Clause 30 - Authorisations: supplemental

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:45 am ar 13 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow 10:45, 13 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 170, in

clause 30, page 25, line 1, leave out 'either or'.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 171, in

clause 30, page 25, line 5, leave out

'some conspicuous place or places'

and insert 'conspicuous places'.

Amendment No. 211, in

clause 31, page 25, line 30, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 120, in

clause 31, page 25, line 30, at end insert

'but must be recorded forthwith.'.

Amendment No. 212, in

clause 31, page 25, line 30, at end insert—

'( ) must be given as a written notice'.

Amendment No. 172, in

clause 31, page 25, line 36, leave out from 'scale' to the end of line 38.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow 11:00, 13 Mai 2003

This group of amendments would achieve a number of things in respect of the publicity relating to authorisation. Amendment No. 170 would remove ''either or'' and ensure that both methods are used.

I am sure that the Minister will say that there might be circumstances in which only one method is suitable. However, as the clause is drafted, only one or the other may be used. Perhaps ''either, or, or both'' would make more sense. The orders should be made as widely known as possible. It would be in the interests of the public and of the police if people were made aware that the orders were in place. The ability to choose one method or the other—publication in a newspaper alone, or merely posting in a conspicuous place—might be taken to mean that merely sticking up on notice somewhere would be deemed sufficient. However, notices get torn down—the children who caused the original problem could remove the notice within a matter of hours, so that nobody was aware that the authorisation was in place. By leaving out ''either or'', we hope that both methods will be used. No doubt, the Minister will say that some places lack either local newspapers or conspicuous places, but I am sure that both can be found.

Amendment No. 171 would replace ''some conspicuous place'' with ''conspicuous places''. The object is to ensure that the notice is more widely available. That would be consistent with the Government's aims. The most effective use of authorisation issued by a senior officer is if the problem goes away without the police having to deal with it on the ground. The more widely known the authorisation, the more likely that is to happen, so I should have thought that the Government would be interested in its being as widely known as possible.

Amendment No. 172 would remove clause 31(2)(b). It is a probing amendment to test why the Government have imprisonment as one of the penalties and in what circumstances they might want the sanction of imprisonment to be used. What is the situation when somebody has been given a dispersal order for 24 hours and returns to the area within that time? There has to be some sort of penalty, such as a fine, but I want to hear the Government's justification for imprisonment being necessary—or do they see it as a final recourse, perhaps after a series of fines has been imposed and has not worked? The Minister's thoughts on what would be an appropriate use would be welcome clarification.

Amendment No. 120, tabled by the Opposition, is similar to our amendment No. 212. They both seek to deal with the fact that the Bill seems not to allow for a written record to be made of an order being given to disperse. Our concern is that without our suggestion of a sort of dispersal ticket, rather like a parking ticket, of which there would be a carbon copy, or what is suggested in the Conservative amendment, under which the policeman would record it there and then, it would not be possible to prove that a penalty had been issued.

If the police did not have a record of the names and addresses of those involved, it would not be possible to prove that a person had returned to an area within 24 hours. It would be down to the constable to say, ''I told this person to move away the previous night, and the following morning he was there again.'' That person could argue that the police did not say that they were issuing a direction under the Bill. They would say, ''Yes, we saw the police officer, but he did not say anything like that to me.'' It would be between him and the police officer as to what was said at the time.

That brings us to amendment No. 211. That amendment would delete clause 31(1)(a), which states ''may be given orally''. That does not mean that the police office cannot do so; but we are concerned that the direction could be given only orally. If a police officer spoke privately to the members of a group, issuing them individually with dispersal notices, it would be on his say so at a subsequent trial. If the person was caught the next day, it would be on the say so of the officer, yet under the Bill it seems that there need be no witnesses and no record that that took place.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

When a police officer issues a caution, he presumably makes a note of it in his notebook. I presume that that will happen in this instance.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

I hope that that will be the case, and that the Minister will confirm it. However, Conservative Members have tabled an amendment that states that it ''must be recorded forthwith''.

We are trying to address a potential problem. I am sure that the Minister will say that the amendments are completely unnecessary because the matter is dealt with in other clauses. However, the purpose of consideration in Committee is to ascertain where problems lie. This mixed group of amendments deals with the notification of dispersal and how it is recorded, so that if such cases come to court they

can be properly dealt with. Finally, in what circumstances does the Minister foresee imprisonment being used?

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As the hon. Member for Ludlow said, amendment No. 120 requires the verbal instruction to be put into writing ''forthwith''. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, it could be entered into a notebook. It is a probing amendment. Like the hon. Member for Ludlow, I am concerned that if a prosecution goes ahead under clause 31(2), there should be sufficient evidence to ensure that the process is completed and convictions obtained. It strikes me that because we are discussing groups of people, the situation could arise in which it was one officer's word against six, eight or 10 young people, all of whom flatly deny that he told them to go away or disperse. That is the issue on which I am probing the Government. How would such a situation be handled to ensure that the powers are properly used and that a prosecution under clause 31(2) could be achieved?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Amendment No. 170 would ensure that publicity must be given for an authorisation both by publishing a notice in a newspaper circulated in the relevant locality and by posting an authorisation notice in a conspicuous place or places in the relevant locality. The Government believe that, in some areas, one of those methods will suffice, and that that will depend on local circumstances. We do not want to impose unnecessary bureaucracy on the police. For example, there might not be a suitable newspaper circulating in a relevant locality, and so, if the amendment were accepted, the police would not be able to authorise the action under discussion. The clause allows for either or both methods to be used, but there may be circumstances in which the use of both methods is not appropriate.

Amendment No. 171 would ensure that an authorisation notice is posted in more than one ''conspicuous place'' in a relevant locality. We agree that it is important for the public to be notified of the possible use of the powers. However, local circumstances, including the size of the area to be covered by the authorisation, may mean that one conspicuous place in the relevant locality will provide adequate publicity for the use of the powers.

Amendment No. 120 would ensure that a police officer giving a direction would record that direction forthwith. I agree with the principle that an officer should record the directions given, and those issues will be covered in a code of practice issued under clause 33. However, that is a matter of best practice and should not be included in the Bill. An officer should have some discretion as to exactly when a record is made. ''Forthwith'' might be interpreted to mean ''on the spot'', and that will not always be practical. Most sensible officers will do their recording as soon as is practical, for the sake of accuracy, but the circumstances with which they may be faced may mean that they cannot comply with the term ''forthwith''. We should encourage best practice, but should not necessarily include the ''forthwith'' direction in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 211 and 212 would ensure that all directions would be given in writing, and that the police officer or community support officer could not give an oral direction. The Government believe that that is unnecessarily bureaucratic. In some circumstances the police may choose to give a written direction. However, in the light of local circumstances and the urgency of the situation, we believe that the constable should have the option of giving an oral direction.

Amendment No. 172 would mean that someone who ignored the direction given by a constable could not face a custodial sentence on summary conviction. We believe that imprisonment should be an option for those convicted in the worst type of cases. The maximum penalty is the same as that available under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 for knowingly contravening a police direction.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

The Minister used the words, ''the worst kind of cases''. Could he elaborate on that phrase? Is he referring to repeat offences? What makes one offence of ignoring a direction worse than another?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:15, 13 Mai 2003

That is a matter for the courts. The maximum sentence includes the possibility of a prison sentence where the courts believe that to be appropriate. In effect, the amendment would deny the courts the opportunity to consider prison a sentence, even where they thought that one would be appropriate given the circumstances and the behaviour. We should not place such a restriction on the courts. As I said, the powers are exactly in line with legal provision for other situations in which people knowingly contravene a policeman's directions.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In light of the new legislation and the new emphasis on community sentences, and in light of the fact that we are talking about antisocial behaviour, a sentence in the community rather than costly imprisonment might be a real alternative to a fine for young people.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are talking not about antisocial behaviour but about people defying a police officer's direction. However, the hon. Lady is right. In many circumstances, a court may feel that community sentences are appropriate. My point is that the amendment would prevent them from considering a prison sentence in all circumstances. That is not appropriate, and it is out of line with provisions for other circumstances in which people defy a direction given to them by a constable. The option to consider a prison sentence must be open to the courts.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

Several issues have been raised. The Minister provided some clarification on the issue of recording people's details, but there is still concern about what would happen where quite a large group was given a dispersal order. Where two officers tell a group of 30 people to disperse, there may be concerns about their ability to write down exactly to whom they gave the order. If someone is caught the next day, his

defence might be, ''I wasn't in that group of 30 people.'' The Minister may want to deal with those issues in guidance. People may, of course, discover when and where the powers do not work as they use them in practice. Obviously, there will not be such a problem if there is CCTV in the area. None the less, there is a potential problem, although the Minister has gone some way towards dealing with it.

We heard the Minister's justification for the use of imprisonment. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), I hope that the courts will use community sentences in many cases, because they will probably be far more appropriate. The Minister says that the provisions are in line with other legislation, and that may be the case. However, some issues remain open, and he may want to consider them before issuing guidance to police officers. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.