Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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New clause 19

Sex offender orders made in Scotland or Northern Ireland

    'After section 2A of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c.37) (which is inserted by section (Interim orders: sex offenders) above) there shall be inserted—

    ''2B Sex offender orders made in Scotland or Northern Ireland

    (1) If without reasonable excuse a person does anything in England and Wales which he is prohibited from doing there by—

    (a) an order under section 20(4) below; or

    (b) an order under Article 6 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/ 2839 (N.I. 20)),

    he is guilty of an offence.

    (2) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above shall be liable—

    (a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both; or

    (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine, or to both.

    (3) Where a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) above, it shall not be open to the court by or before which he is convicted to make an order under subsection (1)(b) (conditional discharge) of section 12 of the Powers of Criminal Courts

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    (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c.6) in respect of the offence.'''.—[Mr. Denham.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New clause 2

Riot damages

    'The Riot (Damages) Act 1886 (s. 38) shall cease to have effect.'.—[Norman Baker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Norman Baker: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Like many members of the Committee, I had not heard of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 until the Yarl's Wood fire. Along with other MPs, I was horrified to learn that in the aftermath, the private company that runs Yarl's Wood had hit taxpayers with a bill of £97 million for the riots in February, lodged by a Lloyd's syndicate against Bedfordshire policy authority. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—the local MP—branded the claim ''Complete and utter nonsense'' and urged the Government to resolve the issue because it was stifling the policy on asylum.

It is clear that it is inappropriate that the police authority or the Government should be held responsible for a bill along the lines of that which was submitted under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. I wonder whether such an incident was in the mind of the legislators who drafted that Act more than 115 years ago. The Minister may say that other provisions may be worth keeping, but I hope that he will take the opportunity to comment on the claim to which I referred. Does he accept why hon. Members are uncomfortable with a situation in which the public is faced with a big bill as a consequence of activities that are beyond their responsibility?

Mr. Denham: I do not blame the hon. Member for Lewes for tabling the new clause, although I shall be asking the Committee to reject it. I shall not discuss individual cases because, as yet, no claims under the Riot (Damages) Act in respect of the events of the past 12 months have been accepted by the police authorities. It would be wrong to anticipate such claims.

Mr. Hawkins: On a technical point, I appreciate that the Minister is saying that no claims have been accepted, but does he acknowledge the reports in the press of claims being made under the Act?

Mr. Denham: Yes, I am absolutely certain that that is right. My ministerial responsibility covered the disturbances in the north of England last summer more than it did the Yarl's Wood case. Claims were certainly made, but to the best of my knowledge, there has been no admission of liability in any of those cases. None the less, the issue was clearly brought to the fore by those events.

As the Government said in another place, we are pursuing a review of the Riot (Damages) Act, and I said as much to the Home Affairs Committee in its hearings on the Police Reform Bill. We will be examining several issues as part of the review, such

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as the pattern of claims that have been received. With the Association of British Insurers, we shall be considering the implications of appeals for insurance costs. We shall be considering the approach to the matter in Scotland, where local authorities are liable for riot damages under the Riotous Assemblies Act 1822. When we have completed the review, we shall report back.

It is fairly obvious that a simple repeal of the Act is not as straightforward as it might at first appear. The review is addressing some complex issues. I do not blame the hon. Member for Lewes, but the new clause does not suggest alternative arrangements for those who may be left without their home or their business as a consequence of riot or those who were unable to afford insurance cover. Issues such as that and how people will be provided for should be examined.

We accept that there is usually no case for public compensation for criminal damage. Historically, riots have been considered a special case. Compensation has provided a safety net for businesses and households in areas that might be most prone to public disorder. Equally, however, those are areas in which affordable insurance might be most difficult to obtain.

Simply trying to repeal the Act to meet one criticism of it could result in other problems that would not have been dealt with. It is right for the Government to consider such issues in the round before deciding whether there is an alternative way forward.

Norman Baker: I am grateful for the Minister's comments. To what time scale is he operating? When does he expect to reach a conclusion on the review?

3.30 pm

Mr. Denham: I am not in a position to be definite about that. We are anxious not to do anything that might be regarded or interpreted as prejudicing current issues and outstanding claims.

We said when we launched the review that it was urgent. Subject to those wider considerations, I hope that we shall make good progress.

Mr. Paice: I sympathise with the hon. Member for Lewes in tabling the new clause, because the issue has hit the headlines as a result of the case of Yarl's Wood. Despite what the Minister said to the Select Committee, its view was that the legislation should be repealed. However, I am more inclined to support the Minister's view that a straightforward repeal seems inadequate. Like a lot of legislation that has been on the statute book for more than 100 years, the legislation could do with updating and modernising—not that I necessarily believe that everything should be modernised for the sake of it.

The Minister is right. Serious problems need to be tackled. Many of us are aware of insurance policies for which riot is an exclusion. It seems unfair on people who lose property or have property damaged as a result of riot that neither their insurers nor anyone else will pay up, even though they are entirely blameless, whereas if someone had set fire to their property for another reason, such as arson, it would have been covered.

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The issue should be dealt with urgently. I endorse what the hon. Member for Lewes effectively implied in his intervention—for goodness' sake, hurry up. The matter needs to be dealt with before another dreadful situation such as that at Yarl's Wood. I realise that the Minister cannot comment on individual cases, but I hope that he will take on board the fact that concern about the matter is widespread and that it is time that the legislation was updated.

Mr. Hawkins: In light of the Minister's response, which related to what he told the Home Affairs Committee, I looked back to confirm my memory that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) who wisely raised the matter in her role as a member of that Committee when it cross-examined the Minister. I discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire in light of the Yarl's Wood fire. I recognise that a review may be necessary and the Minister said that that is now under way. That development has happened since he gave evidence, as at the time he could not say as much as he has said today.

I appreciate that the Minister must be cautious in what he says even today, but it would help if that review were to be urgent, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Lewes said. We should not risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It may be necessary to introduce a measure that amends the 1886 Act but does not entirely get rid of the principle. We hope that the Minister will expedite the review. We shall have other opportunities to examine its results.

Norman Baker: I thank the Minister for his comments. I can say candidly that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and I did not have absolute conviction that the new clause was definitely the right road to go down, but we wanted to remind the Minister and the Committee about a serious issue that needs examining quickly.

The Minister is right to say that all ramifications and implications must be considered. This serious issue has been raised on more than one occasion and it cannot be ignore. I hope that the Minister has received a further wake-up call today and that he will soon bring forward proposals to deal with this current problem in law. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New clause 5

Police pensions

    '.—(1) The Police Pensions Act 1976 shall cease to have effect from 31st March 2005.

    (2) By 31st March 2003, the Secretary of State shall bring forward proposals for debate in both Houses of Parliament for the introduction, by 31st March 2005, of new pension arrangements for police officers, including arrangements to—

    (a) ensure that the full and ongoing costs of new arrangements are met from a pension fund established from the Consolidated Fund; and

    (b) ensure funding of pension payments shall be made by each police authority for whom the officer has worked in proportion to the length of service with each respective authority.'.—[Norman Baker.]

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Brought up, and read the First time.

 
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