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1.30 am

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 6, line 19, at end insert--

'(4A) A court shall not take into account any conviction which is spent pursuant to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, or conduct which took place more than ten years prior to the relevant control period.'.

I shall be brief. Under proposed new section 14B(2), the court can make a banning order on the basis of a conviction, or on the basis of evidence brought before it. However, the Bill contains no time limit in relation to such a conviction or to evidence. The amendment would make it clear that the court could not take into account a conviction that had become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. I am sure that the House will find that reasonable. It would also mean that the court could not take account of evidence that related to an event more than 10 years before the relevant control period.

It is wrong that the Bill should contain no limitation. The limitations in the amendment are reasonable, and I commend them to the House.

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Mr. Charles Clarke: The position on spent convictions is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire said. Section 4(1)(a) of that Act provides that no evidence relating to spent convictions is admissible in proceedings before a judicial authority, including a magistrates court. Section 7(1) makes an exception of criminal proceedings, but proceedings under proposed new section 14B will be civil, not criminal, proceedings.

It follows that the effect of the amendment would be the same as the effect of the law already. However, I accept that the amendment would add clarity and certainty. Although we believe that the amendment is not necessary, we accept the spirit in which it was moved.

I also agree that the point about conduct of more than 10 years before is legitimate, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will consider it further. We will table amendments in another place to give effect to the proposal, and we believe that we can do so in a way satisfactory to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire. On the basis of that assurance, I hope that he will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I and my colleagues are grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire for tabling the amendment. We hope to be associated with the consideration of a proposal to ensure that an amendment along the lines of amendment No. 12 finds its way into the Bill.

Mr. Lilley: The amendment covers spent convictions, but will the Minister say whether it will be possible for the court to consider unspent convictions? Proposed new section 14C(4) states:

The first of those matters is

None of the four prescribed matters relates to decisions of courts in the UK, so it is not clear whether the court could consider a conviction, spent or unspent.

I tabled an amendment to proposed new section 14C(4)(a) to include courts inside the United Kingdom, but Madam Speaker was unable, in the time available, to include it for consideration. That is certainly no criticism of Madam Speaker or of you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is the fault of the Government that we have had no pause between Committee and Report, when these matters could have been given proper consideration. However, it is clear that there is a very odd feature in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will explain why that is.

Miss Widdecombe: As I indicated in the debate on amendment No. 8, we have enormous sympathy with the proposal of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell). However, in

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view of the Government's promise to address the matter in another place, if my right hon. and learned Friend were to withdraw his amendment, we would be equally happy.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I appreciate what the right hon. Lady has said. I can give her and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) the assurance they seek--the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen will be involved in discussions about the nature of the amendment in the other place.

Proposed new section 14C(4), referred to by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), says:

The purpose of the provision, as I understand it, is to make clear the power of the magistrates court to look at those wider areas. I believe that the magistrates court's right to look at unspent convictions is covered adequately in other parts of the Bill, and I will write to the right hon. Gentleman with the details at a later stage if he wishes.

With that, I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am grateful for what the Minister has said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 6, line 48, at end insert--

'( ) If it appears to the court that there are such circumstances, it must in open court state what they are.'.

To give the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) the credit that she is due--and which she seeks on every occasion--the amendment gives effect to amendment No. 5, tabled in Committee by the Opposition. As proposed by the right hon. Lady and agreed in Committee, the Government accept in principle that if the court does not impose a requirement of passport surrender when making a banning order, the court should state in open court the relevant exceptional circumstances. The amendment gives effect to that proposal, and I have no hesitation in commending it to the House.

Miss Widdecombe: I thank the Minister for those few kind words and for accepting the spirit of the amendment, which was important to us. One of the reasons why the Government have had to toughen up considerably on banning orders is that they have not been used by the courts as often as they might have been. We therefore strongly believe that it is only in exceptional circumstances that they should not be used, and that, where such exceptional circumstances are deemed to exist, we should have the full reasons.

Will the Minister please explain why our amendment No. 5 in Committee and his amendment No. 5 on Report differ so substantially as to make a significant difference? I am not sure that I see why, although the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's reaction is gratefully received.

Mr. Burns: I know that it is late and I hope that the House will forgive me, but I have a genuine concern. It is not about the intention of the amendment but about its

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working and meaning. Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain and the answer will be very simple: unfortunately, I am not a lawyer.

The intention of section 5(3)(5A) of the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999 was to make the courts impose international banning orders on those convicted, unless, in the courts' mind, there were exceptional circumstances which meant that such an order should not be imposed. The court would have to give a reason, in open court, as to why it had not used the powers in the 1999 Act.

We have seen, in the evidence since September last year, that the courts have been reluctant to do that, so the Government have rightly decided to toughen up the provision. However, I do not understand how amendment No. 5 to proposed new section 14E(3) would do anything different from what the 1999 Act provides, except that "shall" is used in the 1999 Act, whereas "must" is used in the Bill. I cannot believe that that is of paramount significance. We can tell the court that it must do something, but that is diluted by the rest of the Bill. If the court believes that there are exceptional circumstances not to do that thing, it will, as a result of the amendment, have to give reasons why, exceptionally, it is not using the powers.

What is the difference between the 1999 Act and the Bill? And, if there is little difference and no statutory duty on the courts to impose orders except in exceptional circumstances, how will the Government actually be tightening matters to ensure that banning orders on conviction of hooligans become the norm rather than the exception, as has been the experience under the 1999 Act?

Mr. Charles Clarke: First, on the point made by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), we are all in the hands of the parliamentary draftsmen, who said that our version was better because it was simpler, shorter and clearer than the otherwise excellent wording proposed by the right hon. Lady.

On the point made by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), what has happened so far has not been good enough, and we need to strengthen the provisions. "Must" is a stronger word than "shall", and our amendment, in response to the Opposition's wishes, will strengthen the powers further. We shall monitor matters and report to the House. This debate and the tighter legislation that has resulted give reason to believe that we shall achieve more rigorous adherence to what the House wants than has been the case under existing provision. As with the rest of the Bill, however, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and we shall assess that at the appropriate time.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.

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