Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Clarke: This has been an interesting discussion. In response to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, I will let the Committee into the mind of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. While examining the issue, he and I discovered an arcane system of byelaws—what they are and how they are made—that shocked him. In party political vein, I could add that that is all part of the Tory inheritance that we are trying to deal with.

Mr. Heald: Will the Minister say how long the procedures for byelaws have been in place? I think that it is at least 150 years.

Mr. Clarke: One of my great political regrets is that the Conservatives have been in power for more of the past 150 years than the Labour party. I am glad to repeat the Prime Minister's phrase that the 21st century will be the progressive, and not the conservative, century. I assure the hon. Member for Reigate that the words ``Tory split'' will never pass my lips in the context of this debate; that would be inappropriate.

The points made by the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for Reigate are correct. I would like to reinforce a point that they did not make—[Laughter.] The thought police are here. We are talking about replacing a series of local byelaws with a national framework. One reason for that is to achieve consistency across the country so that, for example, people travelling from Bradford to Blackpool or Brighton on holiday—as people from Bradford often do—will be subject to broadly the same legal framework. There is a national, as well as a general, argument for that. It will not only simplify procedures but establish some national consistency.

We agree that there would be confusion if a national framework was side by side with local byelaws, which is why we do not accept amendments Nos. 64 and 65. There are issues about the framework's operation, but it would be unreasonable to think that a local authority should chose to take the byelaw route rather than the national one that we are establishing. I hope that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will withdraw amendment No. 64 and will not press amendment No. 65.

I am more sympathetic to amendment No. 129, tabled by the hon. Member for Reigate. It deals with a serious issue. One reason why we decided on 10 years, which may seem rather arbitrary, was because of the 10-year limit in respect of byelaws concerning dog fouling. I will examine his point about whether five years, or a shorter period, might be a more appropriate time scale with a view to tabling a Government amendment on Report. However, I want to discuss with the Local Government Association and other relevant bodies their thoughts and feelings on the matter before committing myself to five years or coming back with a recommendation. Given my assurance that the Government will seriously consider an amendment on Report to reduce the 10-year period, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

11.30 am

Although I understand that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath does not want an overweening Government to have the right to override the wishes of local authorities, it would be worse for citizens, and more difficult for the police, if parallel sets of legislation were in force beyond a transitional period whose length can be debated. I therefore hope that he will not press the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: Our probing amendments have proved to be worthwhile as they have succeeded in provoking an interesting debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate is correct that a judgment call must be made, and I am grateful that the Minister has acknowledged that the comparative power of central Government and local government is an important issue.

The Minister is wise to consider further amendment No. 129, which addresses the sunset clause issue. A local authority is unlikely to forget what byelaws are in place over a five-year period. However, over a longer period, such as 10 years, during which time a number of its officers and councillors might move on or retire, there is a danger that an authority might believe that byelaws were still in force, whereas under the Bill, they would automatically lapse. The Government must consider that issue when pondering what to do on Report, but if they want to include a sunset clause, five years might be preferable to 10.

I am grateful to the Minister for taking the matter seriously, and I accept that the Government have decided which side of the dividing line to come down on. I also welcome his assurance that he will keep the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate under review.

As the Committee has had a worthwhile debate and the matter has been sufficiently probed, I do not seek to pursue it further, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18

Interpretation of sections 14 to 17.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 66, in page 9, line 40, at end insert—

    `(f) the Greater London Authority'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 74, in clause 30, page 24, line 3, at end insert—

    `(vi) The Greater London Authority'.

Mr. Hawkins: The Committee is aware that amendment No. 74 relates to clause 30, and that it matches amendment No. 66, which relates to clause 18. They are intended to probe why the Greater London Authority is not included in the lists. In the light of what the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood said earlier, she may suggest that the Government should at least consider whether town or parish councils should be included, but the Minister answered that by saying that he feels that although the views of town or parish councils might be taken into account in respect of the regulations, they should not be decision-making bodies. However, that argument cannot apply to the Greater London Authority.

It might be the case that there are major problems in the relationship between the Government and the system that they set up for London. Perhaps that is because the Government's preferred candidate for Mayor of London came a humiliating fourth in the poll, as we all remember. It might also be the case that the only good ideas about law and order in relation to London are coming from Conservative Members of the Greater London Authority. I and some of my colleagues have held discussions with them and we know that they have very good ideas about the subject.

We thought that it was right to probe the Government because we are surprised that the Greater London Authority is not on the list of local authorities in clause 18, although unitary authorities, county councils and London borough councils are. We hope that the Government will set out their reason for including London borough councils and not the Greater London Authority, and we look forward to hearing justification of the Government's position.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I do not support the amendments but, logically, the Government should. They got into a terrible muddle when the Greater London Authority Bill went through Parliament—I have first-hand experience of that because I had the long and laborious task of serving on the Committee. I think that I am the only Member who served on both the Committee to abolish the Greater London council and the Committee to establish its successor. I was delighted to serve on the latter Committee, although not the first.

During proceedings on the Greater London Authority Bill, the Government started by defining the Greater London Authority as regional government. However, the Deputy Prime Minister became cool on regional government—particularly London regional government where things may not go to plan—so the definition became a unique form of government that was not regional government. By the end of the Committee stage, the definition was local government, which was not the initial plan. However, if the Greater London Authority is defined as local government, it should be included in the clause because the clause refers to local authorities.

I believe that the Greater London Authority should be defined as regional government rather than local government. In the Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Bill, we debated the fact that it is a form of regional government that is castrated, weakened, hamstrung and tied to the apron strings. Sadly, that is still the case and would be the case even if Labour had won the mayoral election.

Logically, the orders to designate public places should be made by proper local government. In London, that constitutes 32 London borough councils and the City of London. It would not be appropriate for the orders to be made by the tier above that, which has specific functions, and certainly not for them to be made by regional government. I oppose the amendments but if the Government are consistent they will, no doubt, support them.

Mr. Heald: The amendment would allow the Greater London Authority to set zones over a wide area. However, it also gives the Minister an opportunity to explain, in more detail, exactly how he envisages that the provisions will work.

For example, there may be a street, each side of which is in a different borough. One borough council may think that the road should be designated while the other does not. That will create problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath mentioned the Police Federation. Its chairman, Fred Broughton, wrote to me about the practicality of enforcing such zones, saying that they

    ``would be brought quickly into disrepute by drinkers moving just out of reach and taunting officers accordingly, bringing the enforcement of such zones quickly into disrepute.''

It would help if the Minister would explain how he envisages enforcement working in the context of a big city. Will there be cases of one borough saying that the left-hand side of a road should be designated, while the neighbouring borough says no?

What does the Minister think would be the size of a designated area? Would it be a whole city, an area around a row of shops, or a bit of both? It would be a pity if the measure was introduced and it was then found that nothing could be done about youngsters who are discovered, standing 2 ft beyond the zone, drinking alcohol in the street and being a nuisance. I should be grateful if the Minister would flesh out his vision of the proposals in more detail.

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Prepared 27 February 2001