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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