Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall be brief. I am not opposed to the principle of fixed penalty notices. They have a role to play, but they should be confined to relatively minor transgressions. Indeed, I would qualify that by saying that they should be confined to very minor transgressions.
My anxiety, looking at the schedule, is that the fixed penalty notices are capable of being applied in more serious cases. For example, in the example I gave to the Minister, giving a false report to the police can amount to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. We can all recognise that theft is a very serious offence, and criminal damage ditto. The point about the sale of alcohol to persons under 18 has been ventilated frequently in this House. Incidentally, the last offence under part 1—knowingly giving a false alarm to one of the emergency services—can be a very serious offence.
The Minister made a perfectly fair point in that she said, rightly, that the police have discretion and that a constable on the beat, identifying an offence of this character, can choose to arrest and to go through the prosecution process. However, that places a considerable burden on the police because they have to go through the arrest process and they might have to turn up in court. There is a temptation to an officer on the beat. Incidentally, many years ago I was a special constable, so I have some experience. There is a real temptation to take the easy option. Although I am not saying for a moment that all officers will do that, some certainly will. The truth is, as I have often said in this House, that if one gives powers to officials one can be sure that those powers will be abused at one stage or another.
The problem, it seems to me, is that when we extend the capacity to apply fixed penalties to offences that are not minor, we can be quite sure that on occasion they will be applied in cases that should go to the courts. Hon. Members have cited various good reasons why such cases should go to the courts, especially when an addiction of one kind or another is an underlying cause. In any event, I think that theft, for example, is an offence that should generally go to the courts. I am unhappy therefore with the concept of the various offences that I have mentioned, which are capable of being serious, being included in the schedule.
I want to be brief, as I know that three other hon. Members want to speak. I shall vote with my hon. Friend Mr. Burrowes against the order, because it includes offences that should not be contained in the schedule.
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