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Currently, all penalty tickets are in book form and issued manually. However, a number of police forces, including the British Transport Police, have developed electronic hand-held devices for front-line officers and would like to issue PNDs electronically. It has become clear that the current PND form is unsuitable to be reproduced using the latest technology and that the changes the forces wish to make to it may currently be unlawful. This is because the format of the ticket is required to be prescribed under Section 3 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. In view of this, the Association of Chief Police Officers requested that changes be made to the current legislation to de-prescribe the form. The Government agreed, a consultation paper was issued and the majority of the respondents were in favour of making this change.
The purpose of the order is to give police forces the freedom to design their own forms, should they so wish, and to remove the obstacle to the electronic hand-held issue of tickets presented by an inflexible format. Electronic completion of the forms would also improve accuracy of recording and may lead to better enforcement. However, I want to make it clear that de-prescription of the form will not affect the legal rights of recipients as the order will not change the statutory provisions of the scheme, such as the right to have a case heard in court. Furthermore, tickets will still contain the remaining six requirements
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The aim of removing unnecessary prescription is to reduce bureaucracy and costs to forces and is in accordance with the recommendations of the Independent Review of Policing by Sir Ronnie Flanagan and the policing White Paper. The Government are convinced that de-prescription will result in efficiency savings and operational benefits, in particular to those forces wishing to automate ticket issue. I invite the Committee to support this statutory instrument. I beg to move.
As he explained in his introduction, these penalty notices for disorder-I shall refer to them, as did the Minister, as PNDs-are a way of dealing with minor criminal offences without the need for prosecution and court proceedings. As he pointed out, fixed penalty notices have existed for many years. They were introduced for litter and noise offences in the 1990s and were applied to other offences by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. That Act sets out some 21 offences for which PNDs can be issued.
The Minister was at pains to stress that these notices are used as a way to streamline the disposal of minor offences but that, of course, the option is still there for a person issued with a notice to elect for court proceedings if they so wish. As regards this order, the noble Lord has explained that, because PNDs are issued by means of a paper notice, the exact form of which is prescribed in regulations under Section 3 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act, officers must carry with them books containing four different types of ticket-one each for upper and lower-tier offences for adults, and one each for upper and lower-tier offences for juveniles. I think that all noble Lords will agree that that arrangement is overcomplicated and unsatisfactory.
As the Minister tells us that most police forces have now developed electronic hand-held devices in the form of personal digital assistants-or PDAs, as we may call them-for use by officers, it seems sensible to de-prescribe the form in which the notices must be issued. Where the Government are prepared to reduce regulation, cut red tape and apply some common sense, we are only too glad to support those efforts. Sadly, we do not see nearly enough of that. However, I have a few questions for the Minister about the more general application of the disorder notice scheme.
This order has been presented by the Government as a way to simplify how penalty notices are issued. However, I would like an assurance from the noble Lord that these measures, which facilitate the use of electronic equipment, will not lead to an unnecessary increase in the database state. The Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Jack Straw, announced last month that the Office for Criminal Justice Reform will be reviewing the use of fixed penalty notices by the police. Which specific areas of the penalty notices for disorder scheme do the Government expect to be
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My colleagues in opposition have raised repeated concerns that the Government's persistent use of fixed penalty notices is letting certain criminals off with what amounts to a glorified parking ticket. We believe, absolutely, that it is vital that people are innocent until proven guilty, and I seek assurances that the streamlining of the regulation is designed to assist police efficiency and that this order is not being used to up the number of notices issued. If the Government are thought to be using penalty notices to raise revenue rather than to check crime, they will only be undermining their own rather weak record in that area.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, this gives us an opportunity to look at what a penalty notice should contain. One of the major problems arising under fixed penalty notices, which we have always opposed in my party, is that they allow what amounts to an offence brought to justice to be recorded against an individual. There are specifically notifiable offences for which penalty notices can be issued: under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, under Section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act, for theft under the Theft Act and for the possession of cannabis, in particular.
An acceptance of a penalty notice is recorded and notifiable; presumably, it remains on some form of list or computer record. If that is so, I should like to know for how long. Can these penalty notices be used as part of an individual's record against him in future proceedings, both for the purposes of proving guilt under the provisions which permit that or in the fixing of a penalty? I think that that is the case; I wait for reassurance on that. If it is the case, then the penalty notice itself should make it absolutely clear to an individual that by accepting such a notice and paying what amounts to a minimal figure of £80 or £50-which must be very attractive to an individual who would otherwise lose a day's work to go to court and contest something-he may cause considerable prejudice to himself, not just in the event of any future proceedings but in applications for jobs, if such a record is recorded and can be produced.
It is a serious matter. The current statutory provisions to which the Minister referred require a penalty notice to state the offence, give particulars, specify the suspended enforcement period during which the penalty notice can be paid, state to the justice's chief executive where the penalty may be paid, and inform the person of their right to ask to be tried for the alleged offence. As regards penalties, all that is required under Section 3 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 is for the notice to,
A person may be issued with a penalty notice, as I have said, for something that may count against him in the future-either as regards jobs or possible further proceedings. If I am right in that, will the Minister
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My secondary concern is that if you send police officers out on the street with an electronic device to give out notices, such as the devices carried by traffic wardens, there is an enormous temptation to use them in circumstances when police action would not normally be taken. The notices can be issued like confetti-not just to the perpetrator of a particular offence, who, for example, is causing a disturbance, but to the people standing around nearby. They may be dragged unwittingly into a system which is highly prejudicial to them.
It is extremely important that the Government review the way in which these penalty notices are being used, report to Parliament on how many are being issued and on whether there has been an increase as a result of the passing of this statutory instrument, report that they have looked at the forms that individual police forces use around the country and state that they are satisfied that the forms comply with the Act as it stands and that, as I argued in my main point, they give fair notice to people of the consequences of accepting a penalty notice, as opposed to contesting it-with all the trouble that that involves. These are the assurances that I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister.
Penalty notices were introduced as part of the Government's strategy to tackle low-level anti-social and nuisance behaviour. We believe that they enable the police to deliver swift and effective justice for lower-level criminality, freeing up the courts to concentrate on more serious offences. The aim is to provide the police with a swift financial punishment to deal with misbehaviour and a practical deterrent to future reoffending. PNDs free up the courts to concentrate on more serious offences and ease the position of the police. Issuing a penalty notice takes an officer approximately 30 minutes, compared with two and a half hours to prepare an evidential case file. The police officer is then freed to return to patrolling the street and does not have to attend court.
We think that PNDs have been successful, but the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is right to point out that there are possible dangers in such a system. As the Committee knows, and as the noble Baroness mentioned, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has set up a review. Indeed, there is a Written Ministerial Statement with yesterday's date on it that sets out the Government's concerns. We are looking at the use of tickets to seek to avoid inappropriate use, because there have been recent suggestions that they have been used inappropriately for offences that are too serious for a ticket and should, in the interests of both the community and the defendant, end up in court.
The noble Baroness asked me some questions. How long did the consultation last? It ran for six weeks from 22 August to 3 October 2007. Will the electronic devices not lead to even more on-the-spot fines being issued? There is no reason to think that the device itself will lead to an increase in the number of PNDs issued. As I said, issuing tickets electronically will save the police considerable time and reduce the amount of paper that an officer is required to carry.
In response to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, for a PND to be issued, an officer still needs to be satisfied that an offence has been committed that is suitable for the disposal option, following operational guidance. The noble Lord was concerned that if a policeman went around with a machine that was so easy to use, it might be used inappropriately and too often. One hopes that in the normal course, police officers would not do that. An offence must be committed before they can use that method, and the defendant always has the right to choose trial.
As for reporting, which was the first line of questioning from the noble Lord, PNDs will continue to be recorded as at present. One reason for that is to ensure that no offender receives a string of tickets. They are for recordable offences, and exist on the police national computer. They can be included in an enhanced form and can remain on the computer indefinitely, but I remind the Committee that they do not represent a conviction in the same way as would a court appearance followed by a finding of guilt.
Should a court be able to take note of previous PNDs when sentencing? The Independent Sentencing Guidelines Council's new magistrates' courts sentencing guidelines, which came into force in August last year, state:
Lord Thomas of Gresford: In those circumstances, would it not be highly desirable that those consequences should appear on the form? After all, the purpose of the form is not for the police officer to collect the money there and then but for the individual to take that form away, and he then has 21 days in which to pay it or to take the option of appearing in court. Should that not therefore be on the form so that he can study it and decide which option to take-to pay the fine or to contest it?
Lord Bach: The noble Lord makes a fair point. Of course, the individual has the 21 days in which he or she can, if they so choose, take legal advice. They may choose not to do so. The review is just beginning. I invite the noble Lord to put into the review-indeed, I may do so on his behalf-the notion that a model ticket in future should contain such a reference.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I would be grateful if the noble Lord could take that on board and give an assurance that he will make a submission to the review that it should be considered as a highly desirable practice.
Lord Bach: I am afraid that I cannot guarantee that will be done. I can guarantee that I will pass back the idea so that it is discussed by the review. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the suggestion.
Baroness Seccombe: I am not quite sure what the Minister said about the database. Does the order mean that if you get a ticket, in whatever form, it goes onto a separate database, or does it go onto a general police database?
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Community Radio (Amendment) Order 2010.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, community radio was established in the UK in 2005 following the Community Radio Order 2004. In a relatively short period of time the community stations have established themselves as an essential part of the radio landscape. More importantly, they have become both a voice and a focal point for the communities they serve.
To date, the regulator, Ofcom, has awarded over 200 community radio licences, of which approximately 150 stations are currently broadcasting. Stations can be heard the length and breadth of the country, from Orkney to the Isles of Scilly, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the range of programming they produce is equally as broad.
A station produces on average 77 hours per week of live broadcasting. Over 30 per cent of daytime output is speech-based, the vast majority of which is highly localised. Stations play a wide range of musical styles, often promoting local musicians and bands. What makes community radio unique, though, is that this content is delivered by an army of volunteers-on average, 75 volunteers per station per year. For these reasons we believe that community radio, while still in its infancy, has already proved a valuable addition to the local cultural and social landscape.
The Community Radio Order 2004 placed limitations on the sources of revenue and licensing of community radio stations. These restrictions were intended to reflect our concerns that a new tier of local radio that would have access to public funding could have a detrimental impact on existing local stations. More fundamentally, the restrictions sought to ensure that community radio be complementary, rather than just a new tier of competition, to the existing radio industry.
However, we have kept these restrictions under review to assess both their impact and the extent to which the protection they afforded remained appropriate. The most recent of these reviews, published in late 2007 by Ofcom, recommended a relaxation of the current regime. Recommendations were also made in the Government's own review of local radio, conducted as part of the Digital Britain programme. It is in the light of these recommendations and our own subsequent consultation that we now propose the changes set out in the draft Community Radio (Amendment) Order 2010.
The draft order addresses three main issues, as well as some more minor points. I propose to deal with the key issues first. The first proposal is to remove the restriction that currently prohibits community radio stations from taking more than 50 per cent of funding from any one source. This restriction was put in place to prevent stations from becoming overly reliant on a single source of funding and, to a lesser extent, to protect against a majority funder influencing the editorial content of a station.
We still believe these principles to be valid, although we also now accept that they can be achieved in different ways. Not least of these are the impartiality rules set out in the Communications Act 2003, which provide a sufficient safeguard of editorial impartiality for all other types of broadcasting. We also note that Ofcom's decision in 2008 to allow volunteer time to be offset against revenue has in practice already allowed stations to take single-source funding of greater than 50 per cent.
The second set of proposed changes would remove the restriction prohibiting a community radio station from being licensed in an area that overlapped with a commercial station with a coverage area of 50,000 adults or fewer. The effect of this has been to prevent some areas where there is obvious demand from having access to a community station. In light of our experiences to date, we are now satisfied that the advertising and sponsorship restrictions are sufficient to protect even the smallest of stations. This restriction can therefore be removed.
The third major change would allow existing community radio licence-holders to apply for an extension of their licence for a period of up to five years. This is because we recognise that, in many cases, community radio stations are taking longer than anticipated to become fully established, particularly in building relationships within communities and a volunteering network. We will keep this change under review, alongside the others introduced in this order, to consider their impact.
We have also taken the opportunity of a new order to clarify the licensing regime set out in the Community
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We believe that the changes set out in the draft order, taken together, will help to build on the successes of community radio and to establish a more sustainable sector for the longer term. I assure the Committee that I am satisfied that the draft order is compatible with convention rights. I beg to move.
Lord Luke: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thorough explanation of the effect of this order. However, I wish to make one or two points. We on these Benches are very positive about the future of radio. We think that local and community radio will continue to make up an integral part of this media sector. These stations provide a vital service that can cater for very specific tastes or a very specific area and so fill a need which risks being overlooked by larger national or commercial broadcasters who deal with broader areas or tastes.
Of these local community stations, 14 per cent, for example, are aimed at minority ethnic groups, 9 per cent are aimed at young people and 7 per cent at religious groups. Local community radio is, therefore, clearly an important part of the network of media available in this country. It helps to define local communities by allowing increased local involvement and a focus on local issues. For example, in Newport on the Isle of Wight there is a station catering specifically for the needs of the elderly; in Belfast there is a station particularly for Irish Gaelic speakers; and in London there is a station for those people interested in experimental radio art. I do not know whether the Minister knows what that is; I certainly do not. There is something for all tastes.
The demand for, and popularity of, these stations is shown by the fact that since the Community Radio Order 2004, Ofcom has licensed 214 stations-the Minister mentioned that-159 of which are already broadcasting. Stewart Purvis, Ofcom's content and standards partner, said:
"Community radio is now an established third tier of radio broadcasting in the UK. This new tier of radio adds richness and variety to the services already provided by the BBC and commercial radio and offers opportunities for people to get involved in local broadcasting".
With this in mind, we are very supportive of two of the substantive amendments which this order makes. Article 5 modifies the 2003 Act in relation to community radio. It introduces new Section 253A, which gives Ofcom the power to extend community radio licences for one period of not more than five years. We approve of this development because we think that a regulatory regime which is light touch and allows genuinely successful local radio stations to operate as part of a viable local media business is an important development and is to be encouraged. For this reason, we also support the first part of Article 3, which, as the Explanatory Note states, would remove,
This change is also a step in the right direction towards lighter regulation and allows freedom to grow for genuinely successful local stations which attract significant investment and donation from one source.
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