Clause 18 - Interpretation of sections 14 to 17.

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 27th February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this we may discuss amendment No. 74, in clause 30, page 24, line 3, at end insert—

`(vi) The Greater London Authority'.

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

The Committee is aware that amendment No. 74 relates to clause 30, and that it matches amendment No. 66, which relates to clause 18. They are intended to probe why the Greater London Authority is not included in the lists. In the light of what the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood said earlier, she may suggest that the Government should at least consider whether town or parish councils should be included, but the Minister answered that by saying that he feels that although the views of town or parish councils might be taken into account in respect of the regulations, they should not be decision-making bodies. However, that argument cannot apply to the Greater London Authority.

It might be the case that there are major problems in the relationship between the Government and the system that they set up for London. Perhaps that is because the Government's preferred candidate for Mayor of London came a humiliating fourth in the poll, as we all remember. It might also be the case that the only good ideas about law and order in relation to London are coming from Conservative Members of the Greater London Authority. I and some of my colleagues have held discussions with them and we know that they have very good ideas about the subject.

We thought that it was right to probe the Government because we are surprised that the Greater London Authority is not on the list of local authorities in clause 18, although unitary authorities, county councils and London borough councils are. We hope that the Government will set out their reason for including London borough councils and not the Greater London Authority, and we look forward to hearing justification of the Government's position.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not support the amendments but, logically, the Government should. They got into a terrible muddle when the Greater London Authority Bill went through Parliament—I have first-hand experience of that because I had the long and laborious task of serving on the Committee. I think that I am the only Member who served on both the Committee to abolish the Greater London council and the Committee to establish its successor. I was delighted to serve on the latter Committee, although not the first.

During proceedings on the Greater London Authority Bill, the Government started by defining the Greater London Authority as regional government. However, the Deputy Prime Minister became cool on regional government—particularly London regional government where things may not go to plan—so the definition became a unique form of government that was not regional government. By the end of the Committee stage, the definition was local government, which was not the initial plan. However, if the Greater London Authority is defined as local government, it should be included in the clause because the clause refers to local authorities.

I believe that the Greater London Authority should be defined as regional government rather than local government. In the Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Bill, we debated the fact that it is a form of regional government that is castrated, weakened, hamstrung and tied to the apron strings. Sadly, that is still the case and would be the case even if Labour had won the mayoral election.

Logically, the orders to designate public places should be made by proper local government. In London, that constitutes 32 London borough councils and the City of London. It would not be appropriate for the orders to be made by the tier above that, which has specific functions, and certainly not for them to be made by regional government. I oppose the amendments but if the Government are consistent they will, no doubt, support them.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The amendment would allow the Greater London Authority to set zones over a wide area. However, it also gives the Minister an opportunity to explain, in more detail, exactly how he envisages that the provisions will work.

For example, there may be a street, each side of which is in a different borough. One borough council may think that the road should be designated while the other does not. That will create problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath mentioned the Police Federation. Its chairman, Fred Broughton, wrote to me about the practicality of enforcing such zones, saying that they

``would be brought quickly into disrepute by drinkers moving just out of reach and taunting officers accordingly, bringing the enforcement of such zones quickly into disrepute.''

It would help if the Minister would explain how he envisages enforcement working in the context of a big city. Will there be cases of one borough saying that the left-hand side of a road should be designated, while the neighbouring borough says no?

What does the Minister think would be the size of a designated area? Would it be a whole city, an area around a row of shops, or a bit of both? It would be a pity if the measure was introduced and it was then found that nothing could be done about youngsters who are discovered, standing 2 ft beyond the zone, drinking alcohol in the street and being a nuisance. I should be grateful if the Minister would flesh out his vision of the proposals in more detail.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am always happy to flesh out my vision of any aspect for the Committee.

On the main point of the amendment, without getting into arcane discussions about local versus regional, it would be fundamentally confusing to have two different authorities dealing with the matter. The responsibility of dealing with it should be given either to the Greater London Authority, or to the local London boroughs. It should be given to the London boroughs rather than the GLA, because the issues need to be considered as locally as possible. The idea of the GLA designating some part of Havering or Redbridge is absurd. It would be much more appropriate for the local authorities concerned to do so.

There are serious arguments surrounding the issue of the centres of major cities. However, Westminster city council and the City of London have a lot of experience of dealing with such national, citywide issues. Although they are only borough councils, we can be confident that they would handle those matters well. It would be confusing to include the GLA in the organisations that have these powers. It is right to go to the lowest possible level, which in London is that of the borough councils. That is why I oppose the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

On the question of boundaries raised by the hon. Gentleman, all local authorities have a boundary question. Clearly, the problem can be more acute in urban areas. There is also the entertaining council tax and borough services argument, exemplified by the dispute between Lambeth and Wandsworth concerning closed circuit television cameras in streets and so on.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

It is obvious that the residents of a local authority bordering on a designated area in another authority would hardly thank their elected representatives on the council if their area became a refuge for drunken yobs hurling abuse at the police across the road. Is the problem not just a perceived one, rather than one that reflects democratic realities in local authorities?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

My hon. Friend is entirely right about situations such as that which he has just described. People will respond and deal with such situations as they come along. However, it might help if the guidance that we issue under clause 15(4) refers to the need for local authorities to discuss the situation with neighbouring authorities. That is probably unnecessary, as they would do so routinely, but it may help if we give that assurance, just to clarify the point so that any particular issues that may arise can be dealt with.

Just as we are requiring local authorities to take account of the views of residents it is reasonable, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend, to require them to take account of the views of neighbouring authorities in the event that a designated area borders such an authority. That should minimise the problems although, for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, they are hypothetical. They may be so, but it is appropriate for such consultation to be part of the process. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will seek to withdraw the amendment.

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

The Minister helpfully clarified the point in relation to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire. There should be some recognition of the issue in the guidance, because local authorities do not always meet at the same time and in the same week. An incident might occur on the edge of a place recently designated by a local authority before the bordering local authority has had the chance to meet. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) said, that might be a matter more of pure theory than of reality. However, it would help if that were clarified in the guidance.

I understand what the Minister said about the Government's decision to leave matters to the individual London boroughs. It was helpful for us to hear that from the Minister, and it was right for us to raise the issue. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, in a backhanded contribution, that although he did not agree with us, he thought that the Government should agree with our amendments. Perhaps that, of itself, means that it was proper for us to raise the issue. However, we have heard what the Government have said, and we think that we have achieved our purpose in tabling this probing amendment. I do not seek to prolong the debate, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.