§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
I beg to move,That the draft Fines and Penalties (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 15th March, be approved.Since 1977 fine levels in Northern Ireland have lagged behind those in Great Britain, when the Criminal Law Act 1977 commenced the task of standardising and rationalising fines, which was completed by the Criminal Justice Act 1982. By creating a new structure of five levels of maximum summary fines and providing for a general increase and a power to inflation-proof, the order will bring the structure of fines in Northern Ireland into line and enable recent increases in Great Britain to be followed in Northern Ireland easily and quickly by negative resolution order to bring fines generally to present Great Britain levels.
The order is largely technical, and, while it contains 19 articles, there are a few key articles to which I should perhaps draw special attention.
Article 3 removes any limit on any fine that may be imposed on indictment.
Article 4 introduces the prescribed sum, set at £1,000, which will he the maximum fine that a magistrate may impose when dealing with an offence also triable by judge and jury. The article sets a pattern, which is applied to other fines later in the order, of abolishing "enhanced penalties" where the maximum fine varies according to the number of the defendant's previous convictions for the offence. The article leaves unchanged penalties related to periods of time over which an offence has been committed, as well as penalties contained in subordinate instruments. That pattern is followed throughout the order.
Articles 5, 6 and 7 contain the main thrust of the order. Article 5 establishes for offences triable only summarily a five-level standard scale of maximum fines. Its purpose is to provide the basis for increasing fines and for enabling maxima to be altered easily from time to time in line with changes in the value of money.
Article 6 increases to the appropriate levels on the standard scale all maximum summary fines in primary legislation. For reasons of parity with Great Britain special provision is made for £20 fines in some Acts of this Parliament which have effect in Northern Ireland. The other provisions of article 6 deal with fines per quantity, for offences with maxima that vary according to circumstances, and for daily and other periodic fines.
There are, of course, some exceptions, which I do not propose to deal with individually, but, in broad terms, fines that have been reviewed in recent years are not to be increased, and some fines are increased by more than the general level. These are covered by article 7 and listed in schedules 2, 3 and 4.
Article 8 has an effect similar to article 6, but it deals specifically with provisions in primary legislation that confer power to prescribe maximum fines by subordinate instrument. It uprates the maximum fines which may be prescribed under relevant primary legislation, but leaves untouched fines already specified in existing subordinate instruments.
The abolition of enhanced penalties for summary offences is achieved by articles 9 and 10. Enhanced 324 penalties are a thing of the past. In recent years maximum penalties have been set at a level considered adequate to deal with the most serious examples of the offences concerned, and the courts have been left free to determine the level in individual cases.
Articles 11 to 16 contain a number of minor amendments. Article 17 contains another of the main elements of the order. It sets out the monetary amounts which the Secretary of State is empowered by instrument to vary in the light of changes in the value of money. These include the maximum fine on summary conviction for an offence also triable on indictment, the standard scale and a number of fines, mainly for contempt, which may be imposed without a conviction being recorded. This article also establishes 29 July 1977—the same date as has been used in Great Britain—as the date from which the computation of changes in the value of money will be made.
Finally, schedule 1 provides for Northern Ireland the same level of penalties as exists elsewhere in the United Kingdom for certain drugs offences, and one minor change made to schedule 3 since the proposal for this order was published includes some increases to penalties under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 not included in the published proposal.
As I said at the outset, this order is mainly technical. By bringing the fines structure in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the country it will enable recent increases to be followed quickly and allow future increases pari passu. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I accept that the purpose of the order is to deal with the inflationary effect of fines and to attempt some standardisation, and I do not intend to oppose the order. However, I shall raise one or two matters that give me cause for concern.
On a number of my visits to Northern Ireland recently it has been put to me that for offences not related to paramilitary actions there is a harsher standard of justice in Northern Ireland than in Britain. This can be measured on a number of scales such as the use of imprisonment, heavy fines and so on. The ladder of escalation up which an offender goes in receiving sentences handed out by a court appears to be travelled much more rapidly in Northern Ireland that in Britain as whole.
I note that one of the provisions in the order is to increase the fine from £50 to £200 for a breach of a community service order. I give advance warning to the Minister that I shall want to look rather harder, at some other stage, at the way in which fines are meted out for offences not related to paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. It has been put to me strongly by a number of people connected with the criminal justice system there that Northern Ireland would not come out well if the use of fines and other sentences there were compared with those in the United Kingdom as a whole.
The Minister has missed an opportunity, which can at times develop in Northern Ireland, to experiment and develop new methods that are ahead of what is happening here. The least that we should be asking for is the minimum standards that apply in the United Kingdom. There would, for example, have been a good case for considering the use of day fines. By day fines we mean, as I am sure the Minister will realise, a fine related to the offender's income. This is particularly important in 325 Northern Ireland where incomes are lower and, on the Government's recognition, the daily living costs, particularly for housing, energy and other crucial parts of the daily budget, are considerably higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. The use of day fines could have been a useful innovation, and the order could have shown a little more imagination by the Minister.
I should also emphasise that, given the increasing burden of unemployment in Northern Ireland, it would be a drastic mistake for courts to start to impose heavy fines for people on supplementary benefit. There are occasions when people have little left out of their income, and the Minister will not dispute with me the evidence that load limiters have to be used on electricity meters, which shows the seriousness of the problem in Northern Ireland, which does not apply here.
One of the other curious anomalies in the Northern Ireland criminal justice system is the relatively low level of the seriousness of the view taken by the judiciary towards drink-driving offences. Although this has been toughened up recently, this part of the system is the reverse of the picture that I painted to start with. It is obvious that if one has to be caught drunk in charge of a vehicle, it is better to be caught in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. One is more likely to get a lenient sentence for that in Northern Ireland, but if one commits a property-related offence one is more likely to be more heavily penalised. That is a rather curious balance when one thinks that the effects of driving under the influence of drink can lead to the death or sometimes serious life-long injury of an innocent individual.
I recognise that it is not possible for the Minister to do anything about this tonight, but perhaps he can take on board that comment. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to look in more detail at the way in which the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland is structured, apart from the problems posed by the para-military activity. If we take a long hard look at the system we shall find that there are ways to improve it considerably, and I should not like the Minister to lose the opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The determination of successive Governments during the past 12 years that the law in Northern Ireland should not be made by the same processes as it is made for the rest of the United Kingdom takes on an added poignancy when the House considers, as we approach half-past 3 in the morning, a very important piece of substantive legislation.
Perhaps those hon. Members who were present until about half-past 2 to see the unseemly scramble with which the House despatched the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill felt that that was hardly consonant with the principle of good legislation. Now we are presented with a legislative scandal in the form of this order. It is a scandal that the Minister did not seek to conceal in his introductory words as he laid the order before the House. He said that the law in Northern Ireland in the respects that are covered by the order had lagged behind the rest of the United Kingdom. It has indeed. A statute of 1977 and another statute of 1982 are being applied to Northern Ireland by the order so that, for seven years in the case of some penalties and provisions and for two years in the case of 326 others, there has been a difference that I do not think, if I understood his argument correctly, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) would seek to justify, between the provisions of the law on the mainland of Great Britain and that in Northern Ireland.
From this, it should be possible to say without encountering disagreement that the maximum penalties for the same offences and the scale of penalties available for the same offences ought to be the same throughout the United Kingdom. The manner in which most of the legislation for Northern Ireland has been carried out in the past 12 years has resulted in that principle being breached for a period of between two and seven years, which is being closed tonight only by the order.
A few weeks ago, I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland asking himwhy it was not possible or was not thought desirable, that increases in fines…should take effect in Northern Ireland at the same time as the rest of the United Kingdom.One would have thought that that was not merely an innocent inquiry, but almost unnecessary, as the natural answer would be that they ought to take effect at the same time and, as a corollary, that they should be enacted at the same time. But that was not the reply that I got from the Secretary of State. He said:The quickest way to bring fines in Northern Ireland into line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom is to proceed in the manner set out in my reply to the right hon. Gentleman on 7 March."—[Official Report, 21 March 1984; Vol. 56, c. 496.]The reply by the right hon. Gentleman on 7 March said that the right manner was to do it by draft Order in Council under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. I must beg leave to differ with the Secretary of State. If he thinks that that is the way to ensure that fines are brought into line in Northern Ireland in the quickest possible way, we need go no further for refutation than this order and the gross time lag that, belatedly, it remedies.
The excuse sometimes given for this proceeding is that somehow there is a separate body of law in Northern Ireland the virginity of which must not be challenged of interfered with, that that body of law must be left inviolate and that the procedures whereby it is amended or added to must be separate and distinct from those whereby law is made for the rest of the United Kingdom.
The proposition does not survive perusal of the order, because in more than one place—I shall refer to just one—are set out the "relevant provisions," which is the term of art, being amended by the order in respect of the size of fines. According to article 4(8),relevant provision means a provision contained in—which ceased to exist in 1921, I believe—
- (a) and Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom;
- (b) and Act of the Parliament of Ireland"—
and as if that were not enough,
- "(c) an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland",
That is the supposedly inviolate, beautifully rounded and complete "separate body of law" for Northern Ireland. This order amends Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and Acts of the Parliament of Ireland as well as Acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland since 1922 and Acts under the various cobbled-together constitutions that have fleetingly existed there since 1972. It simply will not do to try to defend what has been perpetrated on the ground 327 that there is a separate body of law that must be dealt with separately and belatedly when the Government get around to it.
- "(d) an Order in Council under section 1(3) of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972; or
- (e) an Order in Council under Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974"
I do not expect the Minister to be able to give me a complete and satisfactory reply to the complaint that I have addressed to him so far. Indeed, that complaint and grievance is bound up with the grievance of Northern Ireland in the past 12 years that, while it has been claimed to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, it has not been so treated and that indeed the endeavour seems to have been to treat it as differently as possible. I hope, however, that I shall be able to carry the Minister with me in a more modest proposal—that phrase should always be introduced wherever possible into a debate on any part of the island of Ireland—for the future presentation of orders of this description.
As the Minister made clear, the purpose of the order is to apply to Northern Ireland the provisions for increases in fines and penalties in two United Kingdom statutes—the Criminal Law Act 1977 and the Criminal Justice Act 1982. As is customary, the proposals for the draft order were accompanied by a very useful and workmanlike explanatory note. Faced with an order of this sort, however, it is extremely difficult to see exactly what provisions in the United Kingdom statutes are being reproduced in the order. With careful study, it is possible to piece together the jigsaw puzzle, but it is a difficult and uncertain task, at the end of which the student will be uncertain how completely or with what omissions the application to Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom statute has been accomplished.
I submit to the Minister that in future in the case of legislation of this type, so long as we have to have it by Order in Council, Orders in Council that apply England and Wales or Scottish statutes to Northern Ireland should be accompanied not just by the usual explanatory memorandum but by an analysis which clearly displays the equation between the two forms of legislation and highlights—with reasons, if any—the differences and omissions involved. I hope that my request will not fall on stony ground.
I hope that, when a draft order is brought forward, which has previously been made in the form of proposals and made available for comment, criticism and suggestion, we shall be told whether it is identical and unchanged, what proposals for alteration have been received, whether account has been taken of them and how account has been taken of them. I admit that my two suggestions would result in an elaboration of the accompanying material, but I do not believe that the Government would begrudge that, since these are necessary aims to the study of the legislation, which, in the case of Northern Ireland, we must deal with in an hour and a half, very often at a late hour. Particular importance attaches to previous study, since we cannot learn about the legislation as we go through it, in the way the House learns about a Bill's contents by studying it in Committee and on Report.
I proceed to a number of specific problems that presented themselves to me in studying this order, and which I hope the Minister's brief will enable him to resolve. Paragraph 4 of the article states:shall not affect so much of any relevant provision as…makes a person liable on summary conviction to a fine of a specified amount…for each period of a specified length during which a continuing offence is continued.328 I gather that, in the jargon, that is called a periodic fine. There are many circumstances in which a periodic fine would appear to be highly desirable. A continuing offence is a continuing affront to the law and often represents a continuing injury by the offender to his fellow citizens. That characteristic of a periodic fine appears to be eliminated in that article, as it appears to have been eliminated in England and Wales by the 1977 Act. Has that happened? If so, what is the justification for eliminating periodic fines?
My next point, which is more detailed, relates to paragraph 3 of article 9, which assures the reader:This Article does not apply to offences under section 13 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (brothel-keeping).Excited by curiosity as to why that exception has been made, the student discovers from the explanatory memorandum that the offence of brothel-keeping is under separate review. As the relevant legislation was made in 1885—admittedly, I do not know how long the review has been going on — how is the review of brothel-keeping, whether of the United Kingdom as a whole or restricted to Northern Ireland, getting on? Obviously, we are awaiting the conclusion of that review in order to be able to complete the legislative edifice of this order.
Article 17 is the very important inflation-proofing article. It enables fines to be upped by statutory instrument. I should like to put two questions to the Minister. In paragraph (1), the article provides that new sums may by order be substituted for the sums in the orderIf it appears to the Secretary of State that there has been a change in the value of money since the relevant date".We are treading on very dangerous ground. Whole epochs of economic theory and controversy have revolved around the concept of the value of money. My inquiry is very innocent and simple—namely, what measure will be applied? Is it our old friend the retail price index, or is it some other index which the Secretary of State has in his bosom by which he will judge the movement in the value of money? Before we give this power to the Secretary of State to enhance fines by statutory instrument, we should know on what principles he intends to proceed in assessing the value of money.
That is the first of my two questions on article 17. The second, and—the Minister may be relieved to know—last question, relates to the starting date. I think that I caught an expression in the Minister's introductory speech that may partly contain the answer to my query. The relevant date, or base line, from which the change in the value of money is to be measured before the Secretary of State sets out on making his statutory instruments, is 29 July 1977. What a world of woe and what oceans of inflation have intervened since then! In the past seven years, inflation has scaled heights, under a previous Labour Administration, that touched on 30 per cent. and, under this Administration, 20 per cent. Thus the order envisages adjustment for the change in the value of money during so long and tempestuous a period. One deduces—I thought that it might be implicit in the Minister's words—that no sooner will the order become law than we shall almost immediately have statutory instruments taking advantage of the provisions of article 17. Otherwise, it might well be asked how much longer we will go on after 1977 without adjustment for the fall in the value of money during all those years.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister will say whether we are on the verge of a rash of instrument making, which will 329 bring us up to date since 1977, and whether that instrument making will apply to all the possible provisions set out in article 17(2). I make that last query because, if the Secretary of State uses this power in relation to some penalties only and not others, he will not merely be adjusting the fines for a fallen value of money but will be altering the relativities as they stand at present in the law in England and Wales, and in that order. I hope that the briefing of the Minister — which was, no doubt, thorough and excellent — will enable him to resolve these difficulties.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued cogently why we should have been legislated for along with the rest of the kingdom. We should not then have been behind in the level of fines. I thought, when he was dealing with the question of measuring inflation, that he might have mentioned using the snake, but that can wait for another debate.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) referred to certain people not being in a position to pay their fines. Last week I had discussions with Housing Executive members, tenants and representatives of the Royal Ulster Constabulary about the prevailing vandalism in the community. They referred to the tardiness with which some policemen followed through certain problems. The reason for that, they said, was that when the police brought a person before the court, the punishment frequently consisted of a derisory fine of £2, which would not pay for the police constable's work on the case, not to mention the expense of preparing the case by an inspector. Raising the penalties will help to combat petty crime and the normal vandalism that occurs in communities. I use the word "normal" to dissociate it from the violence to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith referred.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
That implies that they have low incomes. It is amazing how much money many of the young vandals in the Province have, and the same is probably true in parts of Britain. As for imposing community service orders, we must bear in mind that a horse can be led to water, but it cannot be made to drink. By our action tonight we are strengthing the hands of those in the community who are trying to combat the lower standards that have arisen because of the continuing violence.
The Housing Executive in Belfast is pouring £4 million into a modernisation programme. I am thinking of an estate in which the bulk of the people are of one class, so this is not a sectarian issue. The hon. Member for Hammersmith described people as deprived. On that estate, extreme vandalism is already going on. The old laws did not give power to deal with it, and I therefore welcome the enhanced, if belated, powers that we are enacting tonight.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
I welcome the order, as I believe that this upgrading in the level of fines is long overdue. I shall listen with great interest to the Minister's reply to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) as to whether an increase in real income is taken into account in deciding by how much the various fines should be increased.
I have examined the order with some interest, because there is an amazing variation in the fines contained therein. In schedule 4, under the Judgments Enforcement (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, in relation to one offence, the fine increases from £100 to £1,000, a multiplier of 10, and, in relation to another offence, the present maximum of £400 is increased to £1,000, an increase of two and a half times. The great difference between the fine for one offence and the fine for another offence is shown in other schedules in the order. They are not all in the same time scale. In schedule 3, under the Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1836, the maximum fine goes up from £10 to £1,000, a multiplier of 100, while for the offence of plying for hire without a licence, the fine goes up from £2 to £50, a multiplier of 25. If a multiplier of 25 is needed to make a law-breaker think about his activities before he breaks the law, the list is indeed long overdue.
The question is whether the courts are prepared to impose the fines. Under the Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, there are various maxima of £10. When a multiplier of 20 is applied, the amount of the fine is increased to £200. If one recalls the amount of openly admitted lawbreaking that was revealed at the last census, one wonders why a fine for such people is included in the schedule at all. In any number of incidents the law was blatantly broken, and people got publicity from breaking the law, yet no effort was made to bring them to book. I believe that this happened not only in 1981, but in some instances in 1971.
That kind of behaviour by those responsible for enforcing the law does nothing to bring the law into good repute. Whatever the amount of the fine, whether it be £10 or £200, it should have been applied, and the law-breakers should have been taken to court. It should not have been allowed to run on until it went out of time. What happened was an excuse to avoid taking action against law-breakers. It is appalling that that was allowed to happen.
In future, when there is public flouting of the law, I hope that the Government will ensure that the matter is brought to court, and that those responsible for breaking the law are dealt with.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Would my hon. Friend not agree, especially on the lines of the argument of our hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), that, where the penalty could be as substantial a fine as £200, it is much more likely that enforcement action would be taken, and there is less risk of those deciding upon enforcement action saying, "If we go to all this trouble and take all the risk, there will be only a £10 fine"? To that extent, we may be gaining something by the order.
§ Mr. Ross
I appreciate the point which has been made by my right hon. Friend, but I wonder sometimes whether that naturally follows. I hope that it does, but I have in mind an incident that took place in the village in which I live, which suggests that my right hon. Friend's argument 331 does not always apply. The council bought a piece of property and some of the locals decided that the timber growing upon it would make excellent firewood. Quite a few of the trees were cut down and great efforts were made to catch those who were responsible, and one of them was picked up. A considerable amount of damage had been done and much of the timber had been stolen. Of course, trees are beautiful things and they added much to the property. The person concerned was taken to court and given a conditional discharge. It seems that the rigours of the law were not fully applied.
In the past year or so I have had correspondence with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with responsibility for the environment in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten). The correspondence has concerned the trading that has been taking place in the Department of the Environment car park at Portrush. The fine for that offence will be increased from £5 to £200. When people have been taken to court for this offence—it is a fairly serious matter—they have been fined 50p. I hope that the next person to be convicted of the offence will be fined £20, which will still be only one tenth of the maximum fine.
There is no point in raising the level of fines that can be imposed if the courts do not make use of the power that is in their hands. A person can be fined £200 for walking three greyhounds and someone else can be fined £200 for making money by setting up a trading centre in a car park on a Sunday. It does not seem reasonable to my constituents that those who have flaunted the law and made money as a result should be given only a 50p fine. I hope that the courts will give some weight to the decision of the House tonight and will apply the penalties that are now available to them.
§ Mr. Scott
In bringing this short but useful debate to a close, I re-emphasise that the order is of limited scope. Its main aim is, in due course, to bring the range of fines and penalties into line with Great Britain. When that process has been completed, the penalties will broadly achieve parity between the two parts of the United Kingdom.
There have been criticisms, some implied and some explicit, of decisions made by the magistracy or the judiciary when they come to implement the powers that are available to them. It is not for me or the House to decide what penalties should be imposed in particular circumstances in individual cases. We put the penalties into the hands of the judiciary and those are the weapons that they can use to combat crime. It is up to the judiciary to come to their own decisions. That is not a matter for the Executive.
I must reiterate for the benefit of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that this is a limited parity-achieving exercise. Day fines may be useful and may be an interesting idea, but they are not measures that come within the order, which is designed to bring our system of fines into line—some would say belatedly—with that in Great Britain. The hon. Gentleman spoke about fines being imposed on those with limited means, especially on those in receipt of supplementary benefit. The Court of Appeal in England has made it clear that the means of the defendant should be one of the factors to be taken into account when deciding what fine should be imposed. It has 332 laid down a number of factors that have to be taken into account. The second factor in order of priority is the means of the offender.
It is remarkable that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) should describe a measure that is designed to achieve parity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as a legislative scandal. He complained about the delay in bringing about the achievement, but even if we cannot have rejoicing in heaven it might not come amiss to have rejoicing in Down, South.
§ Mr. Scott
Indeed. I shall explain why the delay occurred. In Great Britain the task of standardising and rationalising the pattern of fines was begun with the Criminal Law Act 1977. That increased fines for some offences at the lower end of the criminal scale in the pre-1949 legislation and introduced the £1,000 prescribed sum for offences tried summarily which could have been tried on indictment.
Consideration was given at that time to introducing similar provisions for Northern Ireland. Indeed, a great deal of preparatory work to introduce comparable measures in the Province was undertaken. Then it became clear that the Home Office was engaged in a further exercise of updating the work that had been undertaken in 1977, so it was decided to delay the work on the Northern Ireland updating until the work had been completed in Great Britain. That work was completed by the Criminal Justice Act 1982. What we are now incorporating in this single order are the provisions of both the 1977 and the 1982 Acts. It was felt that that was the speediest way to achieve the parity which I think we all seek.
In the autumn it will remain only to introduce the first specific inflation-proofing measure, which will bring not just the structure of fines and penalties into line with Great Britain, which this order achieves, but the actual level of those fines. From then on I envisage inflation-proofing being simultaneous in Northern Ireland, England and Wales and Scotland. Orders under the negative procedure will be introduced simultaneously in all three jurisdictions.
The right hon. Gentleman returned to the theme about whether there should be a separate corpus of law. He knows my views on this. I still believe that the right path for Northern Ireland is to return as speedily as possible to a form of devolved government. In particular, in regard to transferred functions it is important that a separate corpus of law is maintained.
The order gives a structure to fines and penalties and brings them into parity with the structure in Great Britain. I certainly accept that the explanatory document might have been a little more forthcoming. To the extent that that is necessary when we introduce upratings in future, I shall see that the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman are taken into account.
The right hon. Gentleman made the point that in many ways periodic fines are desirable. The fact is that the courts have almost stopped imposing periodic fines. They clearly regard them as anachronistic. Although we are not abolishing them by the order, it was not felt that there was merit in uprating them, simply because they are used so little by the courts.
The right hon. Gentleman then referred to brothel-keeping. The Criminal Law Revision Committee, in consultation with the Policy Advisory Committee on 333 Sexual Offences, has been conducting a wide-ranging review of a number of sexual offences and the penalties that ought to be imposed for them. I am afraid that I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an idea of how that review is proceeding. Obviously it is a matter essentially for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but I shall certainly write to the right hon. Gentleman when I have an idea of when the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Policy Advisory Committee on Sexual Offences will be coming to a conclusion. It is, of course, the law in Great Britain which is under review, but I feel sure that if substantial changes are proposed we would wish to take broadly similar action in respect of the law in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the inflation-proofing procedure. Broadly, we would use the retail price index as a measure of the inflation that has taken place in the economy. We shall be taking the first inflation-proofing step in the autumn when we introduce a further order to bring penalties into line with those which have operated in England and Wales since 1 May. The order will apply to all the factors set out in article 17. A standard uprating factor will apply across the board.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) welcomed the order, for which I am grateful. He tended to criticise the judiciary, which is not a matter for me. I have no doubt that magistrates will read his remarks. At least in this and subsequent orders we give them the power to impose realistic fines which are in tune with today's money values.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) welcomed the order and covered much the same ground as the hon. Member for Belfast, South. I stress that the order is not primarily an inflation-proofing order. It is the result of the rationalisation and reordering of the fines and penalties system. It looks afresh at fines and penalties, some of which were established in the 19th century, some before the first world war and some between the wars.
Looking with a fresh mind, one is bound to achieve different factors. That task has been done in relation to the 1977 Act and to the 1982 Act. We are simply bringing the five standard levels of fine which operate in Great Britain into use in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the order will be of immense use to the courts.
§ Mr. William Ross
Is the Minister saying that not only the inflation factor will be taken into account when deciding fines?
§ Mr. Scott
The authorities here conducted a thorough review of the whole pattern of fines and sought to rationalise them. We are to have five standard levels and there is bound to be a difference in the factors applied to them. Changes in society have occurred which have also been taken into account. I commend the order to the House. It represents sensible rationalisation. In the autumn the House will consider the first inflation-proofing step to bring us finally into line with Great Britain legislation. From there on we hope to legislate simultaneously.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Fines and Penalties (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 15th March, be approved.