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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his further reflection on those matters. They arose as a result of an amendment tabled and moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral.

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31 [Fines officers]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 60:


    Page 14, line 36, leave out "(whenever passed)"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will deal with all the amendments in this group together, as they all flow from the clarification of the meaning of "enactment" introduced by Amendment No. 160 to Clause 97. That amendment introduces to the Bill a definition of "enactment" to ensure that there is no doubt that the word also includes subordinate legislation and that it refers to an enactment whenever passed or made. The amendment also makes clear that the clauses dealing with Northern Ireland are also included.

The other amendments in the group all flow from that amendment. Amendments Nos. 60 and 85 simply remove the words "whenever passed" where they appear after the word "enactment" in those clauses. Amendments Nos. 114 and 122 both remove the words "whenever passed" and ensure that those provisions also refer to revoking an enactment. As noble Lords will no doubt know, "revoke" is the correct term when referring to subordinate legislation. Amendments Nos. 129 and 157 simply ensure that reference is included to revoking an enactment. This is a technical drafting matter. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 61:


    Page 15, line 4, leave out "Schedule 2, or"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 62 and 63.

This is the first amendment on the important issue of fines. The Bill enables the Lord Chancellor to amend the operation of the fines collection scheme that is being piloted. That means that the scheme that will ultimately be implemented may bear little resemblance to the one debated in the House. The amendment would delete the power of the Lord Chancellor to modify or alter Schedule 2 without the approval of Parliament.

We realise that the scheme must have some flexibility in order to produce the best possible scheme to be implemented. However, we feel that the Bill allows too much. Allowing fines officers to have a quasi-judicial function is a large step, and it must be monitored. It is vital that we do not blur the line between administration and the Bench. The European Convention on Human Rights requires punishment to be imposed by an independent and impartial tribunal, after a fair and public hearing. The Bill could be interpreted as not complying with that requirement. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we support the amendment. If we are to come up with a schedule that is substantially modified, as compared with that which appears in the Bill, there ought to be a proper parliamentary procedure, involving affirmative rather than negative resolution.

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4.45 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the provisions of Clause 31 are necessary if we are to implement the best possible fines collection scheme. By piloting different elements of the scheme in different areas, we will ensure that the effectiveness of the new measures can be evaluated. We will then be able to adjust any parts of the scheme that are found to be ineffective and put to Parliament for approval a package of tried and trusted measures for national roll-out.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 62, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay of St Johns and Lady Seccombe, would prevent the modification of Schedule 2 before or after the pilot schemes for which Clause 31 allows. Amendment No. 63 would make the regulations setting out the detail of the fines collection scheme subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses for raising again the important issue of appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. I understand their concern to ensure that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said so eloquently on the previous occasion,


    "what we see is what we get".—[Official Report, 10/2/03; col. 510.]

The Bill provides for the use of the negative resolution procedure for the details of the pilots and, subsequently, the affirmative resolution procedure for the entire package, as determined in the light of the pilots. Thus, the scheme finally arrived at will receive full parliamentary scrutiny. However, as I said in Committee on 10th February—I refer noble Lords to col. 511 of Hansard—the provision in Clause 31(5), which allows modifications of Schedule 2, is necessary if we are to get full value from the pilots. As several noble Lords made plain during the debates, the enforcement measures are a significant departure from existing practice, and the Government believe that they should be thoroughly tested before implementation. Amendment No. 61 would remove the flexibility to test different parts of the scheme in different areas, defeating the point of having a pilot scheme.

The Government are further considering how to develop the arrangements. We are considering whether to add to the scheme by making wider use of attachment of earnings and deductions from benefits in the fines collection scheme, particularly for offenders with a track record of default. We are also considering whether to create a new offence penalising those who fail to provide means information and/or the financial details necessary to allow an attachment order to be made. In the light of such considerations, I give the House early warning that we may introduce further amendments to the schedule in another place. Noble Lords will, of course, have the opportunity to consider them in due course.

In addition, the Home Office is examining the feasibility of alternative sentences, including unpaid work instead of fines in particular circumstances. If the new amendments and alternative sentences are taken forward—I say "if" because it is right for the House to be apprised of the fact that that is within contemplation

8 May 2003 : Column 1257

and is likely to occur after the Bill leaves this place—they will need to be piloted along with those already set out in Schedule 2.

Under the current provisions, once the pilot schemes have been evaluated, the Lord Chancellor may make an order under Clause 31(8) modifying Schedule 2 and associated legislation, in the light of experience gained. Amendment No. 62 would remove that power. The effect would be that, even if an element of the scheme were found to be ineffective or unworkable, it would have to remain in the scheme, because it would be impossible to modify or remove it. I cannot believe that that is what noble Lords on the Benches opposite or the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, would wish. Furthermore, any temporary alterations to existing enactments in connection with the operation of the pilots would not be made permanent. That would render the whole scheme unworkable on implementation.

As the scheme stands, any permanent modifications to Schedule 2 and/or existing enactments would be subject to affirmative resolution by virtue of Clause 98 before the scheme was rolled out nationally. We would have an opportunity to taste and see if it was good. If it was good, we could bring it back to the House, which would have the opportunity to consider it using the affirmative resolution procedure. If it were not satisfactory, we would not have to proceed with it. We would have a basis on which this House and another place would be able to make an informed decision. That is the better way.

Amendment No. 63 would go further, by making any regulations on fine enforcement made under the Bill subject to affirmative resolution. As I made clear in Committee, the Government do not believe that the detailed arrangements for the Schedule 2 pilots should require a high level of parliamentary scrutiny. That view was accepted by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, which found that making the power for fines regulation subject to negative resolution represented appropriate delegation and the correct level of parliamentary control.

The Government understand the concerns expressed about modifications to the scheme without explicit consent through affirmative resolution, but the Bill already prevents the fines collection scheme from being implemented nationally, unless Parliament has approved the final scheme in that way.

In the light of what I said—it was as clear an explanation as I could muster—I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment. The scheme that we have set out provides the House and another place with the clarity and opportunity that they, rightly, should have.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his support. We are in a whole new world of human rights legislation, so there is much to consider. I thank the noble Baroness for her very detailed reply and her explanation of the new

8 May 2003 : Column 1258

thinking in the Lord Chancellor's Department. It may be enough for us not to bring the amendment back at Third Reading, but because there is so much in what she said, we should like to consider. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 not moved.]

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 64:


    After Clause 31, insert the following new clause—


"POWER OF THE COURT TO ORDER FINES OFFICERS TO REPORT BACK TO COURT
A magistrates' court may require a fines officer to report to it on the conduct of any case."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we are very concerned about the removal of powers from magistrates to fines officers. Currently, there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that magistrates can keep control of a case and exercise their judicial function rather than handing it over to the fines officers. We were told by the Minister in Committee that the court may reserve a case to itself by not making a matter subject to the fines collection scheme or that a fines officer simply can refer a case back to a court. However, there is nothing in the Bill to state this.

We are particularly concerned with the issue of a court being able to keep control of a case when the punishment will concern a clamping order. If such an order needs to be made, it should be made by the magistrate or the judge concerned with the case. It is imperative that magistrates keep judicial control of a case even where it is useful to use the functions of a fines officer. Again, this relates to the issue of human rights. It makes sense to include in the Bill provisions for magistrates to keep control of a case and manage the fine even if they are not dealing with the administration. I beg to move.


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