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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): I should like to remind the Committee of what I said last time. I have no doubt that Members of the Committee have their own views on the Home Office and all sorts of other government departments. The fine levels are proposed in the light of advice from the Home Office and the responses received during the full public consultation on the smoke-free aspects of the Bill during the summer of last year.
The fine levels are maximum figures for offences at particular levels in the hierarchy of offences. I will not repeat the much longer account that I gave previously. If you regard a particular offence as justifying a particular level of fine, offenders will attract up to the maximum that is ascribed by government for that level of offence. That is all we have done here. The view was that the fine levels for some offences were too low and that they were in the wrong category of seriousness. I will not repeat the very long explanation that I gave on an earlier amendment, which is in Hansard, setting out how the offences in the Bill are aligned with other offences outside the terms of the Bill and the fines that they attract.
I also said that the fine levels we propose will create consistency with the majority of fine levels now in place in Scotland for the same offences under Scottish legislation. The only difference is that there is not the first option of a fixed-penalty notice for the offence of failing to display the appropriate signage in a smoke-free place. We have tried to align these offences and fine levels with the position in Scotland. I have nothing more to say except to remind the Committee that the fines are intended to be a deterrent so that people adhere to the requirements of this legislation. We have consulted on them. These are the fine levels that we think are appropriate. As I made clear earlier, we do not think that these should be in the Bill. Fine levels change and people need to learn from experience. It is more appropriate that they are set out in delegated legislation.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I do not want to keep the Committee long, but it seems that smokers are being
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treated as some of the worst criminals. That is most unfortunate bearing in mind that smoking is still legal in this country. Impositions are being placed on people who smoke which ought notas I have said so many times before, but I will repeatto be imposed in a free society.
The Minister said that the fines were reached after consultation. With whom was that consultation? Was it consultation with, for example, ASH or the British Heart Foundation? Or did consultation take place with smokers' organisations, such as FOREST? It would be interesting to know where the consultation was and whether there was any with people who smoke.
Lord Naseby: I was going to make a point on that. It would be enormously helpful if the Minister, either by way of letter to the Committee or in the Library, made it clear who, in the consultation, supported the Home Office on the level of fines the Minister is talking about. Secondly, I am now a little mystified, because my understanding was that there is no fine of £2,500 in Scotland, although I may be wrong. Perhaps he will indicate in his letter the levels of fines for the varyingI think he gave five categories at the last meetingfive categories, and compare them against Scotland. I would certainly find that helpful.
Lord Warner: There were 57,000 responses to the consultation last year. I am afraid I do not have all of them in my headI am sorry for the terrible dereliction of dutybut I understand that they included FOREST. I am not sure that a £50 fine for smokers puts them in the category of the worst criminals. Something must be going seriously wrong with the rest of the criminal justice system if that is where we are. I tried to explain beforeand will repeat because I am not sure that it has got across to all Members of the Committeethat the fines are up to a maximum. It does not follow that the court actually applies the maximum in all cases. Indeed, throughout the criminal justice system, we will find, week in, week out, that when people are fined the courts do not impose the maximum fine.
The £2,500 is the maximum for a level 4 offence. That is not to say that everybody who commits such an offence will be fined £2,500. I set out the various levels at great length, and the way in which particular offences fitted into them. I have an interesting table before me, setting out the offences and proposed fines in England, and the position in Scotland; looking down it, they seem remarkably similar. I will send it to all Members of the Committee, so that they can peruse it before our next sitting.
It is common practice across government to consult the Home Office on fine levels. That is what governments do: they go to the department with policy responsibility in this area. In consulting the Home
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Office, the Department of Health has done no different from any other government department on this.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to come back on this but, in giving us that information, can the Minister detail how the 57,000 figure was arrived at? For example, if the department received a petition with 17,500 names on it, is that included as 17,500 names or one petition? I also want to know whether FOREST was actually consulted about it and, if so, how. What were its responses? Also, did the responses include responses by email or through websites? It is important that we should know what consultation took place, which organisations and people were asked for their views, how they gave them, and exactly what scientific analysis was made of those responses.
Lord Warner: I have an interesting document which I will send to all Members of the Committee for their delectation. It will give them everything they wish to know about the consultation, including the fact that we went to FOREST, just as we went to many other people asking for their views. There were more than 50,000 responses from individuals. The fact that people sign a petition tends to show, in my experience, that they feel rather strongly about an issue, and that fact is not to be diminished. We will give the noble Lord and other noble Lords in Committee all the details of that consultation.
Lord Naseby: Clause 9 provides for fixed penalties in respect of three offences: smoking in a smoke-free place, failure to stop smoking, and failure to display required no smoking signage. The key part for me in this area is the arrival of the fixed-penalty notice, a beast that we have all grown to know; none of us loves it and most of us hate it. We need to reflect as legislators that this animal is not really justice; it is not a method of administering justice. Nor does it necessarily admit guilt. It shows that an authority believes that an infringement has been made and all parties think that if you pay a certain amount of money you will avoid prosecution, and it is an easy way to deal with what may or may not be a minor offence. Those of us who have had the great privilege of taking on Camden Borough Council for officiousness and overzealousness in relation to parking fines know that it is an uphill task for the ordinary citizen, in that there are notes by the person who puts the sign up and it is quite a challenge to get it overturned. In fact, for most district councils up and down the country it is a revenue raiser.
I am not sure how the issue is viewed in relation to the Bill, and I would be grateful to hear the Minister's view. Is it hoped that receipts from fixed-penalty
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notices will cover the costs of enforcement? Bearing in mind that the costs of enforcement are largely personnel costs, those costs must be quite substantial in Scotland. I am not sure whether we will mirror the level of activity that Scotland is undertaking. What happens if, as I suspect will happen, there is good compliance? I think the Minister expects good compliance, in which case there will not be very many fixed-penalty notices, and therefore there will not be many fines. Nevertheless, the cost factor is still there. The Minister will recall that I wrote a letter to him very early in our proceedings asking for his estimate of the costs of the implementation of the Bill, which was heavily skewed to the first year, but I doubt that he calculated the scenario that I have just painted. I shall have to listen to the Minister's reply.
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