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Mr. Hughes: That is a proper question. I think that the Minister knows that I am as open as he is to trying to deal with that issue. I shall not go down that road in detail now; suffice it to say that we should agree a series of steps leading to legislation. I have said what I think they ought to be, in general terms. Indeed, with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, we have built in another step. It produced its first report--on this Bill--as a holding operation the other day. If we agreed such steps, we could negotiate and--depending on the length of the Bill, and as long as there was representation across the parties from Front and Back Benchers--there could be agreement, other than for exceptional measures, for timetables throughout the year.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): There is a far more effective way of achieving the hon. Gentleman's aim. It is to expose all Bills to the Special Standing Committee procedure, whereby, whatever their
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) responds, I should point out that I have allowed him a certain latitude because other hon. Members have dwelt on the same point. However, this debate is not about our legislative processes in this House--however interesting those may be. This is Third Reading, and I should be grateful if the hon Gentleman would turn his attention to that.
Mr. Hughes: I made those introductory remarks because of the nature of the substance of the issues before us. I shall move on, but in order not to be discourteous, I shall first say to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that I have always taken the view that he has just expressed. In my experience, legislatures that do their job well follow a process very similar to the one that he proposes.
My final conclusion about our proceedings on the Bill is that when we legislate in haste, we often repent at leisure. We suffer far too much from trying to legislate when alternatives would be better. We should legislate only when we really must, rather than just when we think that it would be a good idea. The fundamental point about the Bill is that we should give more power to the authorities only when we are absolutely persuaded that that is necessary to deal with the problem.
One of the evils of the parts of the Bill of which I and my hon. Friend disapprove is that whenever Governments are not sure how to react to a problem, they come up with a proposal to give the authorities more power. That is the wrong conclusion in periods of uncertainty when the case is not made. It tilts the balance between the liberty of the citizen and the power of the state. It is another ratchet in the direction of the state, and I regret it because in this country the state still has considerable power, and the citizen is losing power relative to the state all the time because of technology, globalisation and other things.
Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): It may be true in general that there is always an argument for spending more time on legislation. The hon. Gentleman made a point about legislating in haste and repenting at leisure. How does he reconcile that with the comments made by the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) about the urgent need for action to deal with internet- related offences against children? The argument has been advanced that the technology is moving so rapidly that we must think carefully about what legislation is appropriate to deal with the concerns.
Mr. Hughes: The ideas expressed by my hon. Friend and others have been around in that specific form for almost a year. I have said on other occasions that in the context of changing technology, it is necessary to review the law regularly--but, as the hon. Member for Workington said, we must first check out the facts and the evidence.
Ministers know that the Government have the support of the Liberal Democrats on some parts of the Bill, where we have no argument with them. Measures concerning drink and drugs are important, because unless we can
If we say that it is against the law to sell alcohol to the under-18s, we must have a law that works and is not so widely abused as the current one is, whether by off-licences, supermarkets or public houses. It is certainly appropriate to be able to give people working in the licensed trade additional power to deal with people who are clearly drunk either when they come in or when they remain on the premises. On all those matters, Ministers know that we are going in the same direction as they are.
Ministers also know that we share their view that people who have trafficked in drugs--international traffic in drugs is the most common serious form of trafficking--can reasonably be penalised by being prevented from travelling. That will have a great effect on their trafficking--although I know that it is naive to assume that much of the large-scale import and export of drugs is done by the people who carry them, and that if we clip their wings we will have a great effect on some of the problems.
The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) made an important addition to the debate this evening. He spoke about protecting people who have suffered excess harassment and intimidation, especially from so-called animal rights activists. As colleagues will know, we broadly support moving down that road. There was a debate about the definition, and a difference between us, but in general terms we accept that it is right to take further action.
A measure that is good, but does not go far enough, is the provision to protect witnesses and victims from intimidation. The matter is addressed in the Bill, but not in a way that will work in practice. I am sick to death--or rather, I am sick of it and other people are sometimes sick to injury or death--of the fact that people who have been intimidated or harassed cannot be moved quickly enough for their protection. We do not yet have a system that delivers that, and people often pay the price in unacceptable ways. As a last postscript, may I add that some of the new arrestable offences were perfectly reasonable?
We have said throughout that there are some provisions that we do not support. For example, we have not supported the excessively wide powers of transferring information or of being able to access information that is held by the private citizen.
Some extremely controversial, and in my view unacceptable, powers will allow people to be detained for longer periods by the authorities, who will be able to judge the appropriateness of that detention by doing no more than speaking to the individual on the phone, or
Of the three most controversial areas of the Bill, we have debated two to a significant degree, but certainly not the third. The proposed fixed-penalty notice system is no less nonsensical now than it was when it started. Consideration in Committee showed that it was more nonsensical than previously thought, and exposed the folly of the system.
We either have one type of justice system that applies across the range of offences, or we go to a two-type justice system. There would be an on-the-spot system to deal with what the Government of the day think should be dealt with in that way, with other matters going through the courts. We resist that. Someone might want a licence to drive, to fly or to do something else. Those things come within the definition of ordinary activities of the citizen. However, if individuals abuse their freedoms and break the law, they should be dealt with by due process.
Consideration in Committee provided evidence that if the Government had thought matters through, they would have at least come to the conclusion that on arrest, someone should be taken to the police and charged. He or she could then be offered the opportunity of a fixed-penalty reduction and immediate disposal. That would have been a far better approach.
I promise the House that with the fixed-penalty notice we are increasingly seeing the rich and the advantaged getting a better deal out of the criminal justice system. The people at the bottom end of the scale are becoming more vulnerable and more at risk from instant justice, which is not what we have traditionally guaranteed for our citizens.
I was not persuaded by anything that the Minister of State said about extending curfews--which have not even been used for under-10s--to those under 16. I am not persuaded that that is the right way to proceed. We should deal with individuals, not areas. We should identify individual culprits, and not seek to identify and define areas that are more liable to have within them criminal communities.
I shall give a practical example: the continuing investigation into the tragic death of Damilola Taylor, in the borough that I represent. In reality, the area where most of the criminals come from is not the area where most of the crimes are committed. Where should the curfew be imposed? Should it be where the offenders live or where the crimes are committed? It cannot be argued logically that curfews should be imposed in both areas unless we are prepared to take in a huge area in which a huge number of the liberties of a huge number of young people will be affected.