Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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The Chairman: Order. I do not want to stifle debate, but the amendment is general and our debate is becoming specific. Hon. Members have said that they want a clause stand part debate. If we could dispense with the amendment, we could deal with other matters arising from the clause in such a debate.

Mr. Heald: As ever, I am happy to accept your guidance, Mr. Gale.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made a point and the Minister agreed to consider it. The amendment requires no further debate.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Heald: There are some points that were not covered in our consideration of the amendments. First, there are the cost implications. Paragraph 352 of the explanatory notes states:

    ``Additional public expenditure is unlikely for the on the spot fines proposals. There will be costs in managing and enforcing on the spot fines but these should be offset by fines revenue and savings of police time. The overall savings/costs incurred will also depend on whether the scheme is used chiefly to divert cases from court or to deal with offending that is currently the subject of a caution or an informal warning. It is not certain whether the saving in police time will feed through to a reduction in public service manpower (police) or whether fixed penalty notices might need more staff.''

It is important to know what the Government's strategy for fixed penalty notices will be. We have heard little about it. I suspect that the proposal is half-baked. It would be useful to know whether the Government want to give people fixed penalty notices instead of cautioning them or to save court time by diverting cases that would otherwise have gone to court. It would also be useful to know why they believe that police time will be saved. None of those matters has been made clear. I want the Minister to give detailed answers about the strategy.

The inner London magistrates court service made several points in its response to the consultation. It noted:

    ``Fixed penalty notices are''


    ``handled by IT systems linking the Police who issue them and Fixed Penalty Clerks who collect may be necessary to enhance or redesign these systems if new forms of Fixed Penalty are introduced.''

It thought that there might be benefits, and that

    ``a substantial volume of notices/payments can be handled at comparatively little additional cost''

but was worried about the number of defaulters and how that problem would be tackled. It felt that the Government's estimate that 40 per cent. of fixed penalty notices would be paid was ``very optimistic'', given the likely perpetrators of the loutish behaviour that the scheme appears to be aimed at. Overall, it was

    ``not convinced that the proposals have been sufficiently thought through,''

or that the consultation period was long enough to allow mature reflection on a major initiative. It urged caution and wanted to know whether there had been joined-up thinking.

The Criminal Bar Association raised several issues. Its response to the consultation stated:

    ``There must be significant resource implications arising out of the need for a system to deal with non-compliance.''

It highlighted non-payment after the issue of a notice, the giving of false details and the non-provision of details.

The first raft of issues concerns whether the operational infrastructure for dealing with fixed penalty notices is in place and whether the cost of IT changes has been thought through.

The Police Superintendents Association is worried about police time. It says that if officers had to make a full witness statement in each case, officer time would not be saved and officers would not return to the streets any quicker than they do now. It adds that if all that was required was a simple comment such as

    ``found in the street drunk and incapable'',

it would save considerable time. However, the association did not think that that was what the Bill proposed. It was not sure whether full statements from constables would be required.

That point was also made to me by Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation. He is worried about whether the procedures involved will save police time or whether things will be much as they are now. I want the Minister to say whether police time will be saved, and to comment on administration costs.

A further 10 issues were raised by the Criminal Bar Association. The first point was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire, but you, Mr. Gale, ruled that he should not pursue it further before clause stand part.

The association states:

    ``Disorderly drunks are by definition not in a fit state to be served with a legal document with penal consequences.''

That comment is based on its legal appreciation of the situation. It says that it would be wrong in law to do it. It would not be a sensible or fair opportunity to issue a penal notice. What does the Minister say to that?

Secondly, the CBA asks:

    ``Is it possible for service of a fixed penalty notice to help put a stop to anti-social behaviour? Or will it simply aggravate a situation requiring `fast action'?''

With its experience of numerous court cases, it fears that the service of such a notice on the street could lead to worse, rather than better, behaviour.

Thirdly, the CBA asks:

    ``What will the effect on the criminal justice system be if notices are ignored?''

and says that they should not be considered as being similar to parking tickets.

What is the Minister's answer to that?

Fourthly, the CBA asks how it is envisaged that a person's details—name, address, date of birth and so on—will be verified on the street.

Fifthly, the CBA says that a person would have to be warned of the consequences of non-provision of details under the Human Rights Act 1998. There would be human rights implications if people were not given a warning. What steps are being taken to ensure that such warnings will be given if necessary?

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr Roger (Chairman)
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr.
Brinton, Mrs.
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gray, Mr.
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hawkins, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Ladyman, Dr.
Lock, Mr.
McCabe, Mr.
Smith, Miss Geraldine
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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Prepared 6 February 2001