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Penalties

Mr. Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the (a) minimum and (b) maximum penalty for (i) violent demonstration and (ii) destruction of private property. [121347]

Mr. Charles Clarke: There is no specific offence of violent demonstration. Section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986 prescribes a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for the offence of riot which involves the use, or threat, of unlawful violence for common purpose such as to cause fear for personal safety. It can only

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be committed where 12 or more people so act. Under section 2, similar behaviour committed by three or more people (violent disorder) is punishable with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. Section 3 relates to similar behaviour where only one or two people are involved (affray). The maximum penalty for this offence is three years imprisonment.

The destruction of private property would normally amount to criminal damage. The maximum penalty for criminal damage is 10 years imprisonment.

There are no minimum penalties for these offences.

Mr. Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the (a) minimum and (b) maximum penalty for dousing a person in petrol and setting fire to them. [121345]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The penalties available would depend upon the offence charged. A person convicted of attempted murder would face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. If the victim died, this could result in a conviction for murder, for which the mandatory sentence is life imprisonment. A conviction for causing grievous bodily harm with intent would also carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

There are no minimum penalties for these offences.

Mr. Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the (a) minimum and (b) maximum penalty for breaking and entering for the purpose of (a) theft and (b) an offence against the person. [121346]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The behaviour described would be charged as burglary. The maximum penalty for burglary is 14 years imprisonment. Additionally, for those convicted of a third domestic burglary, there is now a mandatory minimum sentence of three years imprisonment.

Radio (Emergency Services)

Mrs. Browning: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from the emergency services concerning the cost to them of proposed changes to radio channels. [121337]

Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 9 May 2000]: The spectrum currently used by the police and fire services for radio communications has serious limitations and is the key reason why we arranged for the provision of new spectrum. The plan is that emergency services will use high quality spectrum, released at no cost by the Norther Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which will enable emergency services radio systems to function more efficiently than that provided by current schemes. We are achieving this by the introduction of the new Public Safety Radio Communications Service. We are doing so in accordance with an internationally agreed harmonized plan for use of Public Safety radio spectrum.

Both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities have concluded that the Public Safety Radio Communications Project (PSRCP) meets technical requirements and offers value for money at a national level. However, a number of Police Forces and Police Authorities have raised the question of affordability of the PSRC Service.

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I have also received various representations from the Fire Service about future radio communications and control room requirements, including views on costs and on their participation in the PSRC Service.

Policing (Somerset)

Mr. Ashdown: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of police numbers in Somerset in March 2001; and if he will make a statement. [121227]

Mr. Charles Clarke: I understand from the Chief Constable that he currently projects 3,030 officers available for ordinary duty at the end of March 2001 for the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. The Chief Constable is unable to provide a figure for only Somerset. He distributes resources between the eight territorial divisions according to need and operational priorities.

Mr. Ashdown: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what conclusions about the adequacy of central Government support for policing in Somerset he has reached on the basis of recent research commissioned by his Department into the costs of policing in rural areas; and if he will make a statement. [121226]

Mr. Charles Clarke: I refer the right hon. Member to the reply I gave the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on 21 February 2000, Official Report, columns 118-19W.

Gammahydroxybutrate

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the reclassification of Gammahydroxybutrate as a drug rather than as a medicine. [120437]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Further to my reply of 28 February 2000, Official Report, column 107W, I can report that Gammahydroxybutrate has now been referred to the Scientific Committee of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction for a formal risk assessment.

Anti-drugs Strategy

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what account he has taken in implementing the Government's anti-drugs strategy of the relationship between drug-related offending by women and the number of women sentenced to imprisonment. [120439]

Mr. Charles Clarke: In 1998, 968 females and 9,777 males were given an immediate custodial sentence for drugs offences (Great Britain). Statistics on drug-related offences are not collected by the Home Office, but by a programme of research at Cambridge University on behalf of the Home Office. This involves drug testing of arrestees, and indicates a strong connection between drug misuse, particularly heroin and crack/cocaine, and crime, and suggests that about one third of all property crime is committed in order to buy these drugs. The initial findings also showed that for most drug types, female arrestees were as likely, if not more likely, than males to test positive and that females were significantly more likely than males to test positive for opiates.

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Two key objectives of the Government's anti-drugs strategy are to reduce levels of repeat offending among drug misusing offenders and to increase the participation of problem drug misusers, including prisoners, in drug treatment programmes which have a positive impact on health and crime. This relates to men and women, but the strategy recognises that specific support services may be needed for certain groups including women. Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice, Throughcare (CARAT) services, in place in every prison, will be tailored towards the prisoner populations in each establishment. Also, research is to be undertaken to look further into the issue of women and drugs.

Cannabis

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of claims in the Police Foundation's report on the results of cannabis decriminalisation in the Netherlands. [120448]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The committee of inquiry set up by the Police Foundation has produced a thorough report with a large number of recommendations and the Government will give it careful attention. However, the Government have made it clear that they do not support the Inquiry's recommendations on the re-classification or depenalisation of cannabis.

The Government have a clear and consistent view about the damage which drugs can cause to individuals, their families and the wider community, the link between drugs and crime--and the corresponding need to maintain firm controls. The Government are opposed to any lessening of controls on currently illicit drugs but favour a wide-ranging approach--we see a need for a balance of policies involving supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction.

The Police Foundation's report acknowledges that there are significant contradictions between Dutch drugs policy--under which small-scale possession and supply of cannabis remains illegal but the laws are not enforced--and international agreements. The Preamble to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, states that effective measures against abuse of narcotic drugs require co-ordinated and universal action and that such action calls for international co-operation guided by the same principles and aimed at common objectives. The Government support these principles and have no intention of breaching their obligations under the 1961 United Nations drugs convention which commit the international community to working together against the illicit drug trade. It naturally follows from this that the Government also have no intention of allowing for the systematic non-enforcement of the law.


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