HC Deb 30 April 1986 vol 96 cc989-91

Amendment made: No. 13, in page 3, line 32, leave out from 'if' to end of line 7 on page 4 and insert


  1. (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
  2. (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign of other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove—

  1. (a) that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or
  2. (b) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
  3. 990
  4. (c) that his conduct was reasonable.'.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]

Mr. Chris Smith

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 4, line 19, at end insert—

'(8) The Secretary of State shall issue a code of practice in connection with the exercise of the power of arrest under subsection (5) of this section. (9) Section 67 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 shall have effect as if references to a code of practice included references to a code of practice to which subsection (8) above applies.'. Many of the arguments about the offence of disorderly conduct and the now amended clause 5 have already been rehearsed. Our major anxiety is about the manner in which the offence will be policed. There is the possibility that a mistaken interpretation of the offence and the way in which it should be dealt with could in some circumstances lead to another sus law. We have been worried about that all along in connection with this new offence and clause 5. Accordingly, we suggest in this amendment that the Secretary of State, in exactly the terms of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, should issue a code of practice to the police to ensure that they are made extremely well aware by the Government and by the Home Office of the manner in which the Government intend them to police this offence and about the way in which they conduct themselves.

I hope the Government will see the advantage of issuing a clear statement of guidance to the police that that code of practice would enshrine. In those terms I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Mr. Shaw

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) moved this amendment. I fully understand the interest that is aroused about the use of the arrest powers in clause 5. We had substantial discussions about that in Committee. It is not our intention to publish a code of practice about this arrest power, because such a single arrest power does not justify such a code. It is our intention to issue guidance about its interpretation in the circular that we send to police forces about the workings of Acts, if and when the Bill becomes an Act.

If the hon. Gentleman withdraws the amendment, I shall write to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and set out the guidance contained in the general circular on the arrest powers. That will have the full description of the arrest power element that he wishes to be discussed, and it will be placed in the Library so that it becomes a published document. I will do that rather than publish the circular itself, as that will deal with many other issues that it would not be sensible to publish.

Mr. Smith

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for what he said. It is an extremely helpful compromise that guidance should be given to protect the public and to facilitate the job that the police must do. There is considerable public concern about this, and the Opposition are also concerned. It is therefore right that such guidance should be made public in the way that the Minister has suggested.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in inviting the Minister to be sure that the document is placed in the Library before the Bill is considered in another place, just in case some people wish to comment upon it?

Mr. Smith

I echo the hon. Gentleman's anxiety and his keenness to ensure that the matter is available for public consideration by both Houses in advance of discussion in the other place. However, the Government may find that the timetable does not permit such a rapid placing of the document in the Library.

Mr. Giles Shaw

I fear that it would be wrong for the hon. Gentleman to expect that we should be able to give this guidance prior to the matter coming before the other place. The circular will be in draft before we are ready to issue it, and we shall have to bear in mind possible changes as the Bill goes through.

Mr. Smith

I accept the practical problems that face the Minister, but I also expect that their Lordships might wish to consider these matters during their consideration of the Bill. In the light of what the Minister has said, and given the extremely helpful content of his contribution, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 15, in page 4, line 26 leave out from 'behaviour' to 'may' in line 27 and insert ', or the writing, sign or other visible representation, to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or is aware that it'.

No. 16, in page 4, line 29 leave out from 'words' to 'may' and insert 'or behaviour, or the writing, sign or other visible representation, to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or is aware that it'.

No. 17, in page 4, line 31 leave out 'threatening, abusive, insulting or'.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]

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