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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Dr. William McCrea
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clegg, Mr. Nick (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Fallon, Mr. Michael (Sevenoaks) (Con)
Fisher, Mark (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab)
Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Ingram, Mr. Adam (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab)
Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
Kemp, Mr. Fraser (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab)
Moffat, Anne (East Lothian) (Lab)
Murphy, Mr. Denis (Wansbeck) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 17 July 2007

[Dr. William McCrea in the Chair]

Draft Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007

10.30 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007.
Good morning, Dr. McCrea; it is nice to see you in the Chair. Good morning too to all my hon. Friends and to the hon. Members from the Opposition parties.
The draft order amends schedule 6 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, which sets out the trigger offences that apply to the testing of persons for the presence of specified class A drugs. The drugs currently specified are heroin and cocaine. The order was cleared by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on 13 June, and agreed by the other place last week. Regrettably, the order is required because of drafting omissions in the consequential amendments to schedule 6 that were made by the Fraud Act 2006. Those omissions were not noticed during passage of the Fraud Bill.
The Fraud Act repealed and replaced the existing array of deception offences, including that of obtaining property by deception, one of the trigger offences in schedule 6, which was set out in section 15 of the Theft Act 1968. The Fraud Act made minor and consequential amendments to update other legislation. One such amendment concerned the reference to the offence of obtaining property by deception, which was removed from schedule 6 paragraph 1 as a trigger offence. In its place, the equivalent general offence of fraud under section 1 of the Fraud Act was added to the list of trigger offences.
However, the consequential amendments to schedule 6 failed to take account of previous additions to the schedule that related to attempted offences. The oversight resulted in an anomaly in the schedule whereby the offence of obtaining property by deception under section 15 of the Theft Act was removed as a trigger offence but the reference to attempted obtaining of property by deception was not removed. The draft order corrects the anomaly and ensures that offending in relation to the attempted offence of obtaining property by deception, which is now being removed from the schedule, will continue to be captured by addition of the new trigger offence of attempted fraud.
Although the changes are largely technical, they are nevertheless important and necessary. The trigger offences in schedule 6, especially those relating to acquisitive crime, are offences that have been shown by research to have the clearest link with the misuse of the class A drugs heroin and cocaine—the drugs that cause the most harm to those who misuse them and to the communities in which they live. It is because of the strong link to class A drug use that the offences have been specified as trigger offences for drug-testing purposes.
Trigger offences, and the drug-testing provisions to which they relate, play an important part in helping to identify those individuals who misuse specified class A drugs, so that those individuals can be steered into treatment and away from crime. That is particularly the case in relation to the provisions under section 63B of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for drug testing of persons in police detention as part of the drugs intervention programme.
Under that programme, persons arrested for or charged with a trigger offence can be tested for the presence of heroin and/or cocaine. The test is a screening tool. Those who test positive can go on to be assessed and can obtain access to appropriate treatment and other support. The approach has been seen to work during the development of the drug intervention programme over the past few years. In March 2004, some 400 offenders were entering treatment through the criminal justice system. That figure has now increased to some 3,500 a month.
Trigger offences are also relevant in circumstances where persons released on licence or under a notice of supervision following a custodial sentence for a trigger offence may be given a drug-testing requirement as part of their licence conditions or notice. The relevant provisions are section 64 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and section 65 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Currently, those provisions are targeted at prolific and priority offenders who are known drug users and who may revert to drug use on release. Monitoring their behaviour in such a way helps to ensure that those who test positive can receive appropriate treatment and support.
Concern was expressed in the other place that the new offence of fraud was broader than the offence of obtaining property by deception and that accordingly the order in some way widens police powers. The new offence of fraud under section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 modernised and streamlined the law on fraud. It replaced various deception offences in the Theft Acts 1968 to 1996 with a single offence. That has ensured that the law is simple and flexible, and that it can cope with the full range of frauds today. The new fraud offence, while wider than section 15 of the Theft Act 1968, did not seem to criminalise a whole new range of conduct that was not already criminal.
In fact, we estimate that the inclusion of attempted fraud as a trigger offence could result in just under 1,200 tests being conducted in police detention in respect of that offence each year. That takes into account the numbers tested for the offence of obtaining property by deception and an estimated 230 or so extra tests resulting from the slightly broader scope of the offence of attempted fraud. The 230 extra tests represent an increase of less than 0.5 per cent. in drug tests carried out in police detention each year.
The number of persons released from a custodial sentence who may be affected by the addition of attempted fraud as a trigger offence is therefore expected to be very small. Nevertheless, its inclusion as a trigger offence will ensure that a drug-testing requirement can be applied as part of a condition of licence in the case of those released from a sentence of attempted fraud when that is appropriate.
As for additional costs arising from the inclusion of attempted fraud as a trigger offence, we anticipate that they will be minimal and can be absorbed within existing capacity. The order clarifies schedule 6 from both the legal and operational perspective. I commend it to the Committee.
10.38 am
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I begin by joining the Minister in welcoming you to our deliberations this morning, Dr. McCrea. I wish also to welcome the right hon. Member for East Kilbride. He has not been on the Back Benches for about 15 years, and I wish him well in his future career as a Member of Parliament.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): The correct name of my constituency is East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.
Mr. Garnier: The right hon. Gentleman has been a Minister; he has done a lot of speaking in that capacity for 10 years, and as a senior Opposition Front Bencher before that. However, I did not want him to miss out on an opportunity to intervene on me by pronouncing his constituency correctly because while I could manage the first part of it, I did not wish to upset him by mispronouncing the last part—let alone the middle. I genuinely welcome him to the Committee. I congratulate him on his long service in the Government and hope that it is not too long before his talents are recognised.
I agree with the Minister that the Bill is a correcting measure to deal with a mistake made by the Government when they brought in the Fraud Act 2006, which did not amend various aspects of the existing criminal law. The Committee will understand that, as the Government are addicted to legislation particularly in respect of criminal justice, mistakes will be made from time to time. I think that we have now reached Home Office Bill No. 65, with the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill next Monday, so it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.
I am glad that the mistake to which I referred will be corrected because, as a Crown court recorder—I declare an interest—and in my capacity as a judge, it is my experience that most of the crime that comes before the Crown court, certainly in London, has some connection with the possession or retail selling of illegal drugs. Obviously, the courts that are looked after by more senior judges deal with what I would call the industrial-scale wholesale selling of drugs. Anything that we can do to ensure that those who commit particular crimes of acquisition are discovered as users of drugs is beneficial, as they can therefore can be reformed, rehabilitated and got off drugs. I think that that will have a direct effect on reoffending.
I was interested to note that the Minister, towards the end of his remarks, said that it is essential that the law should be simple and flexible. In paragraph 7.6 of the explanatory notes, the Government fall into use of the jargon that they are so fond of and talk about stakeholders. They go on to say:
“Stakeholders and practitioners will be informed of the changes made by the Order by means of a Circular and the earlier guidance issued to police and probation strategic leads about the changes in trigger offences made by the Fraud Act will be updated.”
That is all very well, but it seems to me that somewhere in the Home Office there must be a person whose only job is to issue circulars to correct earlier mistakes and inform stakeholders and practitioners about changes in the criminal law and procedure.
I remind the Minister that the order was made under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. I asked the Minister’s colleague, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—he is now at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—in a written question on 27 April 2006,
“which provisions within the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (a) have not yet come into force and (b) have been replaced (i) prior to and (ii) after coming into force.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 316W.]
I had assumed that I might get a one-line reply saying, “One or two provisions,” but I received one and a half closely typed pages listing the provisions. I shall hold them up, although I am afraid that the Official Report cannot see them. There are 16 sections of the 2000 Act that have been repealed, or repealed never having been brought into force or when they were not yet wholly in force. In addition, around 75 provisions under schedules 5, 7 and 8 to the Act were repealed, or not in force, or never had been in force or were partially in force. I shall hold the written answer up so that the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow may see what has been happening while he has been absent at the Ministry of Defence. One can see that huge chunks of so-called flagship legislation within the criminal justice field are simply not brought into force, or have been repealed, or have been repealed having been partly brought into force.
I am therefore not surprised that we are here to bring in this amendment, which, although minor, is important in its consequences. I urge the Government, when they are going through this exercise, to check the 64 or 65 Bills that have been passed since 1997 within the field of the law and ensure that, if they insist on cramming through legislation without proper scrutiny, at least we do not have that sort of mistake and receive answers to written questions that reveal the sort of information that I am sure they would rather not reveal. Subject to that minor caveat, I welcome this order.
10.44 am
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Thank you, Dr. McCrea, for giving me an opportunity to speak. Like the two hon. Members who spoke previously, I welcome you to the Chair.
The Minister laid out in some detail the reasons for the change, and we have just heard about the tendency, which many members of the Committee will be concerned about, to bring us together for reasons that would not arise if such errors and oversights were avoided in the first place. I want to ask the Minister a couple of questions, which he may be able to assist with when he draws the Committee to a close. The first and fundamental question is this: why is fraud a trigger offence in the first place? Is the purpose of having it as a trigger offence primarily to try to reduce fraud or to reduce class A drug use? I understand that in many cases there is a connection between those two offences, but there is not automatically and inevitably a connection.
As the Minister rightly said—indeed, he said that this was raised in another place—fraud is a broader category of offence than “obtaining property by deception”, but I shall be interested if he will have a stab at defining the difference between the two. Obtaining property by deception may well be a sub-category of fraud, but I imagine that obtaining property by deception would be more routinely linked to the use of class A drugs than the broader category of fraud.
What I am trying to get to is not necessarily the legal niceties or the drafting requirements, but the purpose of the provision and what the Government hope to achieve with regard to reducing fraud or class A drug use, or both. However, subject to the interesting response that I hope we shall hear on what the effects will be for my constituents and those of other members of the Committee, I am sure that this change is broadly sensible and we are happy to support it.
10.46 am
Mr. Coaker: I thank Opposition Members for their comments. It is quite funny that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough made the remarks that he did. I wanted to welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow to the Committee and then I realised that I could not pronounce the last bit of his constituency name, so I intended, when I stopped speaking, to ask him exactly how to pronounce it so that I could welcome him to the Committee now. Previously, we have often been in different roles: he has often been on the Front Bench and I have been supporting him in Committee. I wanted to get the pronunciation exactly right.
Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for welcoming me to the Committee. If my hon. Friend is struggling with the third part of the constituency name, he can simply shorten it to the Gow, as it is affectionately known in the area. Strathaven may be a bit more difficult for him.
The Chairman: I am certainly glad that no one asked me to pronounce it.
Mr. Coaker: I welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and the Gow to the Committee. It is not only good politically to see him here; I have a personal affection for my right hon. Friend, whom I watched and supported as a Whip in relation to defence matters for a couple of years. It was always a great pleasure to work with him, so it is very good to see him here today, lending his expertise and experience to our deliberations.
I say in answer to the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that we are making an important change and clarification of the legislation. As I said in my opening remarks, it is regrettable that we have had to do this, but it is an important change. He chided us slightly for the answer that he received from a ministerial colleague of mine about the bits of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 that were not enacted. I point out to him that although some two pages may not have been enacted, 109-odd pages of that Act make a huge difference to the protection of children, to families and to the Courts Service. A number of aspects of the Act may not have been enacted, but a considerable amount has been, which has led to a great improvement in services.
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the explanatory memorandum. I am sure he is not saying that we do not need to ensure that people are informed of the changes that are being made. We regret the changes that we are having to make, but the important thing is that an anomaly has been recognised and we have changed things as soon as it became clear to us. As he pointed out, the provisions will help people such as himself, acting in a capacity in the courts, to deal with drug offenders when they come before them.
In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Taunton, I must say that we are including fraud because obtaining property by deception or attempting to do so are, as he has rightly said, included in the relevant definition in the Fraud Act 2006. We have changed part of schedule 6 to the 2000 Act to reflect that, but we need to amend it. If he reflects on the matter and talks to the police in his constituency, as I know he does, or to drug-misusing offenders, he will find that many of them fund their drug habit through obtaining or attempting to obtain property by deception or through other elements of fraud that may, for example, involve the use of a credit card. I am sure that he can think of many examples where fraud, in one form or another, would be used to fund a drug habit. We think it only appropriate and right that this provision is included in the legislation; as I say, obtaining property by deception is a subset in respect of the Fraud Act 2006.
This gives me the opportunity to point out something that I have already pointed out. We introduced the drugs intervention programme in 2004, when only a relatively small number of drug offenders were entering treatment, and now nearly 1,000 a week enter treatment through the criminal justice system because of that programme. That is a big success.
We should have got the legislation right in the first place, but the amendment order gives us the opportunity to highlight one of the major successes that this Government have had in tackling drug-offending behaviour in our communities. Since the drug intervention programme was introduced, the use of trigger offences has meant that there has been a 20 per cent. drop in acquisitive crime, which, as we know, is the major crime used by drug offenders to fund their habit.
Mr. Coaker: Well, we believe that where people have been tested as a result of the Fraud Act or the old offence of obtaining property by deception, the positive test rate was about 16 per cent. That is a figure that I can cite with respect to those who have been tested.
I think that the Committee is united in saying that this order is a clarification of the law. It will help the courts, but it will also fundamentally help all our communities to battle against those who misuse drugs. An important power has been given to the police to test people on arrest, in many circumstances, and on charge, in other circumstances. It has led to a reduction in crime and is part of our continuing battle against drugs in our community.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007.
Committee rose at six minutes to Eleven o’clock.

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