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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Will the noble Lord explain, so that we have it on record, exactly what the civil penalty is, how it will work and whether eventually it could land anyone in gaol?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Ultimately, as with anti-social behaviour orders, which go through a civil process, or if someone defaults on making a payment, there is a possibility that they will face imprisonment. But that is not what we want to achieve. We have to have a penalty in place which is made clear to people who are determined to default on the scheme for whatever reasonmaybe a political reason. However, in general terms, there is no imprisonment for civil penalties.
I come back to the question asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. The advice I have is that the prescribed circumstances will be set out in the regulations, which will be detailed and will make exceptions and special provision for special cases. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made no adverse comment on those arrangements.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am quite well aware of thatit is to be found in Clause 43. But the point about it is that regulations are expressed to be at large; nobody knows what extent they will cover. The point I made standsthat if the measure is to be user friendly and certain, we ought to know on the face of the Bill in what circumstances it is necessary for somebody to notify a change of circumstance.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have been at pains to explain that the detail needs to be set out in secondary legislation. That is exactly how we envisage it working. The noble and learned Lord made the point earlier. I will reflect on it again and there will be more discussions on it. We may well be able to discuss it further with the noble and learned Lord.
Finally, the regime for civil penalties will be described in the code of practice. We shall make it clear in that, because it is a civil penalties regime, there will not be the possibility of imprisonment directly as a result of the civil penalty.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: It should be clear that if you fail to tell the authorities that you have got
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married, the bailiffs can come round and take the wedding presents. That is what a civil penalty is, and ultimately you can go to prison for it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord knows that civil penalties are imposed all the time and the circumstances he describes are extremely rare. To raise them is something of a red herring.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Because I am trying to avoid red herrings, will the Minister clarify the commitment that he gave to the Committee earlier with regard to what the Government intend may now happen as a result of the debate on this group of amendments? Is he saying that the Government will go away and consider the drafting of subsection (5), or is he saying that they will go away, look at the drafting of subsection (5) andtaking into account the views that have been so strongly put forward by the Committee on the issue of conveniencecome back with an amendment on Report that will put on the face of the Bill the fact that the convenience of the individual will be taken into account?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I will not go so far as the second of the two alternatives that the noble Baroness invited me to agree to. I am happy to give further consideration to the wordings that have been offered. I do not agree with them for the reasons I set out, but I see that noble Lords are concerned about the issue. I think that is based on misunderstandings and misapprehensions which in themselves I can understand. However, I am prepared to go no further than to say that we will have a look at the wording. I do not promise to bring back an amendment on the back of that, although clearly the amendments that have been moved today give us more than a clue to people's real concerns.
The Earl of Northesk: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, which has ended up lasting rather longer than I had anticipated. I also thank the Minister for his exposition of how the Government envisage the enrolment process will operate, but, bluntly, I would have preferred him to give us rather more detail. No doubt my noble friend Lord Crickhowell will have another go at the matter with his Amendment No. 160.
Amendment No. 106, with Amendment No. 170, deals with a rather narrower point than the general discussion we have had. Notwithstanding the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that it may move the position a little too far in favour of the individual citizen, it is none the less evident that the issue is of considerable concern to the Committee. If we remind ourselves that, at least initially, the scheme is intended to be voluntary, that addresses the concern on the basis that those seeking to enrol will be willing participants in the scheme and therefore will have no motive to spin the process out.
Moreover, as I indicated in my introduction, this is as much a matter of public trust as convenience. In terms, therefore, Amendment No. 106 represents an
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opportunity to add the value that the noble Baroness indicated was so desirable earlier in our proceedings. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, suggested, the aim of the amendment is merely to ameliorate the tone and feel of the Bill. I accept absolutely that the distance between myself and the Minister on this point is not all that wide, but as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, discerned so accurately, my view is that it should appear on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I put the Minister on notice that I will test the opinion of the Committee on Amendment No. 106 when it is called as the next amendment. But, certain that we will return to the broader issue later in Committee and on Report, for the moment I am content to withdraw Amendment No. 105 and beg leave so to do.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 106:
The noble Earl said: I beg to move.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 106) shall be agreed to?
*Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 79
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin not before 8.30 pm.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
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