Criminal Law

Part of Theft from Shops (Use of Penalty Notices for Disorder) – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth 6:02 pm, 11th March 2009

Like another hon. Member who spoke earlier, I want to declare an interest in that I am a serving special constable. I am also a member of the Home Affairs Committee.

In an ideal world, there would be no such things as penalty notices for disorder. Unfortunately, the world that we live in is not ideal. The reality is that two police officers halfway through a shift who are faced with a person who has committed a minor offence will have to make a choice: they can turn a blind eye—one would hope that that would never happen—issue a penalty notice for disorder, in some instances, or make an arrest.

Let me make clear what making an arrest would entail for the two officers. Because of the rules about how custody suites must come up to various standards these days, they are few and far between, so the officers would have to wait for transport to take them to a police station far away. They would then have to wait to book their prisoner in, and wait again while the prisoner was assessed medically and while a solicitor and perhaps an interpreter were found. The officers would have to write up their notes, and then go back to interview the prisoner. The long and short of it all is that the officers will have written off practically their whole shift. A lot of time will also be used up by the custody sergeant and the other people involved in the process.

If, at the end of all of that, a meaningful sanction is applied to the prisoner, the process will have been worth while. However, if the person who has committed a minor offence is back out on the streets a few hours later and faces only a small fine some way down the line, one has to ask what any of it has achieved.

I am not against PNDs; in fact, I have come around to them, in principle, as a way to make the best of a bad job. The question that concerns me has to do with the crimes for which they are used. For the same reasons that other hon. Members have already outlined, I have a problem with PNDs being used for any form of theft, such as shoplifting, or of drug abuse. I do not accept the comments made earlier by an hon. Member who seemed to liken cannabis to alcohol. Cannabis is a very dangerous drug that leads on to other drugs. It is often used as a defence for heinous crimes, which suggests to me that the courts and the authorities need to bear down as strongly as possible on this drug. With all due respect to the Minister, I fail to understand why PNDs are being issued for the possession of cannabis.

I can think of two other offences that cry out for PNDs, and it might interest the Minister to know that I have tabled an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, proposing that we implement PNDs for people who have committed minor ticket offences on the railways. I know from my own experience that the British transport police spend a great deal of time trying to sort out people who have committed such offences, and it would be absolutely great if they could give out a PND and impose an instant fine on people who admitted the offence. That would save a vast amount of time.

Another offence that is worth looking into in this regard relates to what I call professional beggars, although I would not want to table an amendment on the matter without doing further research. The people in question are often removed from railway stations and other places with very large amounts of money on them. They are often not arrested for any offence, but if they could be given an immediate PND, some of that money could be taken away from them. So there is a place for penalty notices for disorder.

If the Minister is trying to free up police time, I offer her those two suggestions in all helpfulness. I urge her please to look at the amendment that I have tabled, to see whether the Government can find a way of supporting it. It would have widespread support among the police, and I cannot see how it would go against anything that her Government stand for politically.

In an ideal world, offenders committing any sort of an offence would simply be marched into a court. There would be no long process; they would appear before a magistrate straight away and they would receive summary justice. We do not live in an ideal world, however. I hope that things improve, but until they do, there is a place for PNDs. Let them be used effectively, however, and let them be used for appropriate offences. Theft and drug possession are not appropriate offences for PNDs, and I will therefore oppose the motion.

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Christopher Long
Posted on 18 Mar 2009 2:15 am (Report this annotation)

I think you will find Mr Davis that Alcohol and Tobacco are far more dangerous than Cannabis, and indeed, many other drugs under the current classification system. You will also notice that they are 2 of the most highly addictive drugs with a definate causal link to cancer of the internal organs, devistating mental health impacts not to mention family and social dissorder problems.

If you want to spot your gateway drugs then you can look no further than Cigarettes and Alcohol. The majority of people who smoke cannabis have previously been smoking cigarettes. There are very few who go straight on to smoking cannabis as cigarettes are much easier to get hold of.

Then you have Alcohol, which we are told is good for you in very small amounts, then suddenly told the opposite. The government are happy to extend opening hours and put more strain on the police force and the dangerous graveyard shifts that the nurses have to work in A&E fixing up drunkards and thier victims.
Children gain access to alchol with great ease, is it any surprise that children want it? They see it on the shelves in the supermarkets, General Stores and Garages (so much for "Dont drink and Drive"!)

This is how I would propose the government take control.

Firstly, Alcohol & Tobacco should only be sold in offlicenses and Pubs/Restaurants and so on.
They should NOT be on the shelves in supermarkets, General stores and Garages.

Cannabis should be legalised for personal use, cultivation for personal use should also be legal with a limit on the amount of plants grown as well as the need to aquire a license to grow.
Cannabis cafe's should be allowed to open to help give people the right information on how to smoke cannabis safely, or even other methods of injestion.
These establishments should not be allowed to sell cannabis to anyone under 18,

It is time to give people information and the freedom to enjoy thier lives without fear of being made a criminal for deciding to have a smoke at home or with friends, instead of filling up the A&E and prisons with thousands of drunks every weekend.

This government is falling way behind the times and in doing so is lookin more and more like a sinking ship.

The only true way to solve this sort of problem is to remove the money out of the hands of the criminals, Tax the legal sales of cannabis and put it into youth centers, rehab centers, community projects.

Cannabis, has been given a very very bad name by yellow journalism and this labour government. The vast majority of police officers, AM's, MP's, even psychiatrists and doctors say that it should be regulated.

Cannabis is NOT addictive, Cannabis Psychosis is not actually the onset of schizophrenia caused by cannabis use. Schizophrenia is not caused by cannabis, it is a hidden problem that often rears its head later in life making it much harder to treat. And many Schizophrenics find that smoking cannabis actually reduces the episodes brought on by the psycogical dissability.

Unfortunately for this government, they will never succeed in winning the war on drugs, until they take control of the battlefield, and right now, the criminals control the drugs, guns, land and money, therefore, they control the battlefield.