HC Deb 01 June 1962 vol 660 cc1824-9

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

3.36 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I had hoped that before the Committee parted with the Clause, the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) might explain it. If I recollect correctly, we did not have any discussion on Second Reading. As this is the operative, and virtually the only Clause. I should like to ask one or two questions before we part with it.

The Bill seeks to increase the existing maximum penalties for certain forms of drunkenness. The existing penalties have been laid down in Acts which, as shown in subsection (2), go back as far as the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860, and the Licensing Act, 1872, and there is also reference to other Acts down to and including the Licensing (Scotland) Act, 1959, when, presumably, the appropriate penalties for these offences were considered by the House.

I have no doubt that there are a great many anomalies in the existing penalties for various forms of drunkenness. For example, under Section 12 of the Licensing Acts, 1872, which the hon. Lady seeks to amend, the penalty for being found drunk … in any highway or other public place whether a building or not, or in licensed premises … is 10s. for the first offence, 20s. for a second conviction within twelve months and, on a third or subsequent conviction within the same period of twelve months, 40s.

On the other hand, the penalty for being drunk and disorderly, or guilty of riotous or disorderly behaviour or being drunk while on the highway in charge of any carriage, horse, cattle or steam engine is 40s., or imprisonment for a month. I imagine that the Minister will be able to tell us whether the provisions in Section 12 apply equally to persons in charge of motor cars on a highway, but I think that the point on which the Committee would like guidance is the following. We should like to know whether these specific increases for various offences which the hon. Lady is, no doubt, quite sensibly proposing, have been considered in relation to the whole range of penalties for drunkenness.

Is this a serious attempt to co-ordinate the whole of the law on this subject and bring all penalties for offences of this type into some relation with modern conditions or is it merely some haphazard attempt to deal with unrelated measures? Ordinarily, one would have expected some guidance from the Home Office on this matter. After all, this is not an unimportant subject but is one which affects the whole system of penalties in relation to drunkenness.

I am sympathetic with the idea of taking any necessary steps—if they are shown to be necessary—to stiffen the penalties against crimes of any kind, but before we deal with social matters of this kind we are entitled to some explanation about the contents of the Clause and to know to what extent it really is a comprehensive review of the subject generally.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) for raising this point, because I realise that beyond the speech I made when I asked leave to introduce the Bill there has been no debate on it. I quite agree that no one wishes to be haphazard about this sort of thing. Of all things, I have never regarded myself as being a haphazard person.

I might best answer the hon. Gentleman's questions by pointing out that the Bill arose out of discussions we had with the Newcastle bench of magistrates. If the hon. Gentleman will study the Measure he will see that four members of that bench are supporting the Bill. When we discussed it I immediately—because this is not a line of country into which I generally stray, so that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to be too knowledgeable about these matters—approached the Home Office. I certainly agree that when one embarks on even a small Measure of this kind, because it is on such an important subject, one must see that it is placed properly in relation to the whole. As soon as I decided to try to increase these penalties by way of this form of Parliamentary procedure I immediately consulted the Home Office, partly for my own education and partly because I knew perfectly well that if I did not produce a sensible Bill the Home Office would have it blocked.

That is a safeguard for hon. Members who may want to bounce up and try to introduce Bills which are not consistent with what is regarded as good Parliamentary legislation. So I consulted the Home Office. There has been a Home Office Committee sitting for five or seven years considering all the penalties which courts of summary jurisdiction have the right to impose on offenders if a case is proved. When I first approached the Home Office the point was immediately made to me that it was important to have the fines I was seeking to impose brought into line, so to speak, with the fines which that Committee is looking into over the whole wide field.

Having consulted the Home Office, and having waited a long time, the fines I am now asking to be embodied were agreed by the Home Office as being reasonable, up to date and in line with the other fines which are being discussed by the Home Office Committee. It is rather difficult for me to say that they will be in line with all the other proposals, as I have not seen the other proposals. However, I am occasionally inclined to accept what Government Departments say, and if there has been any weakness in the fines—if they were either too large or too small in relation to what is in the mind of this very important Committee, which I hope will report before long—as the Home Office has not in any way taken steps to obstruct my Bill, I assume that the proposals will be in line with what we may expect when the Committee reports. I hope, with this explanation, that the hon. Member for Islington, East will be satisfied.

3.45 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has given to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) the answer that I knew she would, namely, that as a result of consultation with the Home Office, this Bill within its relatively narrow compass seeks to be comprehensive. It is not a haphazard selection by any means.

The hon. Gentleman questioned in a list of Acts and Statutes of some age the presence of a relatively modern Statute, the Licensing (Scotland) Act, 1959. That was, in fact, a consolidating Measure and there was no discussion on penalties at that time. Therefore, I think he may take it that these penalties that we are discussing today are of considerable age, and that the mere passage of time and what has happened to the currency in that passage of time make this doubling of the fines—for that is roughly what it is—important and necessary. It is comprehensive, as I say, within a certain narrow compass.

It is only right for me to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Bill does not cover the offence of being in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit to drive by reason of being under the influence of drink. This is, as he knows, an offence under the Road Traffic Acts, and the relevant Sections of those Acts provide that a person liable to be charged with an offence under them shall not be liable to be charged under Section 12 of the Licensing Act, 1872, or the equivalent Scottish Act, so that it does not deal with the very vexed question of being drunk in charge and similar vehicular offences, if I may so describe them. Apart from that, on the rather narrower point of these offences of drunkenness, some of which are very serious—and I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a serious Bill—it is comprehensive.

If I do not have another opportunity I should like to thank in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth for the good work which she has done for the community in pressing on with this important Measure which I can assure her is in line with the thinking of the Standing Committee on penalties generally.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Fletcher

I think that we ought to correct one error which the Minister inadvertently made. He referred to the doubling of the penalty. I think that the position is this. To take the commonest case, whereas the penalty for being drunk in a public place in 1872 was 10s., it is now being increased to £5; in other words, the penalty is being increased tenfold. I thought that the confidence of the hon. Lady in the Home Office was remarkably touching, and I am sure that it will be flattered by that testament to its ability. I take it that the reason for increasing the fine for being drunk in a public place from 10s. to £5 is due to the decrease in the value of money during the last ninety years and is not due to there having been any notable increase in drunkenness in public places.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher for giving me the opportunity to correct a slip of the tongue. When I said "double" I had in mind the difference between simple drunkenness and drunk and disorderly, the new maxima being £5 and £10, respectively. The actual absolute figures are being considerably more than doubled, but the hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that this is not because of any increase in drunkenness or any fear that there will be a sudden increase in drunkenness. It is simply that the value and the deterrent effect of those fines have become very small with the passage of time. I should not like to be wedded to a statistical or accurate measurement of the decrease in the value of money since 1860 or 1872, but that is the purpose of the Bill and it is in line with that.

3.52 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that, apart from the value of money, there is a difference in perhaps the definition of drunkenness between now and 1872. He will recollect that Mr. Jorrocks said that he who could lie without holding in his day was not drunk. There may he a different scale of values today and possibly this may make a difference to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed