Clause 70 - Arrestable offences

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 7th March 2001.

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

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

The clause makes two additions to the list of arrestable offences: kerb crawling and failing to stop after an accident. However, the Police Federation has long argued that the offence of failing to stop when requested by a constable—I believe, in uniform—should also be added. Clearly, it should be possible immediately to apprehend someone who fails to stop when requested to do so by the police. What is the Minister's view? In a letter to me, Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, said:

``Power of Arrest: non-stop injury accidents—We do not believe these proposals extend far enough and are seeking through the `Review of Road Traffic Penalties' an amendment to include a power of arrest in relation to `Fail to Stop for a police officer in uniform' including a mandatory period of disqualification for 6 months. We have yet to receive acknowledgement of our concern in this area by the Home Office.''

It is for the Committee to consider whether it is right to add these offences. I believe that it is. Kerb crawling is a serious and worrying matter to residents in particular areas, and a difficult offence to deal with, as is failure to stop after an accident.

Failing to stop when requested to do so by a constable is also a matter of importance. How would the Minister respond to the concerns expressed by the Police Federation?

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

The two key issues are kerb crawling—I will not repeat the arguments about that, which were implied in what the hon. Gentleman said—and failure to stop after an accident. The Police Federation was right to raise the potential offence that it mentioned in the context of the road traffic penalties review. I am sorry that it has not had an acknowledgement. Consultation is still taking place. I believe that the initial consultation period ended at the end of February. The review is carefully examining all the relevant issues, and will certainly take the Police Federation's view seriously. There is broad consensus, including cross-party consensus in the House, for reform in those areas, but the precise form that it should take will depend on the consultations.

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

This is a similar situation to that which occurred yesterday. The Government are choosing to make it an offence to fail to stop after an accident, so they are anticipating the review in that case. Given that failing to stop when requested to do so by a constable is also a very important matter, would it not be possible to fast-track that as well, rather than having to wait until goodness knows when for a complete readjustment of the relevant law?

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

The kerb crawling offence is obviously not related to the issue of road traffic penalties, although I agree that one can argue that failing to stop after an accident is. I will consider the possibility of tabling an amendment on Report about the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised. The Police Federation was correct to highlight the subject through the review of penalties. I hope that we will have Government proposals for legislation in due course.

Our approach will be to try to work on a consensual basis across Parliament. Some Conservative Members have been involved in relevant debates. For example, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) thinks that the Bill does not go far enough on such issues. We are keen to adopt a cross-party approach, as there is wide concern in the country about some of the terrible implications of road accidents as a result of excessive speed. I hope that the Committee will allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.

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

We have no objection to the clause standing part of the Bill, but if I ask the Minister some questions about it, I shall not need to ask them on the next clause, which, like this one, brings into legislation certain offences that currently have a different definition.

Why are three offences alone being brought into the new definitions under clauses 70 and 71 and characterised as arrestable? I can think of many other offences that could arguably be so classed. We are not considering sentencing, but a sentencing review is due to report in two months' time, so it seems odd to have plucked three offences from the cupboard and made them arrestable.

Why are we doing this now, when a review of the law of sexual offences is being considered by the Government and others? The Home Office has managed the consideration of a range of such offences for a long time. If we are deciding which offences should continue to exist, which should be repealed, which added to, which made arrestable, and what the penalties should be, we ought to consider sexual offences at the same time. We have had a review of sexual offences and are to have a review of sentencing, so I object to the Government's Christmas tree approach, in which they pick out a little bit of an agenda.

The same question applies in the context of road traffic legislation. I share the view held by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), having always thought that we must be tougher on some road traffic offences. That is true in relation to excess speeding, failure to report an accident and other actions that sometimes appear relatively minor but can cause serious or fatal accidents. For example, if people turn incorrectly at a junction—normally left when traffic is not allowed to turn left—and catch someone lawfully crossing under a green light, that sometimes has terrible consequences.

Announcements have been reported from the Home Secretary and other Ministers in recent days about a new consideration of road traffic law, weighing up the alternatives in terms of penalties, sentencing and so on. We should be doing the job coherently, not plucking one offence and making it arrestable, when it was not so designated under the most recent legislation, which was 12 years ago.

Although the proposals are unsatisfactory, it is not possible to object to them, but why could we not have done away with these provisions of part IV and waited until we had an intelligent approach to the issues? This is exactly the worst sort of legislation, as we do not have broad consideration of offences, where they come in the league table or the sentencing options. I understand that civil servants may say that the opportunity should be taken, and that there is public concern about kerb crawling, failure to stop and report an accident and the importation of indecent or obscene material, but there is public concern about another 68 things, and I do not understand why we have plucked three and not considered them all together.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 10:45 am, 7th March 2001

I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). In the middle of consideration of a Bill, it is wrong to table proposals that sit outside a proper framework of review that is under way as we speak. We wonder why the House is falling into disrepute, but it is because of the Government's tendency to propose legislation in that fashion. It was once described as government by press release. The Government say, ``Here is a little problem, but we can say that we are doing something about it by tacking it on to a Bill in an inappropriate place while the main issues are being properly reviewed in context.''

Although a perfectly good case can be made for including the matters in the Bill, the hon. Gentleman's argument is extremely strong. This is quite the wrong way to legislate. When that is considered with the fact that the whole of part III received no scrutiny in Committee, it is little wonder that the institution of which we should be proud to be a part is wholly incapable of doing its job and is not serving the people properly by scrutinising or passing legislation that has been considered in context.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. I thought that I had made it plain—I clearly did not, so let me do so now—that avenues are open to all hon. Members to discuss how the Committee shall proceed from now on. It would be helpful if they would use those available avenues, rather than making the same point over and over again. I understand the political point that is being made; I do not have a view on it, it is simply a matter of fact. As I said at the beginning of the sitting, there are other forums in the House within which that can be discussed and other avenues open to the Committee it is chooses to take them. The matter should be allowed to rest there.

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

I am grateful for the comments that do not relate to unhappiness with the specifics. By the way, the specifics have not come from the back of a civil servant's envelope; nor are they ill considered in themselves. For example, on the kerb crawling provision, hon. Members from all parties have mounted a wide campaign for a long time, to which we are trying to respond. However, I acknowledge to the hon. Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that, in principle, their case for an holistic approach to law reform is powerful. In general, that is what the Government are seeking to do by establishing reviews. However, in each case, it must be judged whether the best is the enemy of the good.

A strong argument is made that kerb crawling has been of concern for a long time. It is not merely in the general category of sex offences, which involve a whole series of forms of legislation. The Government have sought to give a high priority to issues of prostitution by, for the first time ever, allocating resources—grants from the crime reduction programme—to deal with them. Straying into clause 71, the current climate on issues of pornography and children is changing—rightly so, and we are keen to encourage that. We think that such provisions should come into effect as soon as possible.

So while I accept the thrust of the principled argument that has been made, I urge the Committee not to make the best the enemy of the good. I will discuss with my colleagues whether we can find a way to act more holistically for a new Parliament. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey frequently—and, in my opinion, rightly—argues for codification of the law. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House during the past week that he fundamentally accepts the thrust of such arguments and wants to move down that line. I agree with the hon. Member for Reigate that esteem for the House and for hon. Members will be the greater the more that we approach such matters in an holistic way, but that does not argue against the provisions, simply because the best should not be the enemy of the good.

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

We are willing at any time to have discussions with the Minister and his Labour colleagues—whether or not they are in government—and with our Tory colleagues to try to reach maximum agreement, so that whichever party forms the Government can introduce a Bill that deals with all those things together. If we could have a process that precedes draft Bills, that would be helpful.

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

To give the Committee an insight into government, I can inform hon. Members that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House makes strong arguments of the type that are being made here when she deals with such issues. She, too, is keen to have such a process. That is a product of the work of the Modernisation Committee, which we set up, and that is how we should consider the situation in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I apologise, because I am conscious, having heard the tail end of your remarks, that I might be trying your patience. However, this is, as I am sure you will appreciate, an entirely fresh point of order, of which I have only become aware this morning. You and other members of the Committee will have noticed that I slipped out briefly while my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire was making his opening remarks. I did so because I had received an urgent message that a communication relevant to the Bill had arrived in my parliamentary post this morning. That communication is from an important body—the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales—that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would respect.

The institute wanted to make some serious points about a series of clauses. Unfortunately, the letter has arrived too late, because it concerns those clauses that we dealt with last night, when Mr. Hood was chairing the Committee. However, I thought that it should be placed on the record that, even had the communication arrived in my post yesterday—and one might say that the ICA should have sent it out earlier—we would not have been able to discuss many of the points, because a large number of the clauses about which the ICA expressed serious concerns were those that we did not get the chance to debate.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I have already ruled on that. It is abundantly plain. The Programming Sub-Committee made a recommendation that was carried by this Committee. The recommendation set out the order of consideration and the programme for consideration of the Bill. I do not know how many times I must say this: there is an option available, through the usual channels, to reconsider that if it is considered necessary to do so. The broader aspect of the matter must be considered by the Modernisation Committee and may be raised by hon. Members on the Floor of the House. I do not expect it to be raised in this Committee again. Clause 71 Importation of indecent or obscene material