HL Deb 05 July 2000 vol 614 cc1483-5

3.3 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the issuing of on-the-spot fines to drunken hooligans by police officers would be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, on-the-spot fines are not currently available as a penalty for a criminal offence in England and Wales. The Government take very seriously the problems posed by drunken hooligans and are considering whether it will be necessary to introduce new methods to deal with this type of behaviour. Any new measures would of course need to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response, which takes us forward a little. Can he tell the House whether his right honourable friend the Prime Minister had taken the trouble to obtain advice from lawyers—although I appreciate that we cannot ask what that advice might have been—before he made his rather startling announcement last weekend? More importantly, did the Prime Minister take advice from the police service, who would have the responsibility for administering such a scheme?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I think that it is now well known that on Monday afternoon my right honourable friend the Prime Minister spent some two hours in the company of seven chief constables taking their careful advice. What this matter has demonstrated is that the Prime Minister, along with the Government as a whole, is committed to finding ways to deal with the outlandish behaviour of louts and yobs—the kind of behaviour we all find so objectionable—outside public houses and other public places on Friday and Saturday nights. Any government should take those issues seriously. We are determined to tackle that kind of horrible behaviour because it does nothing for our town and city centres and harms our communities.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we must not lose sight of the human rights of ordinary people who wish to go about their business on Saturday nights and not be impeded by people who are drunk or who are football hooligans? Does he further agree that most people would prefer to have in place a government who put forward plenty of new ideas in an effort to tackle these problems, rather than simply settle for a government who during 18 years of power did nothing?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the simple and short answer to my noble friend is, yes, of course I agree. We know that we must put this situation right by tackling loutish and yobbish behaviour. That is why yesterday the Government proposed new measures to tackle football hooliganism. I believe that those measures have received wide public support. Furthermore, I hope that all parties in your Lordships' House will also support such moves.

Lord McNally

My Lords, has the Minister read the opinion of retired Chief Superintendent Tom Swendell of the Hertfordshire police force? He states that: Policing is an activity for the streets. There are far too many feet under desks. When the administrative culture becomes bigger than the operational commitment, that's a road to disaster". Is not that the kind of advice that the Home Secretary should be taking, instead of listening to advice that results in what we are seeing at the moment; namely, a gimmick a day from a Home Secretary who for three years aped Michael Howard and now quite clearly has lost the plot?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords. I cannot agree that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has lost the plot. The fact that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are determined to deal with the kind of behaviour that has been discussed many times recently in your Lordships' House speaks volumes about the Government's serious commitment to dealing with public disorder. We all need to care about these issues and I should be extremely disappointed if the noble Lord, Lord McNally, did not care as well.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, it appears that the plot being followed here is that the number of serving policemen should fall while the number of crimes committed should rise. That is what is happening at the moment. So far as concerns on-the-spot fines, did the Minister note that the Home Secretary has promised to introduce legislation as soon as possible; namely, to bring forward measures to the House of Commons on Monday? Can the Minister tell the House whether it will be for the individual policeman to decide on the level of the fine to be imposed on the spot, as would be done in a court in accordance with the seriousness of the offence?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I find it rather hard to take the noble Lord entirely seriously. He was a member of a government who presided over a rate of recorded violent crime increasing by 168 per cent. Furthermore, he was a member of a government who saw crimes of robbery increase by 405 per cent. As I said, I find it extremely difficult to take the noble Lord seriously when discussing these matters. We shall pursue all feasible means to bring down the amount of loutish behaviour occurring in our town and city centres. Furthermore, I expect noble Lords opposite to give the Government their support.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am slightly mystified this afternoon? I hope that he will be able to help me. I read in this morning's press that the Conservative Opposition supported in principle the introduction of these measures. Is that the case? If it is, can my noble friend explain the behaviour of noble Lords opposite this afternoon?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I believe that we are all puzzled from time to time by the words and actions of noble Lords opposite. I was extremely puzzled when I read an account which stated that, on the one hand, Ann Widdecombe would support our measures to deal with football hooliganism but, on the other hand, comments were made by other members of the same political party to the effect that they were not sure whether they supported these moves and were concerned about issues of civil liberties. As a government we need to lead the charge in this area. We should protect the civil rights and civil liberties of those who wish to go about their business peaceably.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that we are in great danger of losing the plot? There is no shortage of legislation against offences of the kind that he outlined, but it is not being implemented. We do not need new laws; we need existing laws to be implemented by whatever measures are necessary to allow that.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's remarks as a serious contribution to the debate. However, we must consider the fact that every Friday and Saturday night those who are drunk and disorderly in our town and city centres take up valuable police time in terms of processing after arrests have taken place. There is merit in examining in more detail a fixed penalty system. The idea was given some measure of support by leading and senior police officers earlier this week.