Clause 16

– in a Public Bill Committee on 10th February 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Orders requiring attendance at meetings

Amendment proposed (this day): 23, in clause 16, page 15, line 6, after ‘section’, insert

‘by making an order under section 177 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or’.—(James Brokenshire.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment 24, in clause 16, page 15, line 8, at end insert

‘(such order requiring attendance at meetings being referred to as a “meeting requirement order” for the purposes of this section)’.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

May I begin our deliberations this afternoon, Sir Nicholas, by apologising for inadvertently misleading the Committee this morning? I implied or gave the impression that, following a possible situation where a woman fails to comply with an order to attend meetings, a prison sentence would be looming for her. That is not, in fact, a possibility. What would happen is that a supervisor would go back to court, report a breach of the order and the court could summons the woman, at which point she could be arrested if she did not comply. The outcome would be either resentencing on the original offence or another order. If I misled the Committee, I apologise sincerely.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

To be clear, from what the Minister just said, the sanction for breaching the order seemed to be another order. Is he excluding any fine of any description for breaching the original order?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

No. If there was not a reasonable reason for the woman to have breached the order, perhaps by not turning up to the meeting, the supervisor would go to the court, which could summons the woman  to appear. If she did not respond to that summons, she could be arrested. However, the purpose of getting her back into court would be to decide whether or not to return to the original offence and impose a fine, or to look at the original order, or to impose another order. I hope that that has clarified the situation.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I share some guilt with the Minister over this business of imprisonment, which I fess up to now in the hope that I will not be arrested. Will the Minister clarify that if the woman did not respond to the summons and therefore had to be arrested, imprisonment would not be a potential outcome of the offence, as I believe it to be, of not responding to a court summons? I may be wrong, but that was the information that led me to believe that there was imprisonment.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

Yes, it would be arrestable. If it was not possible for the woman to appear before a court then she could be locked up and put in a cell, awaiting that court appearance. There is a debate about how long that would be—a point that we shall pick up later—but that is not because of the subsequent offence that she has committed.

Returning to the amendment, I was responding to the alternative proposed by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. We were not satisfied that that would be an appropriate response, because of the severity that a community order would bring to the proceedings. We are confident that we have introduced a proportionate response to the situation, and therefore do not support the amendment. Amendment 24 provides that orders requiring attendance at meetings for loitering offences be referred to as “meeting requirement” orders. We are not convinced that an alternative name for the orders is needed, as the term used in the Bill is clear. For the reason that I gave in respect of amendment 23, we do not consider that the requirement to attend meetings should be imposed as part of a community order. The order is designed to deal specifically with prostitution and to be rehabilitative, rather than punitive. I would be happy to consider any strong argument to push amendment 24 further, but we do not consider it necessary. With that, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I appreciate the Minister’s reply, and the way in which he has framed the structure in which the clause will operate. It was helpful of him to put on record the details of what would happen following an arrest for non-compliance with a meeting order. It seems that some confusion has arisen in the drafting. Given some of the points that hon. Members have raised in debate, it would be helpful if, on reflection, he considered further amendments to clarify the language on the operation of the measure in respect of a breach of a meeting requirement.

I return to the substantive point that I made when moving the amendments. In essence, we want to make it clear that the support services operate in a two-way fashion, such that there is compliance and intervention is meaningful. As I said, community orders follow assessment, reports and an examination of individual circumstances. For example, there might be follow-up, oversight and a mechanism to ensure compliance with a drug rehabilitation requirement. The orders need not  involve only the person in receipt of the order; they could check and ensure that the relevant agencies and other bodies that are supposed to provide support and services do so.

I went to visit the Liverpool Community Justice Centre, and I was struck by the fact that the judge there takes a proactive approach in ensuring that the orders are followed through. Agencies and other bodies are supposed to step up to the plate to provide services, and he uses the orders to ensure that they are playing their part. My question about simply considering the meeting requirement is this: although it may have the ambition to provide the services, what is the follow-through at the end of the day? Will the Minister reflect on whether there should be a stronger reporting requirement on the person who provides the support to the offender in the meetings on the outcome of the meeting, and consider that kind of approach? That is relevant if agencies do not ensure that people, as proposed new paragraph 2B(b) states,

“find ways to cease engaging in such conduct in the future”, because of addiction or various other things.

We will reflect on what is the most appropriate order, but in the light of the fact that the Minister said that he will reflect on the matter and consider further arguments and representations on why a separate approach may be better, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I understand that my co-Chairman indicated that he would not permit a clause stand part debate because the objective and purposes of the clause were fully discussed in the debate that we have had on the amendments.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.