Clause 2 - Penalty notices

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6th February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:30 pm, 6th February 2001

I am looking forward to the debate. The Conservative spokesman has made a logical proposition given that the proposal for fixed penalty notices has, for the time being at least, been accepted in principle following the debate on clause 1.

The Government have proposed in the Bill a package of measures. The curfew system is to be expanded until the age of 16. As we shall hear later, people will be swept up by the curfew until they are 16, and will receive fixed penalty notices after they are 18. However, in discussing how best to deal with disorderly behaviour, people generally make the case that such behaviour often involves people between the ages of 16 and 18—aged either 16 or 17.

I do not know the Parliamentary Secretary and his constituency as well as I know the Minister of State, but I presume that he lives in the real world and realises that, although in theory people cannot buy alcohol until they are 18, they do, and that they drink, get drunk, become disorderly and do all the other wicked things on the Government's list. Given that fact, it seems logical to apply the same principle to people between 16 and 18 as applies to those over the age of 18.

My party takes the view that we should be straightforward about the matter and that people should be treated as adults from the age of 16. They should be able to vote at 16—they already pay tax. They can marry at 16, and we have just legislated that they can have same-sex relationships at that age. We propose that 16 should be the age, and that 18 should be the age at which people may stand for elected office if we want them to have a couple of years of being able to vote for people before they may stand. The logic is that people become adults at 16 and the criminal justice system should treat them as adults.

Herein lies the problem because, unless I am mistaken, the criminal justice system treats people as becoming adults at 17. That is the age at which a person goes from being a young offender to an adult offender and from being put away in a young offenders institution to being in an adult prison. In the Bill, we should at least try, even if only partially, to end the anomalies and differences. We should at least try to be consistent and take account of the age at which people are free from their parents' authority, and can therefore leave school, marry and, by definition, have their own household and be accepted on to local authority housing lists, along with all the other aspects of life that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire describes. It seems sensible to include 16-year-olds in provisions for adults under the criminal justice system.

The Government should be logical and set an age at which people move from being classed as young people under the criminal justice system to being adults. The age should be 16 years—school-leaving age—and we should treat young people of that age as adults not only under the Bill, but in all respects, as they are in many other walks of life.

I realise that people in other age groups are affected by the law—one cannot drive motor vehicles until one is 17 and one cannot drive heavy goods vehicles until one is older than that. I hope that the Government will explain their view about the age of majority and the age of adult criminal responsibility. Whether or not the Bill is enacted in the form that they want, I hope that its proposals will be consistent with other parts of the criminal justice system.