HC Deb 10 July 1981 vol 8 cc730-2

Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 3, line 14, leave out from "Act" to end of line 15.

Mr. Sainsbury

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This amendment removes from the Bill the power to seize an article in respect of an attempt to commit an offence. On Report we rightly removed the powers of arrest and of entry in connection with attempts to commit an offence. We did so on the grounds, which I believe are fully justified, that this is not the sort of offence in which one could sensibly talk about the attempt to commit it. An offence of public display is either committed or not committed. If the material is not publicly displayed, but someone has something in his pocket which, if publicly displayed, would be an indecent display, one cannot reasonably say that that constitutes an attempt to commit an offence.

The House was right to pass the amendments which took out of the Bill the powers of arrest and entry in connection with attempts. The powers were there in the first place because the clauses which introduced them were largely standard clauses, used in a large number of Bills, to provide the authorities with reasonable powers to control the offence with which they were concerned—the powers of arrest, seizure and entry. By using standard clauses, another offence could be an attempt which would require action. However, I do not believe that there is any connection with the offence of making a public indecent display.

Having taken out the powers in respect of arrest and entry, it is an anomaly to leave in the power of seizure in connection with an attempt. That anomaly was correctly identified in another place. It introduced this amendment to take out the power of seizure. I believe that the House would be right to accept the amendment and to bring the three powers of seizure, entry and arrest, in line.

Mr. Lawrence

It appears that if the Criminal Attempts Bill, which is in its late stages in this place, goes on to the the statute book, as we hope that it will, there is no point in having the words deleted by the Lords in this part of this Bill. Clause 2 of the Criminal Attempts Bill states that in provisions conferring a power of arrest or search the law shall be the same with attempts as it is with the offence attempted. Therefore, it seems to be no more than the merest common sense to accept this amendment.

Mr. Delwyn Williams (Montgomery)

I fully support the amendment because, as a lawyer, I cannot contemplate a more hazardous or more foolhardy exercise than a constable finding a set of circumstances whereby he has to decide whether someone is about to attempt an indecent display. The other more sinister aspect is that it could give an unscrupulous police officer wide powers which he could abuse.

You may not allow me to make these comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall see what happens. Everyone in the House will accept the spirit and intent of the Bill. Everyone has the gut feeling that what it is setting out to do is right and proper. I am sad to say, however, that even if it succeeds, it will succeed for the wrong reasons because it sets up a myriad of traps for the unwary and has more tricky fences than the Grand National.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that he is straying far from the amendment. We must stick to the amendment.

Mr. Williams

I shall end my short intervention by saying that the traps are there and that there are further traps when it comes to who will prosecute. I hope that the Bill will have the power only for the chief constables, the local authorities and the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute. Otherwise individuals will set themselves up as guardians of morality. If a case comes before a court and the court finds that the method is not indecent, but the judge himself thinks that it is, there is the real possibility that the judge will award costs out of public funds, and the taxpayer will suffer.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The whole House is anxious that the Bill should reach the statute book as soon as possible. May I respectfully submit that the speech now being made by the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Williams) interesting though it is, is totally irrelevant to the amendment, as you have said? Will you rule accordingly?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I was listening carefully and I had hoped that letting the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Williams) continue would be a shorter exerise than correcting him again. However, the hon. Member must confine himself to the amendment.

Mr. Williams

I shall do so. This Bill is equally irrelevant to the matters which it seeks to put right.

Mr. Mayhew

It may be of help if I say that, in the view of the Government, no difficulties will arise from the deletion of the reference to an attempt in clause 2(2) of the Bill.

It was argued in another place that an attempt to commit an offence under clause 1 was difficult to envisage, and that if a constable were to arrive at the crucial moment when someone was attempting to erect a display he could wait until the offence had been completed before seizing the articles. It is right to say that, in practical terms, the amendment will probably have no effect, as clause 2 of the Criminal Attempts Bill provides a number of powers, including that of seizure, applying to an attempt to commit an offence as they apply to a full offence. Therefore, this amendment can happily and confidently be accepted.

Question put and agreed to.

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