Criminal Justice and Police Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Heald: An important point of principle, which the Minister and I have debated on other occasions, is that the law should set down the powers that Parliament wants to give to the police; but it should be restricted to that. Ministers often present measures that are widely drawn and then say that guidance will be issued to ensure that they are properly focused. There is a difference between us on that. I believe that the law should state clearly what the powers are. I admit that a case can be made for guidance, but if the law is wrong, guidance will not provide justice.

I hope that the Minister agrees with me. If he is saying to the industry that it should be the immediate vicinity, as he does in the notes, how can he not accept an amendment that says so? If he is writing to members of the industry, saying that it is related to the premises, why will he not accept amendments that say just that? Guidance is no substitute for getting the law right.

Mr. Clarke: I shall come to the amendment on vicinity in a moment; I wish to answer the serious points that have been made on that subject. However, I must first address the practical and principled point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

The principled point is as follows. I do not accept—I doubt whether the previous Government accepted it—that we can write into primary legislation every bit of guidance on how we want it to operate. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about its being necessary to make it clear in legislation what the powers are and when they should be used, which is what we seek to do, but I do not accept that we need to give guidance on every aspect in primary legislation. That is why we have secondary legislation. That is why we have a hierarchy of documents that are not even legislative that can be used to develop best practice, to ensure that all parties can take part in the debate and so on. I am not sure from the hon. Gentleman's response whether that is a difference between us—[Interruption.] I am glad that he has confirmed it. In that case, I agree with him that there is a principled difference of opinion between us, and I shall take it to the barricades if necessary.

It is right to respect the hierarchy of law making; it has existed for decades under Governments of all parties. It goes from primary legislation to secondary legislation, guidance and so on. It is a good way to legislate, and I defend it in principle. I also defend it in practice. We have that structure because circumstances change; the question is whether it is necessary to return to full primary legislation to reflect those changes. On many occasions, we have been handicapped by the relative slowness and stickiness of Parliament to legislate to reflect such changes. For instance, the industry has changed. The average town centre is fundamentally different from when the hon. Gentleman and I were in our late teens or early 20s. The sort of places that exist, the role that we might wish the police to have, and the role of the licensee are all different. We should be able to change and deal with that situation in a practical way.

Mr. Heald: I am sorry to keep troubling the Minister, particularly with only 59 seconds to go, but if the law is written tightly and effectively, it safeguards the interests of the industry and the individual. If it is written as wide as the Bill, a publican in a bad case could be closed down—

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)
Bailey, Mr.
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr.
Brinton, Mrs.
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gray, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Humble, Mrs.
Ladyman, Dr.
Lock, Mr.
McCabe, Mr.
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 February 2001