My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for this, my maiden speech. It is with much humility that I rise to speak. I hope that my words prove worthy of the debate. I feel especially privileged to speak on a day when this House remembers the victims of two world wars and other conflicts. I appreciate the warm and friendly reception that I have received from all sides of the House—why, it is just like being in Cheltenham!
I understand that I am one of the youngest Members of this place. My younger daughter is only two, but I should formally deny the story that I asked one of your Lordships whether this House had any crèche facilities, and received the reply: “What, for your daughter, or for you?”.
As a lawyer, I have a particular interest in this Bill. Indeed, I once had a client who went to prison for something that he and the police knew that he did not do: he did not wipe his fingerprints off the safe in the bank that he robbed!
I am reminded also of the barrister who said to his client after the trial, “I am sorry I couldn’t do more for you”. The client replied, “Oh, that’s all right. Ten years was plenty!”.
Without an effective police force, stopping criminals, especially in the “big league” of crime, is like trying to catch the wind in a net. We have the best police force in the world; but there is always room for improvement. Nothing is harder on our laurels than resting on them. That is why I fully support the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in advancing the progress of the Bill.
The power of an idea can be measured by the people it touches. Ultimately, the people who will benefit from the Bill will be victims of crime. They are central to this debate. Anything that can help victims—by solving crime more quickly, or even preventing it from happening in the first place— must be encouraged. Criminals have a choice; many victims do not.
The Bill targets organised crime such as drug trafficking. That is an increasing threat, so we need to develop a more nationally co-ordinated response to combat it. Too many young people are exposed to drugs, and the bait hides the hook of addiction. Those potential victims need protection. The Police Bill will establish a national crime squad with the police at the helm. It would help if self- confessed drug users such as Liam Gallagher, of the pop group Oasis, were not portrayed as heroes by the media. Surely the young need better role models.
As we heard, the Bill will also build on measures set out in the Security Service Act 1996, which allows the Security Service to support the police. The service has a proven record of providing long- term surveillance, intelligence gathering and analysis. Those are precisely the skills that are needed against organised crime. There are huge amounts of money to be made in the criminal 805 big league. Those involved will seek to hide like a spider behind a web of intrigue, spun around overseas bank accounts, properties and innocent looking business concerns.
I had to represent such a man, who ran a car import/export business. He owned homes and nightclubs around the world. He was very good at buying and selling cars. The only problem was that they tended to be stolen cars. The case was in for plea and directions at the Crown Court. He arrived, asking me whether the hearing would take long because his Rolls Royce was on a meter and his chauffeur was waiting! After the case I stood outside the court at a bus stop, chastising myself for having forgotten my umbrella as the rain was pouring down. A few minutes later a blue Rolls Royce cruised by and the electric-powered, darkened window slid down. As the rain poured down my miserable face, my client cheerily asked me whether I wanted a lift. I declined politely through gritted teeth. The case against that man eventually collapsed because there were technical, albeit important, gaps in the evidence that the police could not fill. I believe that this Police Bill will make it easier for the police to gather evidence required to convict in these more complex cases.
The Bill will also enable employers to check employees’ criminal records more easily. That is especially needed to vet those who seek to work closely with children. Preventing child abuse is vital because the damaged child can become the dangerous adult. Echoing the words of John Milton: Childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day”. The days of Dixon of Dock Green are long gone. We need a police force which is able to deal with the criminal of the 21st century. That is what this Bill is all about. I support the Police Bill and hope it will continue to proceed in an orderly direction.