|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long but I would like to thank all those who have spoken in the Second Reading debate this morning and in particular, as others have done, congratulate the excellent maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Laidlaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter.
10 Sept 2004 : Column 855
I would also like to thank the Minister for her response and for being here on a Friday morning. I have to say, though, that I was slightly disappointed that her response was not slightly more informative of the Government's intentions on these matters, or, indeed, slightly more constructive given the spirit in which I introduced this Bill. The Minister's speech seemed to be based on the premise that I was arguing for a pre-legislative referendum. I think the Minister will find when she refers back that I went out of my way to ask the Government to confirm that their intention was that Parliament should address the Bill first and that a referendum should follow. I invited her to tell noble Lords whether, given the timing of the introduction of the Bill to Parliament and the expectation they had of how long it would take to go through Parliament, she considered four months adequate to allow two months after the expected time of the passage through Parliament. I have never argued for a pre-legislative referendum and I am afraid that the premise of her response based on that missed the point of my proposal.
The noble Baroness asked whether I had checked the wording of the referendum question with the Electoral Commission. I ask the noble Baroness to check Section 104 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. My reading of that at least is that it is the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, once a Bill has been introduced into Parliament with a suggested wording, for it to consider the Bill and come back. I would welcome the noble Baroness writing to me on whether they are now considering that issue.
Three issues have been raised to which I would like to respond very quickly. The first was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, about why the issue was so important. As the Minister said, I did not feel it right to spend time on that this morning, but those who listened to the speeches of some noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Laidlaw, Lord Rees-Mogg and Lord Kalms, will have no doubt on why it is important. We can come back to that another time.
A second point was raised around the practical issues. The purpose of the debate was really to talk about the practical issues around the timing that I propose. As I said, I was keen to hear views on it from around the House. Some, including my noble friend Lord Patten, argued that we should have a shorter time. Others argued for longer, for which there were a number of reasons. Some said that a pamphlet should be distributed to all houses. I certainly agree; that would be very helpful. I assume that the Foreign Office, apart from producing a White Paper, has not sat on its hands for the past few months, and that it would be possible to have some kind of pamphlet agreed relatively quickly; perhaps not.
Some noble Lords rightly raised questions about the Christmas period. Whether we need to raise four months to five or six months to allow the vote into the sunny months is an interesting consideration. That is exactly the kind of debate that we need to have in
10 Sept 2004 : Column 856
Committee. Other noble Lords asked how long the matter would take in Parliament, which goes back to the point that I raised in the Minister's reply. Again, perhaps we should allow for a longer debate in Parliament. If the Government committed to the time that the Bill was introduced in Parliament, we might be able to have a referendum conditional on when the Bill went through Parliamentthat is, so many months after the conclusion of the Bill. All those are valid questions. They were exactly the type of issues it was helpful that our discussion covered.
I cannot help noticing that most of the voices arguing for a much longer time-scale were the voices of those who sought approval for the treaty. All those of us who were happy with a shorter period who were quite happy going to the country on the basis that the country knows what it wants. As others have observed, the fact that other countries are managing to have a referendum early next year in some cases, and in other cases have set dates, should encourage us to think that we ought to be able to set a date on a similar time-scale.
That is more than enough on the topic for today. There were some questions on whether the Bill should be a Private Member's Bill. I pointed out why I thought that there might be advantages for the Government in having it as one, but if the Government wish to take it over as a government Bill, I shall happily step aside. This very useful discussion has illustrated the importance of discussing the issues.
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I did not consult the Electoral Commission. I may be wrongI ask the noble Baroness for guidance on the matterbut my understanding of the relevant Act is that Section 104 states that when,
"a Bill is introduced into Parliament which . . . provides for the holding of a poll that would be a referendum . . . and . . . specifies the wording of the referendum question . . . The Commission shall consider the wording of the referendum question, and shall publish a statement of any views of the Commission".
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14 July be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee].
10 Sept 2004 : Column 857
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, penalty notices for disorder were introduced by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. They are on-the-spot penalties for disorderly behaviour that allow police officers to issue penalty notices in respect of offences listed in Section 1 of the Actfor example, wasting police time, causing harassment, alarm or distress, throwing fireworks and being drunk and disorderly or drunk in a highway. Those are low-level anti-social offences in themselves but we know that they cause communities much inconvenience, distress and aggravation.
Penalty notices are an important part of the Government's determined campaign, working with the police, local authorities and concerned citizens, to tackle both the causes of anti-social behaviour and its damaging effects. They sit alongside existing youth justice system powers to reprimand, warn and prosecute, and are one part of a range of anti-social behaviour measuresindividual support orders, dispersal powers, and parenting contracts and orders. All those powers are designed to give the police and other agencies an appropriate range of tools to deal with disorder and anti-social behaviour. The offences that I have mentioned, as noble Lords know only too well, cause the public much annoyance and inconvenience. They also increase general concern about the level of crime and the safety of individuals and communities.
The recipient of a penalty notice has 21 days to decide what to do. If the penalty is paid within that time, they cannot be tried and they do not get a criminal record for the offence. If within 21 days they choose to go to court, they may be tried for that offence. If they do nothingif they take neither of those coursesthe penalty is increased and registered as a fine at one and a half times the penalty. Under the order, where a penalty notice is given to someone aged between 10 and 15, the police must notify his parent or guardian within 28 days. That parent or guardian then becomes liable to pay the penalty under the notice. The 21-day period in which to decide whether to go to court or pay the penalty runs from only the day on which the parent or guardian is notified of the penalty notice, rather than the date on which the child is given the notice. That is an important safeguard.
Young people are responsible for a substantial amount of anti-social behaviour but, as I said, the order provides that, where a notice is given to someone aged 10 to 15, the police must notify the parent or guardian. That includes the local authority if it has parental responsibility for that child. The police can cancel a notification which has been sent out, and then notify someone else if the person first notified turns out not to be the parent or guardian.
We propose under the order to introduce the scheme for the relevant age group in pilot areas. We intend to invite the same forces which originally piloted fixed penalty notices for adults to be involvedthe West Midlands and the attached British Transport Police division, Essex and a division of the Metropolitan Police. The North Wales force was also involved in those pilots and we are discussing with the Welsh
10 Sept 2004 : Column 858
Assembly whether it wishes to be involved in the pilots as well. We may extend the range of areas slightly, as a few other forces have expressed an interest in being involved, but it is our firm intention to carry out pilots for the age group before we extend the scheme on a national basis.
A separate order, subject to negative resolution, is being prepared to deal with the penalty levels. For those aged 10 to 15, we plan to propose £30 for the lower-tier offences and £40 for the higher tier. Noble Lords will know that that compares with the proposed £50 and £80 scale for adults, so we have pitched the levels at a lower scale. The lower juvenile levels reflect the provisions regarding court fines for similar offences by this age group.
On 19 July, the Government also laid a separate affirmative order extending the range of offences covered by fixed penalty notices to include criminal damage under £500, retail theft under £200, littering, firework offences and four alcohol misuse offences targeting sale of alcohol to underage drinkers. Juveniles as well as adults would be covered by that extension. We are of course aware of concerns about the welfare of children aged between 10 and 15 who receive penalty notices. The question has always been asked whether the notice will be handed out and the child simply sent away. The answer is a very clear no.
Guidance for police forces is being prepared. It makes it clear that welfare issues must be addressed before a notice can be issued. If an officer has concerns about a child's welfareand it will be only police officers for the duration of the pilots, as we do not propose to allow community support officers to issue notices to this age group for the time beingthey must use existing procedures to address those concerns and ensure that the child's well-being is safeguarded; I emphasise "must". The guidance, on which there has been wide consultation with ACPO, the Department for Education and Skills, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Youth Justice Board and others, will be available to forces before the pilots commence.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|