than cutting all that away. Plus, think about it, with me doing what I am doing it is inspiring a lot of street people to take pride in their community and want to help the community. I feel that by doing those things it will bring people together, and people want to volunteer and work and do those kind of things. So I feel that we need to do more of that.

Q654 Michael Ellis: And you, Arnold?

Arnold Sebutinde: Yes, I don’t know to what extent the Government actually works with the Prince’s Trust, but I think, especially with what happened with the riots, that sends a clear message that a lot of the youth have lost faith in the Government and a lot of the youth feel there has been a serious breakdown in communication between the youth and the Government. With the Prince’s Trust, I think someone like me would probably be thinking, "The Prince’s Trust are running this and the Prince’s Trust are running that; I want to be part of it and see what more they have to offer," as opposed to if it was being run by the Government, I’d probably think twice and the trust wouldn’t be there-I would be thinking there is something that is not quite right, not 100%.

Q655 Michael Ellis: Do you think the Prince’s Trust could do a better job than the Government? That is what you are saying?

Arnold Sebutinde: I think you could work it hand in hand and-

Chair: Indeed, we understand, work together. Thank you very much for that.

Q656 Alun Michael: I want to look at something quite specific. I take the point about giving people reason to have some eye to the future, and if you don’t give that, that causes problems. But on the way in which young people get drawn into the gang culture, you have already said how you did personally, but I am taking it that is a while ago, how do young people get recruited by the gangs? I asked the people giving evidence earlier about the range, because you have informal gangs, you have formal gangs, you have some very structured gangs. I saw some of this in Los Angeles-places where there is deliberate recruitment among people who are in prison for short term and things like that. In your experience, in your area, now, how are people being recruited or drawn into the gangs?

Arnold Sebutinde: It is pretty easy. Pretty easy. When you look around the neighbourhoods, it is the appeal, it is the money, it is the lifestyle. I think the core issue here is discipline at home. I think kids get pulled in by these gangs because their parents are losing their grip, their grasp, on them. The parents can’t control them, so to speak, so that is another way they end up in gangs.

Q657 Alun Michael: Let us be a bit more specific than that. Let us accept that there is a peer group of parents-there tends to be a style or an ethos of what parents do in an area-and there is also a peer group among young people, and the relations between those two can be quite difficult. What I am asking you, really, is what is happening at the moment on your patch, in terms of youngsters being drawn into the gangs?

Nathan Chin: I just think it is simple: there is nothing for them to do. I just believe if there were more things to do then it wouldn’t be so easy.

Q658 Alun Michael: With respect, that explains how to stop them being drawn into the gangs but it doesn’t tell me how they are being pulled into the gangs at the moment.

Nathan Chin: Well, okay, then, if you have been excluded from school, that means that you go to a centre, that means it starts from 9 and finishes at 12 o’clock, so that means you can go onto the streets and do whatever from then, rather than if you are in mainstream school, you are there until 3.30, and then you go home like everybody else. If the system gives up on you then it is easy to get drawn into that in a sense, because it is on your doorstep, it goes on everywhere you go, in any part of the world.

Arnold Sebutinde: I think a big part of this is down to, as someone said earlier, unemployment going up. It’s to do with employment, earning an income, earning a living. The way gangs operate is by saying, "Come join us, you can earn this", "Come join us, you can have that."

Q659 Alun Michael: So there is an offer to potential members?

Arnold Sebutinde: Exactly. You could say, "Come, here’s X amount of money, go do this, or go do that."

Q660 Alun Michael: Incremental steps?

Arnold Sebutinde: Yes, yes, it is just like an organisation. You start somewhere and then you build your way up.

Nathan Chin: It could mean that you could go out there and steal, or rob somebody, or rob somebody who is selling drugs, and you start that way.

Arnold Sebutinde: It could be, "Here’s an ounce of weed, sell that and then once you’re done we’ll move on to the bigger packages."

Q661 Alun Michael: So they are franchising?

Arnold Sebutinde: Yes.

Q662 Chair: Thank you. Is that your experience, Ginny?

Ginny Lunn: It is. That is what we hear quite often. I think it is a bit like Arnold said: it is providing a sense of belonging, it is providing structure but I think more importantly it is providing income where people are really in need of it. That is the attraction.

Chair: Thank you very much.

Q663 Mr Clappison: On a slightly different aspect of this, I presume you have views on the police. Is there any way in which you think relations between the police and young people could be improved in these respects, and what are your feelings about them? How do you think they could help, for example?

Nathan Chin: I don’t think they can really help in a sense, because people already have-young people especially-their natural stereotypes. You would probably have to change tack a little bit, maybe not have the uniform, and probably do more things, get involved, show young people they are working with the community, and get involved that way, instead of making out that police-do you know what I’m trying to say? It is hard for me to explain, it is just that I know young people aren’t really a fan of the police because of the stereotypes.

Arnold Sebutinde: I think, just like in any organisation or any group, there are always the rotten apples that ruin it for the rest of them. Lately with the media, what has been going on, especially with the police, there is a feeling among the youth of "us against them". So I think a way to help is maybe have more examples of the good side of policing.

Ginny Lunn: I think that is what we see; that is really important. It is really important that you do break down those barriers between police and young people, because we all know there are difficulties, particularly in certain areas. On our programmes, we have police in plain clothes and it really does have an impact, because it was like you were saying, Nathan: people have an impression, but then as soon as they are working alongside them it completely changes their idea of what the police are like, because they see them as real people and that they do care about what is happening. We have the police delivering some of our programmes for us, so they are really keen to break down those barriers.

Arnold Sebutinde: Can I say just one more thing? My partner, we watch TV and we watch Crimewatch and she is always asking when she sees youth getting arrested, especially young black men, she is like, "What’s going on with all the attitude?" and, "Why is there so much attitude?" She is like, "Kids these days haven’t got any respect for authority and haven’t got any respect for this," and I think that is a real big issue. I was in Wales-this might sound controversial-and I heard that they were going to stop parents from beating the kids. I think there are ways of disciplining that could help the problem. I am not saying let’s send a message out there for all parents to beat their kids, but I think there are children that need some real hard discipline, and sometimes that is the only way that this can be addressed, giving parents more power to discipline their children.

Q664 Chair: Going back to the riots, do either of you know of people who were involved in the riots that took place?

Arnold Sebutinde: Yes, I have a co-dealer that got recalled. That has to say something about the prison system. It is supposed to be rehabilitating, and what we saw was, he just came out on this charge and then got caught up in the riots, and then has ended up getting a recall.

Nathan Chin: Yes, I do. I have seen a few people. The TV was self-explanatory, to be honest with you. When you looked on the TV you seen a few people that you knew from various walks of life, whether it was school or something, so there are a lot of people that you are seeing there.

Q665 Chair: The Committee went to Feltham Young Offenders yesterday and we met just a few of those who were involved in the rioting and they seemed to be very clear that they saw it on the telly and decided to join in. Some of them did not even have previous convictions, but they took some stuff and they ended up in Feltham and now they have criminal records. Universally, they all said that they would never do it again: if there was a riot they would stay indoors. Is that the impression that you get from the people who were involved in the rioting?

Nathan Chin: I would say definitely the majority. I think, as well, that the TV, the media, never helped the situation. When you saw what was going on in Tottenham, it allowed everybody in the whole of the country to think, "Hold on, if they can do it there, this can happen in our city." And then you find that when one city started, when London did it, Birmingham started, and when Birmingham did it, then West Brom, and all the neighbouring other cities started it and then it just carried on. Everyone was copycatting Tottenham, to be honest, because nobody really had a cause anywhere else. The reason why it started is different to what people were doing it for in the end.

Q666 Chair: The final issue is about police presence. Throughout this inquiry those who were the victims of violence and theft have said that if there were more police officers on the streets that would have helped contain the riots. Do you all agree with that?

Nathan Chin: No, for the simple reason that there aren’t enough police to go everywhere. If the police are coming to one point, everyone would disperse and go to the next point, so it wouldn’t have really changed anything, I don’t think.

Arnold Sebutinde: I think with the policing, it doesn’t matter how many numbers you are, it is what you are going to do. I think, if they are given more powers to take action-within reasonable action, without really doing anything drastic, which is the same case to be argued against the other issue I was talking about with parenting and the discipline-if they were given more power, within reasonable force, it doesn’t matter if there were a hundred or a few thousand.

Chair: Ms Lunn, Nathan and Arnold, thank you very much for giving evidence to us today. We will continue with our inquiry. If there are other issues that you would like to raise with us through the course of the inquiry, please let us know, send us an email. From all of us on the Committee, the best of luck to both of you-to all three of you-at the Prince’s Trust for successful careers. Thank you very much.

Nathan Chin: All right, thank you.

Arnold Sebutinde: Thank you.

Chair: You are welcome to stay for the next witness.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Rt hon. Mr Kenneth Clarke QC MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, and Rebecca Endean, Director of Analytical Services, Ministry of Justice, gave evidence.

Chair: Lord Chancellor, Ms Endean, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Committee today, we are most grateful.

Mr Clarke: I am very happy to be here, Mr Vaz.

Q667 Chair: Before we go on to the riots, can I deal with a couple of issues that we have written to you about?

Mr Clarke: That as a journalist, Mr Vaz.

Q668 Chair: Thank you very much for your letter, which we received today, of 25 October. The first issue arises out of article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Thank you for your letter to me today. Have you now-

Mr Clarke: This is like going on the Today programme.

Chair: Have you now settled your dispute with the Home Secretary?

Mr Clarke: Yes, I have to explain that the dispute extended an extra day because I gave an interview to my local newspaper who, with great efficiency, published it 24 hours later than everybody else. I did say the rather colourful language I had used to describe things was probably not wise, but I didn’t intend to extend it any further. The case quite clearly was not decided under the Human Rights Act, and the decision had nothing to do with a cat. But the way in which it came out of the conference was just what happens at conferences if journalists are a bit short of a story.

Q669 Chair: Maya the cat is in the clear?

Mr Clarke: The journalism was not of the standard it used to be, because I would have expected pictures of Maya the cat to appear in the following day’s newspapers. It took them two or three days to find her, but Maya the cat had absolutely nothing to do with the decision on the Libyan gentleman staying in this country.

Mr Winnick: All the fault of the journalists.

Q670 Chair: Moving on to the issue of knife crime, we have had some very powerful evidence today from a number of people about this. Of course, your Bill is currently going through the House, which will include an automatic sentence of at least six months for adults who commit knife crime. But the Home Secretary again, and the Mayor of London and others, and indeed all the witnesses who have appeared before us this morning, have suggested that that mandatory sentence, custodial sentence, should apply to those under the age of 18. [Interruption.] Dr Huppert is correcting me: he says one of them didn’t; the others did. Why do you not think that reducing that below the age of 18 would help solve the problem of knife crime in London?

Mr Clarke: We are debating this when we go to Report stage, and I am still discussing with one of the people who has moved the amendments to tell us exactly what we are going to do. But I think it is something that should be taken seriously. Firstly, the argument in favour of these amendments appears to be based on an inaccurate figure that 40% of those committing knife crime are juveniles, which is not true. I don’t know where it comes from, but it is about twice the correct figure. I need to say I haven’t arrived briefed for this, because I didn’t know you were going to raise it.

Secondly, mandatory sentences in British law are a bit of an innovation. It is rather an American thing, based on the assumption that you cannot leave it to the judge to listen to the circumstances of the offender or the circumstances of the offence, and that Parliament has to lay down a mandatory minimum in all cases, come what may. Now we have, because of the seriousness we attach to knife crime, and because we think a strong message has to be sent to people indulging in knife crime, agreed such a mandatory sentence for adults. That has been tabled and is the Government’s proposal.

The idea that mandatory sentences now apply for certain types of offence to young offenders, to children, to juveniles, is a bit of a leap for the British judicial system. I have not had time to study the one tabled by the official Opposition yet, but the idea that a 13-year-old should come up before a court and the court be told that, "Unless there is something quite exceptional, you have no discretion here." For this particular offence-which is not the most serious offence, we should keep in mind-that you should automatically be sent off presumably in that case to a secure children’s home does rather go against the way we normally approach the sentencing of juveniles. The British system is based on a totally different approach to sentencing for juveniles, so on mandatory sentences we are considering where we are, but I have not leapt into agreeing to these various amendments.

Q671 Chair: So you are still considering this and you may well end up agreeing with both the Home Secretary and the Mayor?

Mr Clarke: We are still considering it, but I am just saying why I am not giving an instant reaction.

Chair: Sure, I understand.

Mr Clarke: The idea, because it has appeared on the Order Paper, got a bit of support somewhere, but for Parliament now to decide it is going to start introducing more mandatory sentences for children and juveniles is not a step we should take without some careful consideration. Before you know where you are, in 10 years’ time most sentences will be mandatory and minimum, the way we are going. That is what happened in America. You do have to say, before you say that, how far should the court take account of the circumstances of the actual offence, the circumstances of the offender, and any mitigation. In the case of children, it seems to me that is an important argument to have.

Q672 Chair: Indeed. But just to summarise, not to start you off again-

Mr Clarke: Well, you started it by raising it, you got me going on the subject.

Chair: You are considering it.

Mr Clarke: We are considering it.

Chair: And you might indeed agree with the Home Secretary. Now, we have some quick supplementaries, then we move on to the riots.

Q673 Michael Ellis: Lord Chancellor, just on that point, I was a barrister in criminal practice for some 16 years, and one of the mandatory sentences was for firearms: a five-year sentence for carrying a certain type of firearm. Judges have tried to find ways out of passing the five-year mandatory minimum, because in many cases they think it would be manifestly unjust to do so-for example, a farmer who does not have the appropriate licence or a mother who has been asked by her son to put it under the bed, or something of that sort, where clearly punishment is appropriate but the five-year sentence is deemed to be wholly excessive. Is that part of your concern about mandatory minimums for other types of offences as well?

Mr Clarke: It is. We have one mandatory sentence of which I firmly approve, and that is life sentence for murder. No one has tackled that. One day the Law Commission want to review it and so on, but I think we are all sitting with the mandatory life sentence for murder and that applies to all ages. But the firearms is one of the ones-the only other one that anyone can find-where there is a mandatory sentence for juveniles; it is three years for juveniles, I think. All the way though, Mr Vaz, you must bear in mind, having caught me by surprise, that I am speaking off the cuff here, so I don’t have a brief just to check my figures, but I think it is three years.

Chair: We prefer you off the cuff.

Mr Clarke: You have much more recent experience than me, Mr Ellis. You were a practising barrister until very recently. I am not surprised to hear you say that judges go out of their way to try to find some way of getting round the mandatory sentence that Parliament has, in its wisdom, applied, no doubt because there was a big firearms case in the newspapers the month before this legislation was passed. In the end, there is usually some proviso, that "unless it is unjust to do so", or something like that, which the courts leap onto in the case where the sentence is plainly wrong and does not apply. That is why before we started I considered all these things and I am in favour of the mandatory sentence for adult offenders of knife crime, which I tabled. I considered all of these things before tabling that, and I want to consider all these things before we come to a final decision on juveniles.

Chair: Thank you, Lord Chancellor. Could I ask colleagues for brief supplementaries? We need to move on to the riots.

Mr Clarke: Yes, I gave a long answer, but you have suddenly raised a different and large subject, which I expected to be debating next week.

Q674 Dr Huppert: One of our witnesses, Arnold Sebutinde, who we just heard from gave, I thought, very powerful evidence as to why he felt that a mandatory sentence for young people would be a bad idea because of the effect it had-

Mr Clarke: Who was this?

Dr Huppert: Arnold Sebutinde, who was with us just before-I think you will have a chance to have a look-who was with the Prince’s Trust. We also went yesterday to Feltham Young Offenders Institution, and one of the comments made by a number of the young people there was that they felt there was a lack of consideration of the circumstances of each case. Do you think there is a risk, if there is a mandatory sentence for young offenders with knives, that it would not be possible for the courts to take into account particular circumstances and you would get perverse judgments?

Mr Clarke: Well, that is what we have to guard against and consider, yes. It would be exactly what Mr Ellis was saying: obviously, having a mandatory sentence you discourage the court from looking as closely at the individual case as it otherwise would. If the case before it is obviously one where you ought to consider some alternative, the court will then start trying to find some excuse for doing so. Take "three strikes and you’re out", which is still on the statute book, I think, and caused a great deal of excitement when it was passed in Parliament. I am assured by everybody in practice that it doesn’t make the faintest difference in practice now, because the judges have found every conceivable way of making sure they don’t have to apply it. In a case that a third offence is so serious that you should to go prison, you go to prison, but if it is a case where the third offence plainly would be disproportionate, they find some reason for not doing it. But this is a game that should not go on between Parliament and the courts except with considerable care. That is why this amendment on knife crime should be considered very carefully, and I am reserving my position.

Q675 Mr Clappison: I sympathise with you, Lord Chancellor. I sympathise that this is not what you expected to come here for, and I was not expecting to ask questions about it either, but since you are here, and in the spirit of what you said about getting the fullest possible information for when it does come before Parliament, so we can have a proper debate, taking into account all of the very proper matters that you have raised today, as far as the definitions on this are concerned, when you talk about juveniles, that is those 17 and under?

Mr Clarke: Yes, 17 and under.

Q676 Mr Clappison: And the children, what age are the children?

Mr Clarke: I tend to not talk about children when you are up to 15. I think the official Opposition amendment-but for all I know, I don’t know where my shadow spokesman is coming from, he may just be canvassing it to debate it. I remain to be persuaded that the shadow Justice Secretary is seriously going to suggest mandatory sentences for 13-year-olds. I doubt that he will press it, but I may be misjudging where he is coming from.

Q677 Mr Clappison: An awful lot of issues arise around that, Lord Chancellor. I am sure you are absolutely right. Would it be possible to let us have figures for 16 and 17-year-olds, the number who presently do get sentenced to detention or whatever it is called, under the present arrangements?

Chair: Not necessarily today. You could write.

Mr Clarke: No. There may be somebody with me who is more familiar-

Q678 Mr Winnick: Is it your view, Lord Chancellor, that the greater emphasis on custodial sentences and the ever-increasing prison population, makes rehabilitation that much more difficult?

Mr Clarke: The population does make it more difficult. It makes the prisons more overcrowded, and it makes it more difficult to develop things I want to develop, working in prisons, and so on. The prison population is in the end determined by the courts, acting on the legislation passed by Parliament. We are a demand-led service. The population is determined by how many people get sent there, as it was after the riots, which are the main subject today. If it is chosen as the form of punishment, we have to provide the accommodation. You must keep ahead of it, so that you can do something else, and I want to make prisons a more intelligent form of punishment. In addition to punishment-it is the best form of punishment we have, as a punishment for serious crime-while in there, you should be making it more possible to get some of them to stop reoffending and come out as the normal way of life.

Q679 Alun Michael: I was interested in the point that you made about the relationship between Parliament and sentences. Would you accept that there is a continual tension between the wish on the part of Members of Parliament to correct what they see as perverse judgments and decisions in the courts, and the wish for sentences to reflect the circumstances of a particular offence; and that that in turn leads to tension between, if you like, a tick-box approach to sentences, where it is almost determined in respect of the judge’s understanding of the circumstances on which the sentence is passed, and on the other hand, a wish that there should be sensitive sentencing that answers the question, "What is going to make it less likely for this person to reoffend and be a nuisance to society in the future?"

Mr Clarke: I think Parliament has been inclined to trust the judges less than it used to-judges in the broadest sense, judges and magistrates and everybody else-to deal with the cases. Whereas normally, under the separation of powers, politicians have not commented, usually, on what the judges are doing, there has been a slight tendency, where you have a running commentary being mounted, sentence by sentence, on what is happening, usually solely based on what the newspaper has said about the case. This has grown, and over the last ten years it has therefore been reflected a bit in the legislation, and there has been an increasingly tick-box approach-"Let’s confine these judges, by listing more and more what they should and shouldn’t give and how they should arrive at it." It is all tick-box sentencing. I personally think it is an inadequate thing. There are more sentencing guidelines, and there is a case for sentencing guidelines, which I am glad to say the last Government put back into the hands of the judges, but you do need sentencing guidelines to make sure there is consistency. If we are more transparent in our criminal statistics, I think Parliament is going to discover there really is inconsistency between magistrates in different parts of the country, and so on. We are going to give local-by-local figures. That should be addressed by sentencing guidelines, and parliamentary views should be given on that. But I personally think that off-the-cuff comments about one case in one court, based on what it says in some popular newspaper, is not a useful contribution to make.

Chair: Thank you. The final comment on this, but then we must move on to the riots.

Q680 Mark Reckless: Many of our constituents feel that sentencing is detached from public opinion. As you have now said, with the sentencing guidelines council, the issue is not the legislation constraining the discretion of the individual judge, but we have this intermediate quango with its tick-box mentality, constraining the judges, but it is done by people who are not accountable and not elected. Why can’t that role go to a parliamentary committee?

Mr Clarke: Laying down the detailed guidelines for each and every offence?

Mark Reckless: Absolutely.

Mr Clarke: The overriding principle we have to follow here is justice, and not just justice, and therefore the right and appropriate penalty for severe crime, but the penalty also might contribute to reducing the number who reoffend and commit more offences in future. It requires a little more close attention to what you are doing. No two cases are the same. Every burglary is not like every other burglary, though all burglaries are serious. For domestic burglary, for as long as I can recall, people have said, quite rightly, you should go to prison, but some are worse than others, and so on. It is very difficult to take that on board in Parliament. Mr Ellis is the recent practitioner-I am a long-out-of-date practitioner, I haven’t practised for 30 years. Sentences are far more severe than they used to be. Most of the public don’t appreciate that the prisoners that the prisons, for which I am responsible, hold, are serving much longer sentences than they used to in my day, and a lot of the people who complain about the sentences don’t know what the sentences are, and think there was a golden age when they were much longer. It is actually the reverse.

Q681 Mark Reckless: Might they not appreciate that more if it was a committee elected by them who were laying down the general guidelines, with the judges implementing them individually?

Chair: I will accept a no.

Mr Clarke: No. I regard myself as an extremely keen parliamentarian, and-

Chair: Mr Reckless is very keen.

Mr Clarke: I am a great defender of the role of Parliament, but Parliament as the sentencer in individual cases is not one I think we are ready to take on yet.

Mark Reckless: For cases, but the general guidelines-

Q682 Chair: Order. I think we have the Lord Chancellor’s answer. Let us move on to the riots in a calm and orderly way.

Just after the riots, you made a very important statement in which you said that the cause of the riots was as a result of the "feral underclass of Britain". Have you met any of the rioters?

Mr Clarke: I don’t think I have met a particular rioter. I have probably met some of them in my previous visits to institutions. I haven’t knowingly met anybody who has been arrested for the riots.

Q683 Chair: The Committee went to Feltham yesterday and we met a number of 16 to 17-year-olds, some of whom had previous convictions-the majority did not have previous convictions. It appeared to us they were not part of a feral underclass, they were apprenticed or they were at college. They were going about their business, and on the day of the riots they just happened to turn up and they went riot shopping. They were not part of any broken penal system. Where did you get the evidence from to justify the statement that this is about a feral underclass?

Mr Clarke: Let me give you some statistics, which I think are the up-to-date ones now: 76% of those who appeared in courts had a previous caution or conviction; 40% of them had more than five previous offences; 71% of the adult males had a previous conviction; and 45% of males aged 10 to 17 had at least one previous conviction. Only about a quarter of those who appeared had no previous convictions. So it sounds as though you did not meet a very representative sample at Feltham. They may not have told the truth; that is always possible, you know.

Q684 Chair: Indeed. But you have based your statement about a broken penal system entirely on the statistics that you have-

Mr Clarke: It was in reaction. If you recall, they were the very first statistics, and the first thing that struck me about the riots was, I was appalled by them. We have had riots before. I was involved in the reactions to the riots in the 1980s, and got involved in work in the inner-city areas that had had the riots in the late 1980s. These riots were more spontaneous and more spontaneously criminal. Even the people you describe in Feltham were opportunistically taking the opportunity to steal things; that is what worried me. The other thing, when I saw the first statistics-and I think I have just quoted the most up-to-date we have, with the ones that are coming through-was just that slightly familiar feeling, that most of these people are people who are in trouble with the police; that is, reoffending. Of course, the percentage is lower for the young people because some of them have not had time to get a conviction yet. But I have this inner feeling that the people in Feltham that you met, a lot of them are likely to reoffend-probably, on past form, about three-quarters of them will reoffend when they get out of Feltham, fairly quickly, which is the failure in the system as I see it. Despite all the good work that is being done at the moment, that is where we have to address ourselves. One thing we can do from within the penal system itself, is seek to reduce this rate of recidivist reoffending.

Q685 Chair: Can I ask about gangs? The Prime Minister, on 11 August, said that, "At the heart of all the violence is the issue of street gangs. In the past few days, there is some evidence that they have been behind the co-ordination of the attacks on the police and the looting that followed." Have any of your statistics from the Ministry of Justice indicated that gangs were at the centre of this issue?

Mr Clarke: We have some figures about what percentage-let us ask Rebecca to remind me-I can’t remember what percentage of people were regarded as gang members who came up. It seems to have varied a bit from place to place, how far were gangs involved. We do know that gangs are a serious problem.

Q686 Chair: But in relation to these riots, do you think they were at the heart of this?

Rebecca Endean: The statistics that the Home Office published yesterday alongside ours indicated that 13% of all the people they arrested were known gang members, and it was 19% in London, so it was higher in London and a couple of other areas, and that was based on the police force definition of who is affiliated to a gang.

Mr Clarke: And 19% of the population of London are not gang members, so the fact that 19% of the offenders were indicates that they were a feature in the problems.

Q687 Mr Clappison: The striking thing in the figures that you have produced is that the vast majority of the people involved have had some contact with the criminal justice system, and some of them have had quite a lot, presumably with those who are supposed to be rehabilitating them. Would you agree that these figures cast a pretty unsatisfactory light on the capacity of the present criminal justice system and those who work within it, to rehabilitate people?

Mr Clarke: Yes, I do. This is why I think the one main theme of the policy I am trying to bring into the Department is to improve on this aspect of what we do, and to improve the reoffending rates as dramatically as we can. It must be possible, it seems to me, to do better than this. If you want less crime, you should strive to have fewer criminals. If you stop people who have been sentenced, when they finish their sentence, reoffending, that means there will not be the subsequent crimes and the subsequent victims that those people will go on to acquire.

Q688 Alun Michael: I am glad to hear the emphasis on sentences that reduce crime. I thoroughly agree with that, but just on these statistics that you have given, on 76% had previous, and so on, have you made a controlled comparison? In other words, in those areas where the rioting took place, how does that compare with the rest of the peer group?

Mr Clarke: I am not sure which comparison you mean. Obviously, it is a much higher figure than the general population. The general population don’t have such a high percentage of-

Alun Michael: But the general population doesn’t tell us very much.

Mr Clarke: One in four adult males has a previous conviction. People always forget that. We have had the odd Member of Parliament with a previous conviction, long since extinct. It is almost one in four.

Q689 Alun Michael: Could I ask, therefore, because I think it is quite important to know what we are comparing-obviously not now, it is not the sort of thing you can give off the cuff, but could we ask for the Home Office to do some work and inform us-how the level of previous engagement with the criminal justice system compares in those areas where you have made the measure in relation to those who came before the courts, and the general population in those areas? Because the general population doesn’t help us, I think.

Mr Clarke: Let us take the young people: 45% of males aged 10 to 17 had at least one previous conviction.

Q690 Alun Michael: But what does that tell us?

Mr Clarke: 2% of the general population of 10 to 17-year-olds have a previous conviction. That is not too surprising, that is the starkest contrast, because the average 11-year-old does not have a previous conviction, but maybe he is going to have.

Alun Michael: But that is comparing national to local.

Rebecca Endean: We have not produced the thing where we have looked at the specific areas rather than nationally. Yes, we will do it locally and we will write.

Mr Clarke: We will try to produce local figures.

Q691 Mark Reckless: To get to the heart of the matter, what, in your opinion, were the causes of the disturbances?

Mr Clarke: A completely irresponsible, feckless reaction from people casually turning to crime because the opportunity presented itself. I am not a moralist in politics at all, I am a classic product of 1960s politics in my usual social attitudes, but I was slightly shocked that so many people just casually took to thieving-sometimes rather violent thieving-just because the opportunity presented itself, and the excitement ran, and so on. A lot of things are very wrong and a lot of attention has been paid in recent figures to the socio-economic background and so on. There was a higher proportion, which you would expect, of people from deprived areas; there was a higher proportion of people from deprived backgrounds; but a lot of poor people do not just turn to criminality when they are in difficulty. The ones that do-I always go back to the fact that we just have to give these people a stake in society and try and get them to feel more responsible towards society, to share more of the values that the ordinary citizen actually has. That gets you into a whole lot of areas of social policy-which the Prime Minister and other Ministers are looking at, which goes way outside the area of the Department of Justice-which I used to be involved in in the late 1980s, which Michael Heseltine gave us such a lead on when we were in office then.

Q692 Mark Reckless: For some of those people, did they have the perception that they could get away with this and would not be severely punished?

Mr Clarke: I think they did. That has a high role in reoffending, is my judgement, based on such little research as is written, although I don’t claim it is entirely scientific. I think people who reoffend think that this time they are going to get away with it, and somehow the awful excitement that must break out when there is a bit of a mob violence thing going on makes everybody think somehow they are not going to be caught this time. Fortunately for the retribution that the public quite rightly expect to see, people seem to be casually indifferent to CCTV filming them and so on, and we are managing to catch an awful lot of them because they made this blithe assumption that they could go and steal a television set after smashing the window and they would get away with it. I am sure you agree with me, Mr Reckless, it is rather important they don’t get away with it.

Q693 Mark Reckless: I was particularly struck by one youth from Manchester who was replayed very widely on the BBC saying that he knew that he was a first-time offender, he had not been convicted of anything before, he was a young teenager, so he knew there was no chance that he would be sent to prison. Does that not suggest we have perhaps gone too far with these sentencing guidelines, rather than allowing more discretion to the individual judge?

Mr Clarke: That would be a false belief if he committed a serious crime. Burglary and arson, which were two of the prevalent crimes, are in anybody’s book serious crimes. He was an idiot if he believed that, because the average court is not going to react with indifference to anyone involved-you don’t get one or two burglaries free before you get sent down. I think a lot of the problem is public perceptions, because our debate has taken the form that half the public have been persuaded that serious criminals are going to walk out of the courts when they turn up. Fortunately-I defend the judges again-that is not true: they won’t. These things are dealt with more severely than they were when I was a young barrister 40 years ago.

Q694 Mr Winnick: When we were talking to shopkeepers and residents yesterday in Croydon, again the point was made, as indeed it was by Malcolm Wicks in the debate which took place in August, that when they rang the police they were told that the police were not in a position to come and help at that particular time, and undoubtedly the police in Croydon, as elsewhere, were under great pressure. The question I want to ask is, should that not be a warning that we should be very careful about police numbers and any reductions, in situations which could arise again, like what occurred in August?

Mr Clarke: Reaction to the police handling of the riots, I have to say, is not a matter for me. That is for the Home Secretary, and I am only an ordinary citizen observing the debate that went on about the police handling of the riots. The suggestion obviously is that in some cases the police held off, in the way they might do in an ordinary disorder situation, where normal police practice is to wait to make sure they have enough people, they have the right kit and they go in effectively. But when people are seeking help for serious crime another reaction may be justified. My own personal view, quite non-authoritative, is that it is usually easy in the Dog and Duck 48 hours later to start saying what the police should have done in an unexpected and violent situation. But I have no doubt ACPO, the Home Secretary and those responsible are, the same as everybody is, considering what the lessons are in these riots. It was totally unexpected, the scale of these riots.

Q695 Mr Winnick: As a senior member of the Government-obviously your role as Lord Chancellor differs from the Home Secretary’s, but nevertheless very much concerned with the rule of law and defending the community against disorder-do you think it is possible for the Government to look again at the question of police numbers and what has been proposed, so far at least, which is a substantial reduction?

Mr Clarke: I don’t think we should look again at police numbers; I leave that to the Home Secretary. Police numbers have exploded. In every part of the country, there have never been so many police officers. I will leave it to the Home Secretary who, again, will have the right figures at her fingertips, to look at the proportion of them actually on the front line at any one stage can be quite astonishingly low in some places, the proportion of any particular police force which is currently on long-term sick leave, the absentee rates every day, and the fact that people go on patrol in twos in places where they used to go singly.

Q696 Chair: As you say, this is a matter for the Home Secretary.

Mr Clarke: It cannot be impossible to tackle those things. Most people in the police service accept that they can be tackled. Excuse me talking on the police, but it is, in the circumstances the country faces, of economic crisis, justified. I resist reopening it, unless the Home Secretary has some very good arguments.

Mr Winnick: Lord Chancellor, you have at least stuck to the Government line on that. Thank you.

Mr Clarke: No, no. I would be rather startled if the Home Secretary came across and reopened what seems to me a very sound system.

Q697 Alun Michael: Another of the points of comparison: in the latest figures that your Department has been able to give us: we are told that 24% of those brought before the courts for their role in the disorder had no previous cautions or convictions, which compares with 23% of those dealt with for indictable offences in 2010. What conclusion should we draw from that? They are remarkably close figures, aren’t they?

Mr Clarke: It is. The same proportion of first-time offenders-that is what you would expect. It tends to be higher for the younger ones, because, as I say, the younger ones have had less time to acquire a previous conviction. That is in line with the norm, but just like the other figures, which are not far off the norm when it comes to ordinary indictable offences, the norm is what is wrong. What I have reacted to is the 76% who did have a previous conviction, and we can’t just accept that when we go to court the people who are before the court are likely to be people who have been there before.

Q698 Alun Michael: Would you accept, though, that when you consider the fact that most of the evidence we are getting is that there were quite different sets of circumstances that led in different ways in different parts, that the overall figures do not tell us the full story? We really need to look at what the differences were as well as what the overall picture is in relation to different places where things happened.

Mr Clarke: I agree with that. My impression is that the nature of the riots in different cities-

Alun Michael: Or different parts of London.

Mr Clarke: -varied from one place to another. In my own city of Nottingham, the riots included a lot of slightly organised attacks on police stations, which did not happen anywhere else at all, which I suspect was associated with gangs and a criminal element in the population taking out their feelings on the police. It does seem to be quite different from some of the other places. So I agree with you that a certain caution on national statistics-

Q699 Alun Michael: So despite the fact that there is a fixed period of time and an element of copycat about it, you would accept that the differences do need to be studied carefully?

Mr Clarke: Yes. If you want to draw lessons, it is quite helpful to get the local judgments of what was driving it on in that particular place. In some cases it was just straight theft, people wanting a new television. In other places it does seem to be organised, whether casually by the internet or whatever, and some of it is rage with the police, almost certainly on the part of the criminal classes. Others, it is just acquisitiveness and an inclination to turn to theft very readily.

Q700 Michael Ellis: Lord Chancellor, it appears as though the courts operated very efficiently in the immediate aftermath of the riots. In fact there are reports that courts were sitting late into the evening and at weekends, and clearly they are to be congratulated for that. Is there any possibility that that efficiency and the reduction in paperwork and bureaucracy can be, shall we say, expanded to a more general set of circumstances?

Mr Clarke: Firstly, I agree with you that the courts were very efficient and rose to public expectations. It is very reassuring. As far as I am aware, there is no significant criticism of any court response, and no significant criticism of the level of sentences by and large, as far as the general public is concerned. They did reflect the fact that it is a good aggravating feature that this is all against a background of public disorder, and you should add a little to the sentence.

Q701 Michael Ellis: I think the Lord Chief Justice recently upheld some sentences.

Mr Clarke: He did, and we have a Court of Appeal that corrects them. The Lord Chief Justice, whose opinion is more authoritative than mine, obviously also thought the courts had the sentences about right. We do want to take lessons about how speedy it was, because I think a very important part of our agenda has to be improving the efficiency of the court process. It is too slow, not user-friendly enough as far as witnesses and victims are concerned, although it is much better than it was. The evening sittings were interesting. There is a lot of interest in night sittings. The fact is, I don’t think we need those. We did here, because of the sudden surge. Actually, we still have slightly more court capacity than we require, so the idea they are all going to sit through the night-they would run out of things to do quite rapidly. The evening sittings do have other attractions: witnesses who have a job, victims who have to look after a family, magistrates who have a job, would find more flexibility in the sitting times preferable. It could be costly, because you would be paying overtime to just about all the staff you have to manage. We are looking at that with care.

Q702 Chair: I attended a night sitting, and there was a long delay. By the time the prisoners were brought, they-

Mr Clarke: They had run out of business at one point?

Chair: They had run out of business.

Mr Clarke: The other thing I should mention very briefly is the ability of the courts to deal swiftly with the simple cases was one of the things I think is most important. The quick, swift guilty pleas were dealt with sometimes within a few hours. At the moment, as you will know, most cases are prepared as if they are going to be a trial and it takes months to get to the court in a case that is going to take half an hour once you get under way.

Q703 Mr Clappison: I think you have covered my question I was going to ask in what you were saying about gangs. It is very relevant to this, but it is slightly wider.

Chair: Are you taking us off to Europe?

Mr Clappison: No, I am not.

Mr Clarke: Mr Clappison, you can hardly complain about relevance, having spent the first half hour on a different subject.

Mr Clappison: I was just going to ask briefly, when this Committee used to consider the penal system and the sentencing system in the old arrangements, it produced a report on work and prisoners, and recommended that prisoners should be given the opportunity to work, and to earn money in appropriate circumstances, and to work outside prison, as work and earning money honestly was one of the best ways of rehabilitating people. I was wondering what part that played in your thinking, and how much progress has been made?

Mr Clarke: It plays a very large part in my thinking. The two things that we are giving the highest priority to in producing a more intelligent use of the prisons are to get more work, a working environment, in more and more prisons, and also to be more effective at tackling drugs. I would like to add alcohol as well, if we can. There are all kinds of other things you can do; most of the prisoners have a combination of problems. But more and more prisons are turning to a more demanding working day, a more normal working regime, even where we have work in prisons at the moment. We are trying to get more and more private sector partners in, and we are looking at the ways in which work might properly be done in prisons in future. It is not going to be easy to move from a situation where, in far too many prisons everybody is completely idle and doing nothing at all, to a place where they are doing a 35, 40-hour week in some organised way, doing a proper job that will prepare them for the disciplines of work, give them some training and make them employable outside. Absolutely key: everybody can argue for as long as they like about exactly what gets people to stop reoffending, and scientific accuracy is not possible, but I do think having a job and the prospects of employment, and getting into a disciplined and ordinary working life makes a huge difference to whether or not someone is going to reoffend when they emerge.

Q704 Chair: Alcohol crime: do you agree with the Commissioner that there should be sobriety tests as a way of keeping people out of the judicial system?

Mr Clarke: The Mayor of London was very keen on this. I have had a brief conversation with him about this-we are about to have a proper one, I think. The problem with sobriety tests-it is a very good idea that everybody is sober, particularly if they have a history of causing trouble and being obstreperous when they are drunk, or even worse-is that we need to address who is going to apply them. If you are giving some sort of sobriety test to some young hooligan daily and returning him to the court if it turns out he has had a drink, you do have to work out how this is going to be organised. Who is going to give these tests, how much time are they going to devote to these queues of people being tested for what they have consumed? What exactly do you do with a guy who has not, on this occasion, committed an offence, but appears to have become drunk? The temperance movement has always wished to take all young men completely off drink to the maximum possible extent. With offenders, it is very important that we get them to stop abusing drink, but you could have a vast organisation engaged in a rather futile pursuit, unless we think through carefully who on earth is meant to be administering all these tests, and what are we meant to do, if the only thing this little yob has done this time is have a drink?

Chair: We look forward to hearing of your conversation with the Mayor.

Mr Clarke: The Commissioner may give you a more organised response than that. It is my off-the-cuff response.

Q705 Dr Huppert: Firstly, Lord Chancellor, if I can encourage you to make it easier for Magistrates’ Courts to work more efficiently. I recently went to Cambridge Magistrates’ Court, where they clearly had a number of problems with technology, and some of the video conferencing systems were not working. Getting papers transferred from Peterborough to Cambridge seemed to be a huge drama. I hope you will be able to look at ways of running it more efficiently, which I think they would appreciate. Can I just ask about social media and your take on this? You may remember that the Prime Minister floated the idea of disconnecting social media sites at times of rioting. I think the Government has now managed to kill that off. Do you have a take on that, or any thoughts on whether that would be sensible?

Mr Clarke: On the first point, we are putting a lot of effort into making sure that we go digital to a greater extent, and that case files are shared. I see no reason why the same case file should not be used by the police, the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service most of the time, and why they should not exchange all this digitally. They all have separate case files and they cannot communicate except by paper. We have set a timetable down for addressing that. On the second, I am glad to say what happened was, the companies have agreed to be co-operative and to work properly in removing illegal material from their sites, and that is the best way of proceeding. The Government is not at the moment proposing to start taking any powers to close down social websites. Social websites did play quite an important part in this, and I think they caused troubles for the police because in the old days when you rioted you knew where the riot was going to be, what time, and probably who it was going to be, and you were able to start controlling it. Now websites enable people to suddenly switch quite rapidly to an unexpected location, and the police find it more difficult to deal with.

Q706 Chair: Finally, Lord Chancellor, Britain takes over the presidency of the Council of Europe in November 2011. The Foreign Secretary will take over as the chairman, but you will have a major role to play, and you said in February of this year that you want to use it to try to reform the relationship between the European Court of Human Rights and national Parliaments, and in April you said, "At times the Court has been rather too ready to substitute its own judgment for that of national courts without giving enough weight to the strength of the domestic legal system or allowing for genuine differences of national approach." What are your ambitions when you take over your role? What do you want to be judged at by the time you get to the end of that period?

Mr Clarke: By coincidence, I just made it in time for this hearing after a meeting with Secretary General Jagland of the Council of Europe, discussing our priorities for the chairmanship. That is a Foreign Office matter overall, but the biggest priority for the British Government as a whole during this chairmanship is to try to get some reform of the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. You obviously looked up what I said before, the last time I attended a Council of Ministers meeting. There is a lot of support amongst other member states for reform, and quite a lot of support in the Court itself and in the Council of Europe, and the biggest thing we can take up is the huge arrears of cases that are either trivial or are never going to be heard, or are not properly the subject matter of the Convention on Human Rights. We think that we could introduce processes which get rid of some of these arrears; stop entertaining things that are trivial; get the Court to concentrate on those matters that are properly the work of an international court and where there are serious issues about how a particular country is upholding its obligations, fulfilling its obligations under the Convention. We are going to respond more sensibly, and that includes the Court having proper regard to the way in which Parliament and the courts in an individual member state have addressed the human rights issues in the first place. Everybody agrees in the Council of Europe on the principle of subsidiarity-an awful phrase that is used in Europe, but it means that the primary duty for upholding the Convention lies with individual member states, and the Court only intervenes in the big issues where a country seems to be failing to do that.

Q707 Chair: Would you agree with the Attorney General’s statement last night that he would like to see British courts have a right to dispute rulings of the European Court?

Mr Clarke: Yes, in the right circumstances. As long as both are properly applying the Convention. They are both adhering to the Convention, but perhaps coming to a different conclusion about how they do. I have not read the Attorney’s full text to see in what context the quote is you are putting to me. But there is as you know, a slight difference of opinion, it seems to me-I have not talked to either of them about it yet-but from the press reports, between the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice about how far British courts are actually bound, as a matter of rigid practice, to follow judgments of the Strasbourg court, and how far they are undoubtedly bound to have regard for those judgments when applying things here on their own. But international courts should be seized of big matters, when there really is an issue about whether a member state is complying with the Convention. In a case that I do think the United Kingdom has won, where we have the Human Rights Act, the courts are applying the Convention in their proceedings. You do not need to be in too readily if the judgments of the court reflect local legal systems and local precedents and plainly are not in breach of human rights in any either legal or normal common sense terms.

Chair: Lord Chancellor, Ms Endean, thank you very much for coming this morning. Thank you.

Prepared 1st November 2011