Standing Committee F
Tuesday 13 February 2001
[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]
Amount of penalty and form of penalty notice
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 79, in page 3, line 20, leave out `give' and insert
`include a statement by a constable with respect to the alleged offence giving'.[Mr. Heald.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 17, in clause 6, page 4, line 18, at end insert
`and the constables' witness statement to be served therewith, including the form and length of such a statement.'.
No. 16, in clause 8, page 5, line 20, at end insert
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): We were debating at some length the statement by the constable and the nature of the notices. I emphasise that the penalty notice will be just that. It will include sufficient information about the offence, which is its purpose. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) was correct to say that the statutory defence is an identity. That would need to be considered, but a full statement should not be needed in every case.
It may help if I set out how the system will work. Under clause 3(3)(c), all fixed penalty notices must
``give such particulars of the circumstances alleged to constitute the offence as are necessary to provide reasonable information about it''.
The purpose is to allow the suspect, in the cold light of day and possibly on advice, to make a sober and rational judgment about whether to pay the penalty or request a trial, which is also set out on the fixed penalty notice. Under clause 8, we have allowed the possibility of the penalty notice, or any additional statement that the issuing officer gives with it, serving as a witness statement for the purpose of any subsequent trial. Thus, the police have been given the flexibility to deal with the needs of a specific case.
The hon. Gentleman will make his customary and not unreasonable remarks about guidance. Guidance may address the types of case in which a fuller additional statement may be advisable. I can cover that more fully if the Committee so requires.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Will the Minister read that part again?
Mr. Clarke: I will read the part about guidance again.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I hope that the Minister is not going to read out the whole lot.
Mr. Clarke: I did not approve of the hon. Gentleman reading out the submission of the Criminal Bar Association but not the 110 submissions made by everyone else.
The Chairman: Order. I am sure that that conversation is very interesting. If hon. Members want to intervene to ask the Minister to amplify something, that is fine, but I ask them not to have a conversation across the Floor.
Mr. Clarke: I apologise for my part in that conversation, Mr. Hood. It was out of order.
I was saying that the police have been given the flexibility to deal with the needs of a specific case, but guidance may address the types of case in which a fuller additional statement may be advisable.
Mr. Heald: Does that mean that the statement could be included in the fixed penalty notice?
Mr. Clarke: Yes, clause 8(2) says that it could be. We allow the penalty notice, or any additional statement that the issuing officer gives with it, to serve as a witness statement for the purpose of any subsequent trial.
The purpose of the amendments is clear. The Bill specifies that a penalty notice must give the particulars that I set out. Those particulars will be filled in by the constable issuing the notice, whether on the street or at a police station. Amendment No. 79 would add another requirement for the particulars to be given in
``a statement by a constable with respect to the alleged offence''.
Amendment No. 17 would allow the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the police about constables' witness statements issued with penalty notices. Amendment No. 16 would allow the constable's statement made in support of the penalty notice to be treated as oral evidence. We agree with the central point of the Opposition amendments: it is right that every penalty notice issued contains information about the alleged offence. The alleged offender must know what he is supposed to have done. We consider that the current wording in the Bill provides adequately for that. Clause 6 already includes a power for the Secretary of State to issue guidance about the exercise of police discretion and the issuing of penalty notices, with a view to encouraging good practice in connection with the operation of the scheme. That is sufficient to cover any guidance that might be required. Amendment No. 17 is therefore not necessary.
We do not intend that, in every case when a penalty notice is issued, it should be accompanied by a constable's witness statement. That will be necessary only when the trial date is arranged in advance under clause 7, which we expect to occur only in support of planned operations. I explained the situation under clause 8 a moment ago. I am trying to explainI hope coherentlythat although we understand the thrust of the amendment, we do not think that it is necessary. What the hon. Gentleman is proposing is covered elsewhere in the Bill.
Mr. Heald: The first offence under clause 1(1) relates to section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872. It concerns
``Being drunk in a highway, other public place or licensed premises.''
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Mr. Heald: Before the Division, I was asking the Minister about the offence under section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872. Would it be enough for the officer to write on the fixed penalty notice,
``found in the street, drunk and incapable''?
Are there similar formulas that are short, pithy and to the point, which could be used in respect of the other offences?
Mr. Clarke: The short answer is yes. All fixed penalty notices must have adequate particulars of the offence, and such particulars could well be in the form described by the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the police will develop, as they do in other areas of work, precisely the type of pithy words that will meet his point.
In addition to the adequate particulars of the offence being on the fixed penalty notice, the police can choose to give an additional fuller statement. It might be typed up in the police station. That will not usually be necessary and is not a requirement under clause 8. Either the fixed penalty notice or an additional statement may serve as a formal witness statement for the purpose of the trial. The constable must certify that he filled in the fixed penalty notice or that he gave details in a witness statement. I have dealt with the points that have been raised and I hope that, on consideration, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Heald: I am concerned about what has been said. We want fixed penalty notices to be served when the offences are not particularly serious and involve only minimum extra paperwork for the police. A case that must be served with a full statement and the fixed penalty notice will add to the paperwork. I am not saying that that must happen in every case. I agree with the Minister that there would be a class of cases for which that would not apply. However, if it does apply I do not understand the advantage in serving a fixed penalty notice. That would be extra work for the police. Why cannot we use a pithy expression such as the one used by the Police Superintendents Association, such as
``found in the street, drunk and incapable''
or a similar formula.
Let us consider the second offence under clause 1, for example, which is
``Throwing fireworks in a thoroughfare''.
A constable could write, ``Threw a firework in St. Peter's street'', for example. However, if the matter were to become more complicated and a statement were not contained in the fixed penalty notice, I do not understand the advantage of the fixed penalty notice. It would simply add to the work of the police.
Mr. Clarke: Obviously, I have not made myself clear. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that it is up to the individual police officer to choose whether he wants to write anything in addition to the pithy statement on the fixed penalty notice form? That is a matter for that police officer's professional judgment in any given set of circumstances. There is no requirement for him to do so; on the contrary, it would be exceptional of the police officer to do so. Such matters will be clarified further in the guidelines.
Mr. Heald: I understand that there will be discretion, but we have been told throughout the proceedings that there will be guidance. If that states that the police officer may write a lengthy statement and deal with the matter in the same way as he would deal with an ordinary offence, I do not understand why that would be sensible. As the Police Federation said:
``This, possibly, is a fast-track system...But the following day, they may dispute the behaviour and allege the police acted wrongly. They may try and plead not guilty or propose to plead not guilty...So the fixed penalty ticket may be an addition to the set of papers that have already been issued. That is the issue for us. It will be a good system if it reduces bureaucracy''.
However, let us consider what would happen if a substantial proportion of cases required all the usual paperwork as well as a fixed penalty notice. If the officer had to solemnly fill in the fixed penalty notice and then make a further statement, I do not see the advantage of the system. Unless the Minister can convince me on that, I will press amendment No. 79 to a vote, but I shall withdraw the other two amendments in the group.