§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. It was piloted through another place by my honourable friend Estelle Morris and, in view of its importance, I am pleased to be able to ask your Lordships to give it the unanimous support that it had in another place.
The Bill arises from what must surely be a flaw in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. As it is written, Section 5 requires that the police officer who gives the warning in a case of disorderly and intimidating behaviour must be the same police officer who made the arrest. It will be agreed that usually scenes of disorder involve many people and are attended by many police officers. It is surely clear that the police officer who gives a verbal warning cannot always be the same officer who makes the arrest.
In my county of Durham, in October 1993 police were called to a doctor's surgery where two men were behaving in a threatening, abusive and insulting manner. They were arrested under the Public Order Act 1986 but were later acquitted of all charges because the officer who gave the warning was not the officer who subsequently made the arrest. The case went to appeal and was rejected by Lord Justice Kennedy. However, he said at the time that he was unable to discern any parliamentary purpose in the working of the Act as it presently stood. He went on to say that the matter would merit further parliamentary consideration at an early date.
Similar cases have occurred in other parts of the country. I do not believe that I need give the details now. Despite other warnings, no action has been taken by government; and the result is that the police do not have the power to deal with a serious and growing problem. In 1980 one in five crimes resulted in a conviction or a caution by the police. By 1994 the figure had slumped to one in ten. Unless the law is amended the situation will deteriorate further.
I understand that the Home Office supports this measure; and it has all-party support in another place. It is now 10 years since Parliament passed this flawed 1498 piece of legislation. It is nine years since warnings were given, and two years since a High Court judge effectively suspended the use of that section and called on Parliament to reconsider it. All that is required is for one word to be changed in Section 5(4). That one change is the substance of this Bill, and the time has now surely arrived to make the change. It is simply that Section 5(4)(a) of the Public Order Act 1986 should be amended by leaving out the word "the" and inserting the word "a". I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Dormand of Easington.)
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, from the Labour Front Bench perhaps I may warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Dormand on his good fortune in being able to persuade the business managers in a very tight schedule to find the five minutes (the time that he was allocated) for this Motion. As he says, it is a quirk of the draftsman. In practice an improvement has proved necessary.
My noble friend is right to draw attention to the fact that this measure has the support not only of all parties but of the Government too. My honourable friend in another place, Estelle Morris, is grateful for the manner in which the Bill's progress has been facilitated. Even though the Summer Recess will intervene, there is every prospect that the Bill will reach the statute book before the end of the parliamentary Session. We congratulate my noble friend on having the good fortune to move the Bill this evening. It has our full support. I look forward to hearing an endorsement of it by the Minister.
The Earl of Courtown
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, on the way he introduced the measure. I also congratulate his honourable friend in another place, Estelle Morris.
The Government support the amendment to the Public Order Act 1986. The noble Lord described the measure very well. The proposal would overcome an apparent anomaly in the existing public order legislation whereby a police officer has the power of arrest only if he personally has warned a person about engaging in offensive conduct but that person continues to do it.
There is no change to the police warning which has to be given; that is right and proper. But the proposal would mean that any police officer could arrest the person if they chose to ignore the police warning about their conduct. The Government support the measure.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.