Clause 31 - Confiscation of alcohol containersfrom young persons

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 1st March 2001.

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Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 10:30 am, 1st March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 123, in page 24, line 11, leave out `substituted' and insert `inserted'.

This is a technical amendment that is necessary because the purpose of the clause is to insert the required wording in section 1(1) of the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997. The use of the word ``substituted'' is not appropriate, given that the clause will not substitute one set of words for another. We want to ensure consistency between the 1997 Act and the wording of this Bill in respect of the confiscation of alcohol containers from persons in designated public places. The amendment has been tabled in the interests of accuracy, and I hope that it can be agreed to.

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

This seems an entirely sensible amendment and we have no further comments to make.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:45 am, 1st March 2001

We dealt with the issue of open containers that might contain alcohol when we debated clause 14. I have no problem with the power to take, in certain circumstances, what looks like a can of lager, when no one could know, without taking it, whether it actually contained lager. Will the Minister assure me that there is consistency between this provision and the earlier one?

More importantly, the Bill significantly changes the law on alcohol and alcohol-related disorder in public places and it would be beneficial if the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 was incorporated into the Bill. It seems pointless to keep a small Act, which was a private Member's Bill, on the statute book, with all the necessary cross-referencing, when it could be accommodated in the Bill. I would be happy to consider a proposal outside the Committee--I hope that Conservative Front Bench spokespeople would also be prepared to do that--to introduce a non-controversial, consolidating provision. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on my suggestion.

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

As the hon. Gentleman said, we discussed our amendment to delete the words

``other than a sealed container'' during an earlier debate. We would be happy to take part in discussions outside the Committee and without commitment, but I want to consider further his new idea of incorporating into the Bill the good piece of legislation that was introduced by our former colleague, Dr. Robert Spink, when he represented Castle Point in the House. We need to think further about that suggestion, but we are happy to discuss it.

On the issue that we raised of sealed containers being used as weapons, has the Minister yet had a chance to discuss with representatives of the Police Federation and other police organisations whether an amendment on that would be useful, or are the Government considering introducing a version of our amendment on Report? We feel very strongly that it is important to protect ordinary police officers in difficult situations when dealing with drunkenness, often among young men, late at night in inner cities, when sealed containers are often used as weapons. Has he yet had discussions on that and, if not, is he planning to?

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

I confirm that we are still considering that matter, and my mind is not closed to it. I have not had a chance to discuss it with other organisations, because of the time involved, but it is on the agenda.

On the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, the purpose of the clause is to provide consistency and it is consistent with other provisions. His general point is interesting, important and difficult. With my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I sit on a group that considers the recommendations of the Law Commission. It is striking that Parliament has difficulty--my hon. Friend is working hard to improve matters--in considering how to address such issues.

The hon. Gentleman was in the House last Monday afternoon when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement on our proposals for criminal justice until 2010 and will recall the exchanges during which my right hon. Friend waved a copy of the Canadian codified law. He and the Government are committed to codification, but it is difficult to achieve and will require the all-party approach suggested by the hon. Gentleman. There are serious issues concerning parliamentary scrutiny, but in the interest of enabling people better to understand the law, we are none the less committed.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 should be incorporated into the Bill. I had not considered that, but I am prepared to find out what can be done. I commit myself to respond to him on whether that will be feasible within the necessary time scale.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for his positive response. As I am sure he agrees, legislation must always have a bias in favour of doing something rather than a neutral view that it might be possible. Without being disrespectful of any individuals, there is always a civil service drag effect by which 78 reasons can be found for not doing something and Ministers need to push it over the top.

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

As the Home Secretary said to me yesterday, there have been no leaks from the Home Office recently, so I have no evidence to contradict the Minister.

The amendment was tabled in a probing but hopeful way to ascertain whether Ministers will consider introducing this relatively small provision, on Report or in the other place. It must be in the interests of those who need to know the law to have to look in one place, not two.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 31, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.