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Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that non-drinking zones and the powers of local authorities to designate them must be considered widely in the council and that the decision should perhaps be debated in full council rather than delegated to one cabinet member, because that could lead to difficulties?
Mr. Hughes: I have not talked to all my colleagues about that, but my initial response is that I share the hon. Gentleman's view. Liberty could be restricted in public places and such a big decision should I believe properly be taken by the full council.
I support the drug trafficking proposals. It is right that people could have their liberty to travel, to which they would otherwise be entitled, restricted if after conviction they could traffic in drugs while travelling. The only issue is that the Bill allows restriction without end, and we may need a maximum restriction. No one should have their ability to travel written off for the rest of their life because of offences they have committed, and I hope that the measure can be amended.
It is of course acceptable that the proposal on intimidation of witnesses should relate to civil as well as criminal proceedings. However, I am concerned that there is a burden of proof issue--the Minister will be aware of it--and simply using certain language or acting in a certain way should not immediately make it people's responsibility to show that they do not intend to pervert the course of justice.
More widely, and for all sorts of reasons--not just constituency experience over recent years--I say to the Minister that we still do badly in ensuring that witnesses and would-be witnesses are protected. The police struggle to protect such people and we do not yet have a system that works quickly. This very week, I am again trying to get somebody moved. Unless they move, they will not
There is a big question regarding the powers to transfer information between one authority and another. When people give information to the Revenue, do they expect it to go to all the other state authorities? The Revenue is concerned that people may not be as honest if they think that information will go elsewhere. There is an issue there and a further problem in relation to whether we should allow the Bill to be retrospective. I hope that we can amend it to prevent that from being the case, although it obviously has the endorsement of the Scottish Executive, as it is a United Kingdom provision.
I support the three proposals for making offences arrestable, although, again, they have been picked out of a list and many others could have been chosen. The categories are kerb crawling, failure to stop and report an accident resulting in injury, and importing to the UK indecent or obscene articles. It is perfectly reasonable for those to be arrestable offences and we would support that.
There are generally uncontroversial changes to the way in which we manage people in detention, but we must be careful about thinking that it is acceptable for the police to decide at a distance to extend someone's detention--it is proposed to allow that down the videolink or down the telephone. If someone's liberty is in question, the presumption must be that the person reviewing his or her detention is not 50 miles away at the end of a telephone, but close to the person who is in the cell. We must be careful about giving such extensive powers and careful about giving up the right of the House to consider all secondary legislation. We should not change the procedure from the affirmative to the negative resolution procedure.
Of the remaining non-controversial proposals, the two relating to the police include a proposed improved system for training. That I welcome, but the proposals on structures, particularly for the National Criminal Intelligence Service and others, are not uncontroversial and, as the Minister knows, the Association of Police Authorities has concerns. They appear to increase central Government control and reduce public and police authority control. Debates about control of the special police services and what to do with the police service are going on, but I am not sure that we have so far had the breadth of discussion that we need.
That leaves three issues: DNA, fixed penalty notices and curfews. The Liberal Democrats have never signed up to people who have not consented having their DNA held after being found not guilty or when a case does not proceed. Doing so represents a big step forward--in my view, a dangerous step forward in civil liberty terms. Of course DNA is helpful, but if the Government think that it would help if everybody's DNA was held, let them say, "When a baby is registered, a sample has to be supplied
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): To clarify, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Liberal Democrats will oppose the Bill on Third Reading, following consideration in Committee, if the DNA proposals remain in their current form?
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is a good and intelligent Minister, but that was a cheap and silly question, not least because I have already answered it. I said that we shall seek to amend various aspects, that our judgment as to whether we can support the Bill will depend on our success in getting amendments accepted and that we can give no guarantee at this stage that we will support it on Third Reading. We think that certain provisions need to be amended.
Mr. Clarke: With respect, I did not ask for a guarantee. I asked about the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to the DNA point, which is one of the range of issues that he will reconsider after the Bill has been examined in Committee. It would be of interest to the House to know where the Liberal Democrats stand on that important issue.
Mr. Hughes: Where we stand is straightforward: we are not persuaded that we ought to give a further power to the state--the police--to hold a sample taken in respect of a case that is not proceeded with or in which a person is found not guilty. If we remain unpersuaded, we shall consider that a possible ground for voting against Third Reading.
Fixed-penalty notices strike me as fine to deal with a cyclist on the pavement or illegal car parking. Indeed, they are perfectly reasonable for dog fouling and litter dropping. However, it is unlikely that they will work in relation to drunken adults who may not stand around long enough to receive them or may not remember much about receiving them. Some cases may be prejudiced by a person's relative inability to comply with the fixed penalty. The proposal is unfair. The rich can pay up easily; the poor cannot. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) wants to intervene.
Those with learning difficulties, those who are less intelligent and those who are homeless may not be able to cope with the paperwork in the way that someone with all the time in the world and high intelligence can. The proposal is highly likely to be discriminatory. Summary justice, not normal procedural justice, may be done at the hands of the police in a system under which, the Library research note confirms, millions of pounds worth of fines already go unpaid. Last year, about £80 million of fines went uncollected and now we are to have another system that imposes fines on people who are least likely to pay up and will have to be monitored.
The curfew proposal has been supported by, for instance, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. It would be one thing if such action were to be proposed and agreed by local authorities, but the Bill goes further, allowing the police to impose a curfew irrespective of a local authority's view. Admittedly the police must talk to local authorities, but they can go ahead even if local authorities say no.
When I talked to youngsters at Walworth school about the proposal, one said, "It's like keeping the whole class in when a few have misbehaved." It certainly strikes me as an entirely unfair principle in the context of civil liberties. Of course seven-year-olds should not be out on the street at 3 am, but 14 and 15-year-olds might have perfectly good reasons to be out at 9, 10 or 11 pm. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that community relations between police and young people will be helped if the police pick on young people regularly, he may be sadly mistaken.
The other day I spoke to some youngsters on the street--youngsters under 16, hanging around in just the sort of group that the right hon. Gentleman described. The public say that something must be done, but according to my experience the more the police stop and search them, the more likely they are to be antagonistic, unhelpful and unco-operative. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the curfew proposal will make all difficult youngsters suddenly disappear--that youngsters will become smilingly happy, feeling that the police are the most wonderful people in the world--Cardiff, South and Penarth has changed a lot since I was there in my youth.