|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Heald: Will the Minister describe that a little more clearly? I am not A, but B; however, I find that because I have been summonsed I have a fine registered against me and I am in the magistrates defaulters court. What happens?
Mr. Lock: The hon. Gentleman is in exactly the same position as if someone pretended to be Oliver Heald and was served with a parking ticket, or if someone was stopped for any other offence and gave the hon. Gentleman's name and he were summonsed as a result. The answer is that he simply has to prove that he is not the person to whom the police issued the penalty, in exactly the same way as in the other circumstances. Given that the hon. Gentleman's appearance is very distinctive, if I may say so, I would not have thought that in his case that is likely to be a matter of enormous controversy.
Mr. Hawkins: The debate that the Minister is having with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire prompts another thought in my mind. The Minister will be aware that there has been extensive concern and campaigns, not least in the Evening Standard, about how fixed penalties have been pursued through various London boroughs. Entirely innocent motorists have found it almost impossible to challenge them. Is not the Minister opening up a fresh can of worms for anybody who has been on the receiving endas I and many other hon. Members have beenof such nonsense? When one goes to the parking adjudicator or the parking committee for London, they simply cannot reverse any fixed penalty because the Labour-run London boroughs are so inefficient that they will not talk to the parking commission.
Mr. Lock: I was waiting for the pejorative sting in the tail, and of course it camerather galling, rather inaccurate, but rather predictable. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman simply does not appreciate the nature of the structure that is being erected. The cases will come before the magistrates court. To pursue the analogy, if the defendant is called and says, ``I am the true Oliver Heald. The person who was found drunk and disorderly on Chippenham High Street at 11 o'clock last Friday night cannot have been me; I was attending to my parliamentary duties in my constituency,'' I would expect the court to adjourn under clause 12(3) for the claim to be investigated. When it was proved conclusively that the hon. Gentleman was indeed attending to the affairs of his constituents, the confidence that we all have in magistrates courtsI know that the hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said how much he admires them, and I am sure that he would agree that they would investigate such an allegation with scrupulous carewould be justified by its being proved that, whoever it was the police served a notice on in Chippenham high street at 11 o'clock on Friday night, was not the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire; he would be able to walk away without a stain on his character and it would have been proved that the appeals system had worked perfectly well.
The final point that I wanted to answer was that raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and the Justices' Clerks Society. It is of course true that as a result of the Narey reform introduced by the current Government, defendants are coming before the courts much faster than they ever did under the previous Government. Early first hearings are resulting in a number of offenders having their cases disposed of the day after the offence was committed. That is a good thing. Low-level public disorder offencessay, drunkennessare entirely suitable for Narey-type hearings. Therefore, an individual can either be given a fixed penalty notice or be brought before the court the following day having sobered up in the cells overnight, but probably still be given a financial penalty. These are analogous cases.
If people charged with more serious offences were brought before the court the following day on an early directions hearing, fixed penalty notices would not be suitable. Therefore, while I understand the point made by the clerks that the courts are working so swiftly these days that many low-level disorder cases are processed through the courts very quickly. Where Narey hearings are working well, they are nearly as efficient and fast as the provision of a fixed penalty notice. That is a factor on which police officers will have to exercise discretion as to whether, on the facts of the individual case, there should be a fixed penalty notice.
I have attempted to respond to the various points that have been raised. I hope that I have explained why the system we propose is one of a range of options that the Government believe should be given to the police to enable them to deal with low-level disorder offences of the sort set out in clause 1, such as being drunk in a highway, other public place or licensed premises, a minor case of throwing stones at the railwaynot the type of major incident referred to by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondseyand low-level criminal damage. I hope that the clause, as drafted, commends itself to the Committee.
Mr. Heald: I thank the Minister for that response. He answered fully five of the questions asked by the Criminal Bar Association. However, I noticed that on many occasions he referred to future guidance under clause 6, and that is a matter of concern.
Given the views of Association of Chief Police Officers, we cannot support the clause while it includes criminal damage or while there are no safeguards in respect of paperwork for the police. As the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation have raised the matter, we need to be satisfied that there will be no extra paperwork involved. If the Minister can satisfy us in coming days on the remaining five matters raised by the Criminal Bar Association and on the issue of paperwork, on Reportassuming we win the Divisionwe will table a new clause that provides for fixed penalty notices in a way that reflects the views of ACPO, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation.
Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.
Division No. 4]
Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: Before we move on to clause 2, it may be convenient for members of the Committee to be aware that if there is a Division on the Floor of the House I shall, as is customary, suspend the Committee for 15 minutes, and for another 15 minutes after the start of the second Division, should there be one.
I have agreed through the usual channels that the Committee will sit until 7.30 pm, not 7 pm, on the understanding that thereafter we shall not sit again tonight.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 6 February 2001|