Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: Before the Minister finishes, could I press her on the matter of human rights? She says that she believes that the provisions are not incompatible. Is she prepared to say categorically that the Joint Committee is wrong in its statement on that issue? That is an area on which I feel concern, and I do not feel that we have had an entirely satisfactory response.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In our response to the committee's comments, we set out fully why we believe the provisions to be compatible. I know that it is getting late. I am quite happy to make the response available to the right reverent Prelate if he believes that that would be helpful, and to ensure that a copy is placed in the Library so that all have an opportunity to read it.

To respond properly to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, it would be right for me to go through each and every comment made by the committee. That would be the proper way to respond. However, I have tried to be more telegraphic because it is very difficult at this time of night to ensure that everyone absorbs what I say. Lawyers are always being accused of going on for ever and boring people with technicalities, and I do not want to be found equally guilty. What I have suggested may be the most efficacious way of dealing with the issue. If the right reverend Prelate would be content, I would be more than happy to write to him and to make the response available to everyone else.

Lord Dixon-Smith: If it would help the Minister, I am sure that I am right in saying that the Government's response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights is already available in the Printed Paper Office in the second report on the Bill.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for her response. However, may I make a small correction to the very beginning of her remarks? I did not suggest that the Bill was an attempt to alienate and demonise young people. I meant to suggest that young people would be inadvertently alienated and demonised by the measures in the Bill. I am sure that it is not the

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1018

Government's intention to alienate and demonise young people, but we think that that will be a consequence if these measures are passed into law.

The Minister talked about the efforts the Government are making to engage young people. Of course we welcome all that. However, it is not completely working, and that is why we have problems. We truly still do not think that these are the ways to do it—because of the unintended consequence of alienating and demonising young people to which I just referred. Of course also, we accept that this is not just about young people. I accept absolutely what the Minister said about younger children sometimes being intimidated by older ones. However, our arguments apply to people of any age.

I turn to the Minister's comments about what I said about black and Asian young people. Of course she is quite correct that there was no intention in my remarks to be offensive in any way. If my actual words are read, I am sure that that will be quite clear. There could be a different interpretation that the noble Baroness had in her head, but, if so, with respect, it was an incorrect one. My remarks were intended to protect young black and Asian people from being inappropriately targeted by the police if they have the powers in the Bill. I thought that I had made that quite clear. Stop-and-search powers cast a very long shadow.

The Minister spoke with the same passion that I feel about the need to provide conditions whereby people can live the peaceful life to which they have a right. I think that we both agree on that. Clearly we disagree about the methods that will be effective in achieving that. I was most interested to hear for a second time—I was not bored by it—the example of Harrow which the Minister mentioned. It is a very good example. However, it did not require the Bill to do it; QED, I think I should say.

On the question of human rights, it is not that I think that the Bill is against the human rights of individuals—it is the experts who think so. It is the Joint Committee on Human Rights which says so, and it is very clear about it.

I thank the Minister for her courtesy in responding to me this evening. I fear that we will come back to these matters later in our consideration.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Authorisations: supplemental]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 157:

    Page 27, line 17, at end insert ", and

(d) must be granted by a magistrates' court"

The noble Lord said: It is only a very short spell of months since we were busy revising the magistrates' courts into an all-singing, all-dancing, all-performing and wonderful social organisation. It struck us that it was a remarkable lacuna in the Bill that they were not to be consulted when these areas were to be designated. After all, in some ways, that sort of judgment is more appropriate to magistrates than it is to a local authority. We consult the local authority, but the magistrates are not involved—although, of course, they clearly would be involved if any court case

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1019

subsequently arose as a result of all this. It is a simple little amendment which we thought worth exploring. Why in this particular instance have the magistracy been left out of this particular matter? There may be a good reason for it. If there is, I shall be very interested to hear it. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: I support Amendment No. 157. I am sure that the Committee is quite tired of hearing from me tonight, so I shall be very brief. I think that it is wholly reasonable that a magistrates' court should be able to assess the need for an authorisation and grant it or not as it sees fit. There is a great danger that the police will be able to grant themselves far too much power. To put the magistrates' court into the balance is a suitable check and balance to prevent that.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, explained, Amendment No. 157 seeks to move the granting of an authorisation from a senior police officer to a magistrate. This will make the process for granting an authorisation far more lengthy and bureaucratic, as well as costly. Cost is a very important consideration.

There are similar circumstances when the police can authorise powers to be used in a designated area without an application to the courts. One example, which I believe the noble Lord will appreciate, is the power to stop and search for offensive weapons under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Of course, if someone is prosecuted for failure to comply with a direction, they will have the opportunity to challenge whether an authorisation was properly made in the course of their defence.

As the noble Lord said, it is a simple amendment but we believe that it is unnecessary and bureaucratic. We are also somewhat puzzled by the way in which the Conservative Party in the Commons wanted to remove the authorisation entirely. That seems somewhat at odds with the position which the noble Lord adopted in the Committee this evening. He may wish to reflect on that when he reads Hansard and considers whether the amendment is sensible. The noble Baroness expertly seconded, as it were, the noble Lord's move to strike out the provision we are discussing. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am slightly amused by the noble Lord's sally against me because of a slight inconsistency between Members of this House and Members of another place. We are independent of them and we are able to take our own line across country. That is exactly what we have done. We thought that there was a case to answer. To be fair, the noble Lord has answered it. Whether I entirely agree with every word he said is another matter. As I say, we thought that there was a case to answer and I am grateful for the explanation. We shall study that response. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1020

[Amendments Nos. 158 and 159 not moved.]

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Powers under section 30: supplemental]:

[Amendment No. 160 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 161:

    Page 28, line 8, after "person" insert "unless they are under the age of 18"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 161, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 162. These amendments are similar in a way to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 to Part 2 which I moved last week. They are based on our obligation under the UNCRC to treat under-18s differently in the criminal justice system.

Because of the lateness of the hour I shall not repeat all the arguments I advanced last week. Suffice it to say that we believe that a three-month gaol sentence is excessive for a young person who is simply there in a place where an officer thinks he should not be. A fine is also inappropriate. Young people have little income so the fine should, if proportionate, be very small and therefore ineffective. If we must have these measures at all, at least let us have a community sentence which avoids dragging children into prisons and gives them an opportunity to do something useful for their community instead. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I say straight away that I share the noble Baroness's concern in tabling Amendments Nos. 161 and 162 that juveniles convicted of knowingly contravening a direction should not face a custodial sentence. I reassure her immediately that a custodial sentence is not an option for juveniles convicted of this offence.

Given the debate we had in relation to Clause 4 of this Bill, perhaps it would be helpful if I made clear that there is no need for the Bill to spell out all the available sentencing options open to a court. The options available to a court dealing with a criminal offence are set out in the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (as amended). Options range, in hierarchical order, from imprisonment, community service orders, fines through to conditional and absolute discharges. The legislation creating the offence will spell out the maximum period of imprisonment and the maximum fine which can be imposed, but the sentencing court can of course impose a lesser penalty. The Bill sets the maximum penalty as three months' imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—that is to say 2,500 for an adult, 1,000 for 14 year-olds to 17 year-olds and 250 for 10 year-olds to 13 year-olds.

Detention and training orders, the juvenile equivalent of imprisonment, can be made for a minimum of four months. That means that where the maximum penalty of imprisonment which could be imposed is less than four months, as here, a detention and treatment order is not an option in relation to a juvenile offender. The court will be left with the options of a community sentence, a fine, a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge.

17 Sept 2003 : Column 1021

In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel comforted, and I ask her not to press her amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page