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Lord Renton: My Lords, in this Bill we are dealing with a new and very unusual power. Although I support the amendment proposed by my noble friend as far as it goes, I say with deep respect to her and to my noble friend Lady Anelay that the proposed new clause does not go far enough. I think that instead of it just being an enabling power, it ought to be an automatically compulsory power. In other words, it should read:

After all, the court was responsible for fines in each case and has the right and responsibility to consider what has been done in each case. Therefore, I very much hope that at Third Reading—even if this amendment is accepted by the Government now—we could have an even stronger provision.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course I hear the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and, indeed, by the noble Baroness. I hope that I shall reassure noble Lords that that anxiety is misplaced. The fines collection scheme is designed to reduce the burden on judicial and court time by transferring administrative responsibilities—the collection of fines—to the fines

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officers. There is nothing in these provisions or in the scheme to prevent the court from monitoring particular cases if that is thought by the court to be desirable. So there is nothing in the provisions which would prevent the court from saying, on any given case, precisely what it requires of the fines officer; precisely under what conditions it would expect to have the matter referred back to it for consideration; and keeping control of any individual case in a manner which it deems to be appropriate and specific to the needs of that case.

Noble Lords will know that there is a wide variety in the nature of cases and defendants who come before the court. Some come for the first time; some come after having many appearances. The court has to make an assessment as to the most appropriate way of dealing with each case and fashion both the sentence and the methodology adopted to that particular case. To require each and every case to be referred back to the magistrates may put an unnecessary burden upon them which they would not seek themselves.

The new clause after Clause 31 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, would allow the court to place a requirement on the fines officer. Although I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising such an important issue and I understand her concerns, in responding to a similar amendment in Committee tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Hunt of Wirral, I made it clear that the fines officer can refer the case back to the court at any time. There is also nothing to prevent the court from stipulating at point of sentencing that it wishes the fines officer to report back on the progress of a particular case within the fines collection scheme, if that is thought desirable. In addition, I should add that the court can take the matter back if the offender asks for the matter to be referred after a discretionary decision of a fines officer.

We suggest that the right balance is as currently structured. I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 which provides that the offender can appeal to the court against the fines officer's decision. Therefore, we suggest that this amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, she referred to the opportunity of the court to get a report from the fines officer. The decision that the court would have to make as to whether to ask for that information surely would place a much bigger burden on the court than just being told what has happened in each case. Would that not simplify matters?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I should emphasise—the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will know—that the fines officer will be an officer of the court. There will be a record kept of what happens in relation to each and every case, and the court will be seized of that information. I was seeking to make clear that when a magistrate comes to hear a particular case, the magistrate is, in accordance with propriety, told about the background of the defendant and the nature of the case, and makes the informed decision as to the most appropriate sentence.

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It is open to the magistrates to say the precise basis upon which they are making the order, what they wish the fines officer to do and, if they so desire, the events which would trigger the matter coming back to them for further consideration. All that is perfectly possible under the scheme. It allows the magistrates to choose those cases which they find troubling or concerning, where they think that opportunity should be seized themselves. Of course it is open, too, to the defendant, if he disagrees with the way in which the discretion is being discharged, to have the matter referred back to the magistrates for them to look at it also. Therefore, it meets the needs of both parties in that regard.

We think that it would enable the fines officers to be of great assistance to the magistracy in discharging their duty. The administrative reduction of the burden would be welcome. It is not meant in any way to take away the primary role and function that the magistrates will have to impose the sentence and to manage the case.

5 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that detailed explanation. In my experience, when defendants appear before the court for sentencing and a fine is imposed, at that stage, almost all are optimistic about how they will pay it. They agree readily to pay the fine within 28 days. However, I am concerned that if that fails and a defendant does not pay the fine, even when instructed to do so by instalments, the fines officer is then able to issue a clamping order. That action changes the character of the case. At that point, I should have thought that the court ought to be able to look again at the case and make the order, rather than leaving that power to the fines officer.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for his suggestion. We feel that there is much to consider before Third Reading, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Collection of fines by fines officers]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 66:

    Page 61, line 34, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) and insert—

"(2) Interest shall be payable from the date of default on the amount of the fine for the time being unpaid at the rate of interest payable on judgment debts."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this large group of amendments, most of which are consequential, deals with one issue; that is, instead of being faced with a lump-sum increase in the fine, a defaulter should be required to pay interest on it.

Paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 to the Bill provides for a once-and-for-all increase in the fine in the case of default. Such "default" means that a person has failed to pay the fine on the date when it was due. The purpose of the amendments is to replace that once-and-for-all liability of the defaulter to an increase in

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the fine with a running liability to pay an increase which will accrue from day to day while the fine remains unpaid.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Does any other enactment include a provision of the kind now being proposed?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, not that I am aware of, but I am also not aware of any other legislation that provides for a fine to be increased on default.

Under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2, a discount can be made available for payment made in due time. That is perfectly acceptable. It is a principle already used quite widely as regards, for example, parking fines. A discount is available for prompt payment. But paragraph 9—while I am not sure whether it is unique, it is certainly highly unusual—provides for an increase on default. In effect, it duplicates paragraph 6 by providing that if the fine is paid on time, the discount is available, but if the fine is not paid on time, not only is the discount lost, but potentially one becomes liable to an increase.

Although I would like the Minister to confirm it, I assume that the amount of the increase will be fixed by the regulations and will not be a matter left to the discretion of the fines officer. However, under paragraph 11 the fines officer will have the power to waive or reduce the amount of the increase.

I suggest that that is the wrong approach. A substantial increase on the default, over and above the loss of the discount, may create hardship. Furthermore, a one-off increase presents no further incentive for the defaulter to pay thereafter. I believe that it would be better to impose a more gentle increase, but one that would keep on running until the date of payment. Such an increase would be interest. I suggest that the appropriate rate of interest would be the rate of interest due by statute on judgment debts. It would be simple interest, of course, and I do not believe that it would be a problem for the fines officer to calculate the amount of interest and then to tell the defaulter what is due.

That would be a fairer and better way of achieving the result that the Government intend and which we support; that is, of ensuring that someone who defaults on the payment of a fine is not left unscathed by the delay. However, for the reasons I have set out, I think that this would be a better method than the one that has been chosen by the Government. I beg to move.

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