Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Sir Nicholas Lyell: The amendment is constructive and would streamline the paperwork rather than increase it. Under subsection (3)(c), the obligation is already to give. It says that the constable shall

    ``give such particulars of the circumstances alleged to constitute the offence as are necessary to provide reasonable information about it''.

That is the same as saying that there must be sufficient information to prove it. Some of the 12 offences under clause 1 for which it was suggested that fixed penalty notices would be useful are

    ``Being drunk in a highway . . . Throwing fireworks in a thoroughfare . . . Trespassing on a railway . . . Throwing stones etc at trains...Disorderly behaviour while drunk in a public place . . . Threatening, abusive or insulting words or disorderly behaviour etc within hearing or sight of person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress''

    ``Consumption of alcohol in designated public place''.

All of those are likely to be capable of being the subject of a short witness statement, which would be attached to the penalty notice. That would take no longer than giving the reasonable information required under the current legislation. The other offences,

    ``Knowingly giving a false alarm to a fire brigade . . . Buying or attempting to buy alcohol for consumption in a bar in licensed premises by a person under 18 . . . Wasting police time or giving false report . . . Destruction of , or damage to, property''

and—this is especially odd—

    ``Using public telecommunications system for sending message known to be false'',

are rather complex. I question how much they will be used. The purpose of the amendment is to streamline the procedure. It is a constructive suggestion, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I understand the reasoning behind the amendment, but fixed penalty notices on the street rather than in the police station are unlikely to make the process easier. Have the Government considered a much simpler system that effectively requires individuals to go to a police station, within a certain amount of time, where they will have the opportunity to pay the penalty if they agree with the information given? The whole process of deciding whether to pay and accept the notice would take place in the police station. That seems a much more protected system, and one worth considering.

Mr. Hawkins: It seemed to me that one of the problems arising from the proposals—and perhaps the Government's dilemma—is set out by the contrasting approaches of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The Government want to produce a quick and easy solution but they have had to draw back suddenly from the Prime Minister's original back-of-an-envelope idea. They realise that there are legal consequences, which is why we have ended up with detailed proposals and debates. The Government cannot have it both ways. That is why the Prime Minister's original speech, which referred to fixed penalty fines and dragging drunks to cashpoints, was pie in the sky—

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:
Hood, Mr. (Chairman)
Bailey, Mr.
Blunt, Mr.
Brinton, Mrs.
Clarke, Mr Charles
Gray, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hawkins, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Humble, Mrs.
Ladyman, Dr.
Lock, Mr.
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Smith, Miss Geraldine
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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Prepared 13 February 2001