Clause 38 - Penalty notices for disorderly

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:45 am ar 15 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:45, 15 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 177, in

clause 38, page 30, line 3, leave out subsection (2).

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 67, in

clause 38, page 30, line 5, leave out subsection (3).

Amendment No. 178, in

clause 38, page 30, line 28, after 'ages', insert

', only following publication of fixed penalty notice pilot schemes' evaluations and after consultation with relevant interest groups, children's charities and youth magistrates.'.

Amendment No. 179, in

clause 39, page 30, line 31, after 'effect', insert

'only after evaluations of pilot schemes have been published.'.

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

It is a pleasure to move amendment No. 177. The other amendments in the group include our amendments Nos. 178 and 179, as well as the Conservatives' amendments Nos. 121 and 67.

I will speak briefly about fixed penalty notices. We are greatly concerned about the extension of the use of fixed penalty notices, before proper full evaluation has been published.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

On a point of order, Mr. Cran. Perhaps the hon. Lady has been misled by looking at

an earlier selection of amendments that contained amendment No. 121. That amendment was withdrawn two days ago, and does not appear on the current list. Perhaps the hon. Lady needs to update her notes.

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

I am sure that the hon. Lady is delighted to hear that advice.

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

Thank you, Mr. Cran.

I return to the matter of fixed penalty notices. There have been proposals to extend their use before the halfway point has been reached in their first year of piloting in four main pilot areas. We have constantly asked for details of the pilot schemes and how well they are working. There are reports that they are working well—we have heard about a 60 per cent. collection rate.

Fixed penalty notices are applied for a wide variety of behaviour, including drunk and disorderly behaviour. We had great concerns about how that particular example would work in practice. While I accept that, in the four pilot areas, there has been a high rate of collection of fines, I have not seen a breakdown by the various categories showing in which areas the notices have been most effective. We have asked for that information. One of our main points is that we do not believe that the scheme should be extended until the monitoring is complete and the pilot project has ended.

Amendment No. 177 would remove the reduction from 18 to 16 in the age at which the measure is applicable. We do not want the scheme to be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds for two reasons: first, the lack of evaluation and, secondly, the concerns of interest groups about extending the scheme. Those views need to be heard. I sympathise with the argument for consistency—in many other fields, the ''legal'' age is 16—and I see the logic of that argument. If I had received the full evaluation, I might have considered that argument, but without the full evaluation being available it is right to state the views of concerned groups. I hope that I will not be the subject of interventions about consistency.

The Children's Society is very concerned about the extension to 16 and 17-year-olds. It suggests that that age group is already significantly discriminated against in terms of entitlement to financial and other benefits. The society certainly opposes to any extension of the clause to children younger than 16, which the Conservative amendment addresses, to an extent. The Local Government Association is also concerned. It advocates the consideration of further referral panels for young offenders, rather than the use of fixed penalty tickets. The Law Society has expressed concern. The National Association of Probation Officers feels that young people who are involved in antisocial or criminal activity should be dealt with by the youth justice system, using some of the measures in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. There is a host of questions about the extension of the measure, especially because full evaluations of the pilots have not been published.

The Liberal Democrats appear to be rather more moderate than the Conservatives in this respect. I am not sure which of their amendments does what as I was

working last night on an earlier amendment paper. I am not keen on the extension to the younger age group, but we suggest that covering the ages 10 to 16 should be considered only after publication of the fixed penalty notice pilot scheme evaluations and full consultation with all the relevant interests groups, children's charities and youth magistrates. It seems reasonable to do that before taking the power to introduce the measure in future, although I understand that the affirmative procedure would have to be followed. An alternative to our modest approach of ensuring that we have considered all aspects fully would be to remove the reference to the 10 to 16 age group.

Amendment No. 179 applies to clause 39, but I should like to speak in rather more detail about the principles behind it when we get to schedule 2. It reinforces the fact that we think that when young people are involved, it is important to run pilot schemes and that they should be fully evaluated. I will pick up the details of the next clause when we get to schedule 2, but the principles are the same. We call for a pilot scheme on the intensive fostering proposal and for it not to be extended until there has been a full evaluation.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

The hon. Lady did her level best to get herself out of the bind of the inconsistency of Liberal Democrat policy, but I am afraid she failed. I hoped that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) would move the amendment because we have come to recognise his personal crusade to reduce the voting age to 16 as. As the hon. Members for Cleethorpes and for Gedling observed from a sedentary position when the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole was speaking, it is typical of the Liberal Democrats that they want to increase the powers of 16-year-olds without giving them any of the responsibilities. That is so often a flaw—

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I will in a moment. Our view is that if 16-year-olds are causing the problem—sadly, in many of our communities, they are—they must face the full rigours of the law. Whereas we simply want to probe the issue of the Henry VIII provision for the Secretary of State's further powers, as we do in amendment No. 67, we entirely understand where the Government are coming from in seeking to reduce the age limits. It is extraordinary that a party that says it cares about antisocial behaviour and wants to give more rights to 16-year-olds is not prepared to let those same 16-year-olds face the rigours of the law.

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

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman's describes this as my personal crusade, but there are others in the Committee, such as the hon. Members for Gedling and for Telford, who might be a bit upset to hear it described as my crusade—

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

Order. I do not want to hear any more about this crusade. I should like us to get back to the point of the amendment.

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

At the moment the Conservative spokesman and, in effect, the Government, suggest

that we should lay penalties on to 16 and 17-year-olds, who do not currently have the same rights as older people. Many of us would be happy for the provisions to apply to 16-year-olds if they had the same rights as others. If that were the case, we would be more than happy for the provisions to apply at 16, not 18.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

The hon. Gentleman has not responded well to the difficulty posed by the inconsistency between his policy and that of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole.

I, too, will refer specifically to Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 178 and 179. I have noticed—and I am happy to say that the electorate in the Guildford borough end of my constituency now seem to have noticed—that the Liberal Democrats always want to consult almost to death. I am sure that the reason why there were so many Liberal Democrat defeats in the Guildford borough end of my constituency—they lost every seat, even on parish councils—is that people increasingly realise that the Liberal Democrats believe that consultation is a substitute for action. The Liberal Democrats always want to consult, consult, consult about every conceivable piece of legislation, but they never want to get around to doing anything.

That is why I particularly object to Liberal Democrat amendment No. 178, which has the same tenor as Liberal Democrat amendment No. 179. They do not want to do anything until there has been further evaluation—another word for consultation—of the pilot schemes. Amendment No. 179 is not quite as bad as amendment No. 178, but it is incumbent on us to publicise what goes on in Committee to a wider audience so that they can see that whenever the Government are trying to move in the right direction and to make the powers more widely available, we support the spirit of what the Government are trying to do, but the Liberal Democrats are always, always, always trying to water them down.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that one should never evaluate anything before extending a scheme?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Of course not, but it is not helpful to have further consultation as a substitute for action. That is my point, and that is why we strongly oppose Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 178 and 179, especially amendment No. 178.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

No. I have given way once already and I am now going to sit down.

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

Are we getting grumpy late in the morning?

The amendment would prevent the extension of penalty notices for disorder to 16 and 17-year-olds and remove the power to lower the age at which they apply below 16. They would require publication of the evaluation and the consultation before specifying—I am sorry, I believe that that amendment has been withdrawn.

Amendment No. 179 would mean that the evaluation of the pilot scheme had to be published before a national roll-out of the changes to the supervision orders. We believe that penalty notices

for disorder have an important part to play in tackling antisocial behaviour among 16 and 17-year-olds, but they currently apply only to those aged 18 or over. The pilots of the adult scheme showed that most of the disorder offences involve alcohol-related antisocial behaviour in town centres on a Friday and a Saturday night. It was well worth the hon. Member for Surrey Heath giving way to the hon. Member for Ludlow, who came close to suggesting that because people did not have the vote, they should be allowed to continue to behave in such ways. That was well worth getting on the record.

The extension of the scheme would allow the police to impose an immediate sanction on antisocial behaviour, which will act as a deterrent but will not leave young people with a conviction. It will also encourage the police to take action against antisocial behaviour in the street, which is not being dealt with to anything like the degree to which it should be.

The Association of Chief Police Officers urged the Government to extend the scheme not only to 16 and 17-year-olds, but to younger children. The chief constable of West Midlands police evaluated the pilot scheme in the West Midlands police force area and is a keen supporter of reducing the age at which the scheme applies and widening the range of offences in respect of which fixed penalty notices can be used. It is a sad fact that some town centres have problems with children as young as 12 and 13 years old committing alcohol-related offences late at night.

However, we are not moving straight to a scheme that involves under–16s. We will first pilot the scheme on 16 and 17-year-olds to see whether it can be usefully applied to the younger age group, and we will seek Parliament's approval by the affirmative procedure if we want to lower the age limit further. We do not intend to use the power to specify different amounts for different age groups immediately, but it may be appropriate to do so if fixed penalty notices are issued to younger children. It would be similar to how fines operate, with a lower set for children under 14. We believe that it is sensible to have those powers in the Bill.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling 11:00, 15 Mai 2003

Many people will be waiting for the Government to take action on 16 and 17-year-olds and will have heard about the penalty notices scheme. Our problem is that we will have to tell them that legislation must first go through Parliament before there is a pilot scheme, which then must be evaluated. If the pilot scheme is successful, when does my hon. Friend envisage the power being available?

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

We should not jump immediately, but I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. There is a degree of frustration in parts of the country that know how successful some of the pilots have already been. That is why I refute the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole that we must wait for final evaluations on each occasion before moving a step further. We must be pragmatic and careful: let us pilot the schemes and see what happens. However, we are beginning to get evidence of how successful the powers can be in particular areas,

so we should not allow people to sit frustrated for an unreasonable length of time before giving the powers to the rest of the country.

Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Llafur, Crawley

Can we please have a pilot scheme in Crawley?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

Does my hon. Friend understand our constituents' frustration and the widespread belief that there are no consequences of bad behaviour? People who are kept up all night by groups of young children aged 10 and up, knowing that they can do nothing about it, will greet another pilot scheme with dismay.

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

The pilots are running for over–18s and, as I said, they have proved to be extremely successful in some circumstances. We must roll them out as quickly as possible and then examine lowering the age. My hon. Friend will understand that some modifications may be sensible. We should not leap to the conclusion that the scheme will be a good thing across the country for 16 and 17-year-olds. We are trying to get the balance right.

I understand the frustration, but in large part it has built up because it is difficult to get the police service to engage to the desired degree in dealing with antisocial behaviour because of the process that they are obliged to go through as a result. If police officers are going to be tied up for hours taking cases to court to deal with alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, they will be reluctant to put in the resources. The evidence from the fixed penalty notices scheme is beginning to show that if we give the police a quick and easy-to-use method of dealing with that behaviour, they are keen to respond.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that in this country 17-year-olds can drive and thus be given fixed penalty notices for driving and parking offences, the philosophy of extending fixed penalty notices to those under 18 is not alien?

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

I am listening both to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members. Some valid points have been made. I shall consider how quickly we should move and check that we are not being over-cautious. People have been worried about the possible consequences of the proposed extensions; equally, as my hon. Friends are clearly illustrating, there is frustration in the community. People feel that there is potentially a method of dealing with problems, but that we are slow in making it available to them. I assure the Committee that I shall think about the time scales.

We were proposing to limit the extension of the scheme to 16 and 17-year-olds, and to apply the same level of penalty that applies to adults: £80 for higher tier offences, such as section 7 public order offences, and £40 for lower tier offences, such as drunk and disorderly. We also recognise the value of consultation before introducing different levels of penalty for different age groups, but we need to be flexible and we do not want to tie ourselves down in the legislation.

We shall, of course, draw on the evaluation for 16 and 17-year-olds and proceed with care. It may be that, although we go down that route, circumstances arise in which we have to respond quickly. However, it is not necessary to state that in the Bill.

The main reason for the changes to both the curfew order and the supervision order is to strengthen the administrative intensity of the supervision and surveillance programme. That will allow the programme to be available for up to 12 months rather than the current six months. We shall pilot the extension of the programme in selected areas. It is unnecessary to specify that in the legislation.

We shall consider the results of the pilots before national implementation. We do not think that there is a need to pilot the changes to the curfew and supervision orders as they will be used primarily for the extended intensive supervision and surveillance programme. We shall also pilot the fostering requirement, which will be available to the courts as part of the supervision order. It will provide the courts with a new power to enable them to deal effectively with those serious and persistent young offenders whose home environment directly influences their offending behaviour. Young offenders will be placed with specially trained and recruited foster parents during the period of the requirement, and work will be undertaken with both the young people and their parents to address the problems within the home and to facilitate the eventual return there of the young person. The pilot will inform our decisions on national implementation.

I believe that the Committee is saying that we have to think about the balance between the caution that is required in rolling out such programmes and the need to get on and take action. I take that on board.

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

I thank the Minister for his comments. I still do not understand why there cannot be publication of at least an interim evaluation of the fixed penalty notices. We get references back from the individual police services where there are pilots but nothing is placed in the Library. It is not unreasonable to require a report, so that we can all be sure about what we are agreeing to. There have been examples of bad legislation in the past. Where there has been a pilot scheme, why not publish at least an interim evaluation before progressing? I will not press the amendments because there is not much point, but there are important points that we ask the Minister to take on board. We hope that, despite the great pressure to race on to younger children, there will be an opportunity to consult with some of the organisations.

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

I intend to be brief, not to make a major speech. Amendment No. 179 referred to the intensive fostering schemes, although I accept that that is not clear. I want to address those in greater detail in debate in relation to schedule 2. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.