HC Deb 01 May 1981 vol 3 cc1048-9
Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 6, leave out 'or attempted to commit'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 18, leave out 'or is about to be'.

Dr. Summerskill

The Bill is already vague because there is no definition of the main word used in it; we should not make it even vaguer by including the phrases that the amendments seek to omit. If the promoter is unable to accept the amendments, I hope that he will give some examples of the type of offence he has in mind which can be shown to be an attempt to commit an offence or an offence is about to be committed.

How are the police to interpret these phrases? Would they have to enter premises in order to ascertain whether a person has attempted to present an indecent display or is about to cause an indecent display in the near or distant future? It seems to me that the police would find it hard to identify such a situation and would find it hard to prove. They have enough to do without spending their time on this sort of activity.

An attempt to put on an indecent display is vague. It was an argument which was strongly put against a law prohibiting obscene publications. The suggestion has been made that it could foster opportunities for the corruption of an individual policeman because of its vagueness and that it could lead to a situation where the police would lean on people on the ground that they were attempting to commit an offence or, under the phrase in amendment No. 5, were about to commit an offence. At what point does a person start to be about to commit an offence? It would be clearer if it was an offence like housebreaking or assault. It seems to me unclear how one can be about to commit an indecent display.

I hope that the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) will appreciate that the Bill will be greatly improved and clarified and also easier to enforce if these phrases are deleted.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

In Committee I found myself constantly in the unhappy situation of opposing amendments moved by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). It gives me pleasure in this case to say that I believe that the hon. Lady has made a reasonable point. The present wording of the Bill could cause the confusion to which she refers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) will give serious and perhaps favourable consideration to the points she made.

Mr. Christopher Price

I echo strongly those words. Hon. Members who want the Bill to reach the statute book do not want to see it dragging in its train the reintroduction of things like "sus" and other things that we have been trying to get rid of.

To ask a constable to make a judgment about whether someone is about to attempt to introduce an indecent display seems a total waste of police time. It seems an absurd judgment to try to make. It goes against every single thing that this House has tried to do to make the job of the police easier, more sensible and less oppressive. We want to try to draft a law that is clear so that if people are prosecuted, it is easy to deal with the matter. If endless argument takes place about what someone was attempting to do, it will bring not only the Bill but legislation generally into contempt.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) for making his remarks so cogently and briefly. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) moved a number of amendments in Committee, but, for various reasons, I was not able to recommend their acceptance. On this occasion, I am happy to support her amendments, which are sensible improvements to the largely standard clause relating to arrest, seizure and entry which was included in Committee. I agree with what the hon. Lady said about the offence not being one that a person could be about to commit.

Mr. Mikardo

I do not want to delay the implementation of this happy consensus, but, even following the acceptance of the amendment, I am still unhappy about the clause, because "sus" remains.

I am surprised that the Minister of State has not taken a greater interest in the amendment, because, after people have been beating at the doors of the Home Office for years, Ministers have at last recognised that there is something deeply repugnant about the concept of a person being proceeded against not because he has committed a crime but because someone suspects that he may be going to commit a crime.

The Home Office has responded in the widest sense and we are moving, but, by a sidewind in a Private Member's Bill, "sus" is brought back again. Even with the amendments, "sus" is still there and I regret that the consensus does not go a good deal further.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 5, in page 3, line 18, leave out `or is about to be'.—[Dr. Summerskill.]

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