|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bassam of Brighton: From the Government's perspective, the amendment reduces the clarity of the clause as drafted. The use of the power to close premises should not depend on criminal proceedings, which may or may not be pursued separately.
The inclusion of subsection (9) in Clause 2 seeks to ensure that no delays are caused in court by any confusion on the issue. The power is, after all, about providing relief to the community suffering nuisance and disorder. It would be undesirable in the extreme for a case to be held up pending the conclusion of
Lord Avebury: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Without the subsection, if someone sought to argue in court that the closure notice ought not to be agreed to because nobody in the premises had been convicted of a drug offence, the court would say that the legislation did not require it to take cognisance of whether someone in the premises had such a conviction. The court would go ahead and make the closure notice on the basis of what is left in the clause. The Minister is wrong and should at least agree to reconsider the matter before Report, with the benefit of advice from the lawyers, and perhaps in discussion with Members of the Opposition party.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I could not help thinking that some of the Minister's remarks meant that such a conviction was material. The three words at the beginning of the subsection, "It is immaterial", cause the problem. Will the Minister agree to look at that wording? There could be a more appropriate way to express the sentiments and to make the matter clearer. It is not the sort of wording that we should include in the Bill.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think it is immaterial. Obviously, at all times we listen to what Members of the Committee say. We will seek another view on the matter. I am satisfied that it is immaterial. It is important that we have that clarity in the Bill to ensure that the power can be used effectively. In the end, we may simply disagree on the point.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Before my noble friend sits down, this is a very difficult matter. Do the Government take the view that subsection (9) is necessary so that the person making an argument under subsection (6) can be told that he cannot raise the point?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is probably the case that having subsection (9) means that arguments that might otherwise occur do not happen. It obviates the need to get round that. That is why it is immaterial.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful for that final intervention. It makes the point that the wording should be looked at. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but we will probably have to take another cock-shy at it, at the very least, at a later stage.
Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may make a small point about the use of the word "but" in subsection (5). Is it the practice now to begin sentences with prepositions? I have noticed that it has crept into a number of Bills. Is there a style tsar in the office of the parliamentary draftsmen who has now dictated that the ordinary rules of grammar in that respect should be ignored? If we had the answer we could cease talking about the word "but" appearing at the beginning of clauses. Otherwise, I would like some justification for departing from those normal rules of grammar.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am inclined to agree. On the use of the word "but" in subsection (5), I am afraid that I am not a particularly good grammarian. My education does not extend that far. There is probably a style guru for drafting legislation. If there is, we have not met, but I may ask the question.
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12. This group of amendments deals with our obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for young people to be treated differently from adults by the criminal justice systemif they must get involved with it at all.
Amendment No. 10 refers to Clause 3(3), which allows reasonable force to be used. I tabled this probing amendment to ask the Government to clarify the situation about force if a child should be in the premises, or even if a child should resist forcible entry. It does not seem right that any force should be used against a child, although I understand that the clause refers to the enforcement of a closure order on a building, not a person. However, people get involved in these things.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 refer to Clause 4, where the offences and penalties for contravention of a closure order are detailed. Here I do not believe that either a custodial sentence or a fine is appropriate for someone under 18 for such an offence. We are not talking about offences of actually dealing with crack cocaine, but about remaining in or entering premises under a closure ordersomething much less serious.
Young people do not respond well to custodial sentences. If we really want to turn round their lives and prevent them reoffending, sending them to gaol for six months for such an act is not a positive way to deal with it, and neither is a fine. If it is appropriate to
Lord Elton: I am glad that the first of the three amendments, at least, is only a probing one, bearing in mind the number of six-feet-plus 16 year-olds I have met, some of whom have been violent. I cannot see how those duties could be conducted without the use of suitable restraining force on such people, particularly when excited by drugs.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I understand the sentiments of both the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, because they are both talking about a proportionate response. I, like the noble Lord, know a particular 13 year-old who is six feet one inch tall and whose father is six feet eight inches tall, so perhaps that is not unusual.
There will be a need to behave proportionately. That is why "reasonable force" is included in the Bill. Of course, the amount of force that would be reasonable to use in relation to a small child of tender years with very little strength and a great big hulking teenager bordering on 16, who may be obstreperous and difficult, would be very different. The noble Baroness will know that if one simply lifts a child in one's arms, that could be construed as using force to remove the child from the position.
The clause is drafted to ensure that constables exercising this power will do so reasonably and proportionately in relation to the circumstances that prevail at the time, which will vary, as noble Lords will know. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness.
On the second point in relation to community service, the noble Baroness is quite right: a community service order may often be appropriate. However, that may not always be the case, bearing in mind the activity participated in by the child. It may well be right that a small fine represents the extent of the culpability that prevailed on that occasion. The noble Baroness will also know that we are trying to give the sentencer a broader range of tools to use in an appropriate way in each individual case. When the Bill mentions six months' imprisonment, that is the maximum that may be imposed by the court. It is not a suggested mandatory sentence. I would be very surprised indeed if the maximum sentence were used often, if ever, but it is a parameter beyond which a sentencer cannot go.
We believe that it would be quite improper to tie the hands of the sentencer, who may wish to put together any combination of tools to meet the particular child's needs. It may be that the child would benefit from
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|