|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Lady is right: the offences are not only alcohol related. I wish that the Government had sat down with Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokespeople and others to decide which offences would reasonably fall into this category. I am not against the principle of fixed penalty notices for the right offences, but most of the offences in the Bill are not the right ones. It might be reasonable to have fixed penalty notices for people misbehaving on the underground, but if we apprehend people in enclosed spaces, there could be a risk of their overreacting. I want to have an intelligent debate on such matters, but until the Government are willing to engage in it, carte blanche agreement to a list of offences, most of which raise severe practical problems, is inappropriate.
I hope that this is intended as a probing amendment, but it proposes a road of no return. People would be issued with a fixed penalty notice, and if they then gave a wrong name or resisted receiving it, both of which would be entirely understandable, that would be a criminal offence. That would be going in completely the wrong direction, and the sooner we can reduce fixed penalty notices to what can be properly dealt with and reasonably managed after some piloting, the better.
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I regard this as a probing amendment. I think that it highlights the dilemmas that surround the great extension of the use of fixed penalty notices. Obviously, to give people a fixed penalty notice, one needs their name and address, and especially in the cases of drunkenness and consumption of alcohol in a public place, there is a real risk that the police officer will be given false particulars. Plainly, without some check on that, officers will be left increasingly frustrated, and will use the power only in cases where they already know the name and address of an individual.
There is a real dilemma about whether we should add a further offence of giving a false name and address. I note that under section 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967, it is an offence to waste police time or give false report. Does the Minister regard giving a false name and address in answer to a question to enable a constable to issue a fixed penalty notice as giving false report, or does that have to be at the initiative of the individual concerned, rather than in response to a request for information? If the provision has the wider meaning, an officer may be able to use it if a false name and address is given.
The irony of such action is that it would enable another fixed penalty notice to be issued at the same time. Let us suppose that we want to enable the police station to become a mini police court and avoid the whole aspect of court procedure. If we were wedded to such an idea, that would not be wholly stupid. If, at the time when a person was issued with a fixed penalty notice, he put up his hands and it was discovered that he gave a false name and address, it will cost him a further £40, instead of the matter being taken in front of the magistrates court.
It has been rightly pointed out that the Prime Minister started a large number of hares by his suggestions that culminated in the Bill. At present, it lacks something if it gives the officer no opportunity to respond to a person who gives a false name and address and to issue proceedings again for such action. Consequently, I am inclined to support the amendment. It is certainly helpful and rightly teases out the proper issues, but I shall listen carefully to the Minister before I decide what action to take.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Like my right hon. and learned Friend, I am inclined to support the amendment. I listened with care to the arguments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). He went through the agonies of someone who regarded the fixed penalty notice regime in proper policing as a red herring. We debated the offences for which fixed penalty notices will be issued when we discussed clause 1. We now have to wrestle with making the system work. It will not work without there being serious consequences for those whose automatic reaction when faced with a fixed penalty notice is to run away or give a false name and address and who are, in effect, negating the system by taking the actions to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
For the system to work, which is a departure for the police in how they deal with minor misdemeanours, it will have to be backed up by serious penalties for those people who are subject to it and then obstruct it. The amendment would do that. My only worry is that it refers to
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) made a point about the link between giving false information to the police under other legislation. He is a lawyer but I am not, and I do not understand the detail of that point. I hope that the Minister will make it clear whether the legislation whereby people are deemed to commit an offence by failing to provide the police with proper information could be linked directly to these provisions. If there is no such link, or if there is any element of doubt about it, the penalty proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire should be in the Bill.
A level 3 fine might not be sufficient, however, because those who put their hands up to an offence punishable by a fixed penalty notice may thereby avoid the full panoply of a trial and criminal record. They should be subject to serious sanction if they muck about with the police. If people were not discouraged by the level 3 fine, they might waste police time by giving false information.
I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment or, if not, come back with a reworked version on Report.
Mr. Hawkins: I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hood. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, I have not had the pleasure of serving on a Committee under your chairmanship before, but you were a distinguished leader of a parliamentary delegation to Gibraltar that I was on, so I know about your inspirational leadership.
I want to expound on the concerns expressed by the Criminal Bar Association. I declare my interest, as a member of the Bar. The association is worried about the implications of the matter, as are police officers at the sharp end.
[Mr Crispin Blunt in the Chair.]
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Blunt.
I want briefly to quote from an interview given by Fred Broughton, the chairman of the Police Federation, during consultation on the proposals that led to these provisions. I should mention that Fred Broughton consults widely and represents all serving police officers at the sharp end. Of people who have been issued with fixed penalty notices when drunk, he said that
The Criminal Bar Association continues:
The association asks:
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