My Lords, I welcome the Bill, as there is a general consensus that crime and policing legislation is in need of greater development. The Bill has the potential to introduce reforms that will not only result in the betterment of British society but may extend beyond our shores.
I acknowledge the measures taken since 1997 to provide greater policing accountability at community level. I had hoped that they would result in more officers out on the beat patrolling our streets. However, the statistics reveal that the majority of police officers spend only 14 per cent of their time on patrol, whereas paperwork accounts for approximately 20 per cent of their time. The Bill does not appear to make provision for a reduction in the time that the police spend on office administration. A real opportunity has been missed to address this issue. Very few police officers will testify to having entered the force because they were drawn by the prospect of being stuck in an office with paperwork. Evidence submitted to Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s review of policing stated that in 2006 officers produced in excess of 79,000 stop-and-account forms, which took an estimated 25 minutes each to complete. I hope that the Bill will be strengthened during its passage through this Chamber to ensure that police officers are relieved of the bureaucratic burden so that they can carry out their many laudable duties.
I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House on the problem of human trafficking and I welcome measures to combat this evil practice. I think that we all agree that human trafficking is equivalent to modern-day slavery. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime not only prohibits human trafficking but actively requires countries to strive towards addressing the demand for sexual exploitation.
I support Clause 13, as it will ensure that those who engage in sexual activities with trafficked individuals receive tougher sentences. This is crucial and we hope that it will work as a deterrent to those who are tempted to engage in undesirable relations or in the exploitation of vulnerable people. It is safe to say that a large proportion of society views forced prostitution and human trafficking as wholly abhorrent practices.
With regard to strict liability, this may create some difficulties in enforcement. I would have thought that a serious crime of this nature required the mens rea element of criminal law. The absence of this condition may not sit well with some individuals. My concern is how a man establishes whether a woman has been forced into prostitution. He may not know the owner of the establishment or have met the woman before. We therefore need to look at these provisions fully in Committee.
I support the provision in Clause 20 that will enable courts to issue closure orders where there is evidence that premises are being used for activities relating to certain prostitution and pornography offences. This will help to eliminate undesirable activities and perhaps act as a deterrent to others. I also welcome Clause 18, which creates a new offence of soliciting to replace the existing offence of kerb-crawling. These provisions will, we hope, make our streets safe and stop decent women being accosted.
It is important that we take an holistic view of the problems of human trafficking and look at ways of protecting and rehabilitating women and children who have been subjected to trickery, intimidation and force. I would like to see more provision in this Bill for women who want to leave the sex industry generally. The average age of those who enter prostitution in Europe is frightfully low, at 14 years. Narcotic abuse is also a recurrent theme in the lives of most prostitutes, with a high proportion addicted to class A drugs. A vocal minority extols the virtues of prostitution and feels that it should be legalised, but I disagree with this contention.
I welcome Clause 25, as it increases the penalty for the encryption of indecent images of children from two years’ to five years’ imprisonment in cases of indecency in relation to children or of child exploitation. The abuse of minors in any shape or form is truly heinous; I am pleased that those who engage in this practice will be subject to tougher penalties. I express my gratitude to the Conservative Member for Mole Valley in the other place for his prudent stewardship of this item.
I also welcome Clause 28, which strives to lower the threshold of punishment for vendors who supply alcohol to minors. The provision will mean that an offence is committed if alcohol is sold to an individual under the age of 18 on two or more occasions within three months rather than on three or more occasions. However, this proposal is not far-reaching enough. Shopkeepers who persistently sell alcohol to children should be made aware that this behaviour may result in the permanent closure of their premises. Further measures must be put in place to encourage sensible drinking, as alcohol abuse has a direct impact on crime.
Approximately 1 million people were subjected to alcohol-related violence in 2007 and 2008, according to the British Crime Survey. This figure is compounded by the 26 per cent increase in alcohol-related admissions to A&E between 2005 and 2007. I strongly welcome the stance taken by Her Majesty’s Official Opposition that local authorities should be given the power to apply 24-hour drinking laws at their own discretion. I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House on binge drinking. Binge drinking is a blight on our society, as it not only damages health and results in accidents and violence but breaks families and makes our streets unsafe in the evenings.
Clauses 96 and 97 relate to the provisions on the retention and destruction of DNA samples. I am aware that instances may arise when the retention of DNA samples contributes to protecting the public from danger, as identified by the Metropolitan Police. I acknowledge that the Government have made attempts to amend this provision in accordance with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, but it is probable that the proposed retention periods will cause disquiet in certain quarters. To hold the DNA of individuals who have been arrested without charge on the presumption that they may commit an offence in the future could have undesirable implications, particularly for ethnic minorities.
I asked a Question in this Chamber exactly one month ago about the disproportionate number of black people who are stopped and searched compared with white citizens. Unfortunately, this trend is reflected in the DNA database, which contains information on approximately 40 per cent of black males in Britain compared with 9 per cent of their white counterparts. I therefore urge the police to exercise their powers with care and caution and ensure that there are reasonable grounds for arrest before taking anyone’s DNA.
The retention of DNA generally needs to be scrutinised fully at later stages of the Bill. The powers that the police have under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act have already been criticised, as it is felt that a high proportion of people from the ethnic minorities have been stopped and searched under those provisions. We need to re-examine these powers when we consider the Bill’s provisions to ensure that they are fair and equitable.
Twelve years have elapsed and there is very little evidence that this promise has been honoured. Violent crime has increased by almost 80 per cent since 1998, with an average of 400 knife crimes committed per week. I gain no pleasure from describing the disturbing situation in which we find ourselves. Crime and policing should not be party-political issues; it is in the best interests of society as a whole that we propose amendments and scrutinise this Bill, as that will produce tangible results.