Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Clarke: I want to clarify the hon. Gentleman's position. He has made it clear that the Liberal Democrats will vote against clause 72, unless it is amended. Although I am not intending to do this, if amendments Nos. 214 and 215 were accepted by the Government, would he vote for the clause?

Mr. Hughes: I have already dealt with that question: the Liberal Democrats would still seek to remove the clause, because we believe that it is not possible to amend it adequately. The amendments would alleviate its failings, and if the Government were to accept them, the Bill would be improved. I anticipate that the Government will narrowly win the vote on the clause, but I always live in hope that some Government Members might be excited to a bit of temporary opposition in order to support the police on this occasion.

Mr. Hawkins: I support amendments Nos. 246, 252, 247, 248, 253, 251, 254, 249 and 250, and I shall begin on a happy—and, perhaps for me, unaccustomed—note of cross-party agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I received a helpful note from the Minister in advance of the debate stating that he is prepared to accept amendments Nos. 248 to 250. I put on record my thanks to him for that.

I also want to pay tribute to an unsung hero. Mr. Gale, you know that the Opposition frequently lack resources. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) also knows that, as he experienced a period in opposition before entering Government, which is a unique experience among the Labour members of the Committee. However, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I, as well as our Back-Bench colleagues, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, are assisted by some able researchers. The best of them is a young man called Matthew Gullick, whose father is a distinguished circuit judge. He has been helping us on the Bill, and it is always a pleasure when amendments that he has drafted are accepted by the Minister. That is especially true now, as today's brief from Mr. Gullick states that the Minister's officials had drafted the Bill infelicitously and that his draft was better and corrected some drafting errors. He has said that in respect of all the amendments that the Minister has accepted. On this occasion, the score is three goals to nil to young Matthew Gullick, who shares my passion for sport.

I have begun on a happy note, but I now want to talk about the details.

Mr. Hughes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hawkins: I want to make a point before I give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he, too, has able researchers. Indeed, yesterday, he referred to one of them going off to run some investigative journalism, so I am only evening up the score.

It is a matter of principle to conclude that something is seriously wrong when organisations as politically diverse as Liberty, the Police Federation and the inspectors central council all think that the Government are wrong.

Mr. Hughes: Concessions by the Government in relation to drafting amendments are always welcome, but concessions on substantive amendments would be much more welcome. I am waiting for that to happen, and time is running out.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman is right. I detected—and I am sure that he did, too—a scintilla of uncertainty when the Minister intervened at the end of his remarks to suggest that the Government might at least consider accepting some of the amendments, in a desperate attempt to hang on to a bad clause. If the Police Federation, the council of inspectors—I shall go into detail about their views—and Liberty think that it is bad, and all do so for similar reasons, something must be seriously wrong. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right that the Government need to think again. We intend to return to some of those issues on Report.

I shall refer in detail to some of our amendments that the Government have not yet accepted, although, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, we still live in hope. Amendment No. 246 would ensure that the inspector carrying out the review was present at a police station. Otherwise, strictly speaking, the clause would in theory allow officers to carry out reviews of detention on a mobile phone while walking around on their beat or, perish the thought, while driving, although no police officer should do that, as it is evidence of careless driving. In relation to telephone and video reviews of detention, surely the officer concerned should be sitting down and concentrating on the important matters with which he is required to deal.

Amendments Nos. 252 and 253 would require the telephone and video links used to be secure because, sadly, as we all know, if mobile phones or cordless analogue phones are used, people can listen in with unscrambling systems. We all know of appalling instances of telephone conversations involving the highest in the land or matters of national security being intercepted. We are certain that that has not been thought through, so we require reassurance from the Minister. We need to know how the video signals will be transmitted. Is there any way in which interception could be blocked? A great deal more detail needs to be supplied.

Amendments Nos. 247 and 254 would ensure that a recording was made of the telephone conversations and video conferencing relating to the review. That is plain common sense, but it is not in the Bill. What happens if, after the review, there are differing accounts of who said what to whom? If a two-way telephone or video link is used, there will be no witnesses. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who is temporarily absent from the Committee, and I—and other Committee members not currently present who are lawyers—will have dealt with cases in which what was said, what was done and what was reviewed were major issues in trials. We do not want cases to be lost because of that.

Amendment No. 251 would ensure that video reviews could happen only when it was not reasonably practicable, in normal circumstances, for an officer present in the station to conduct a review in person. The test appears to be in place for telephone reviews, under proposed new section 40A(1)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but it is not in the proposed new section relating to video reviews. Can we assume that it is intended that video reviews will be used more generally or on a routine basis? Will the regulations contain guidance on the matter? We need to know. There is no doubt that inspectors are against it. I shall not go into detail about the precise words used by the general secretary of the inspectors' central committee or the comments made by Fred Broughton, the general secretary of the Police Federation. This is a bad, unsatisfactory clause, and we shall want to press several of our amendments.

Mr. Heald: Further to your earlier advice to the Committee, Mr. Gale—

The Chairman: Order. We are in the middle of a debate on an amendment. Is this a point of order?

Mr. Heald: I am sorry if I did not say that it was a point of order; that was certainly my intention. On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I would like to move formally that the Programming Sub-Committee do reconvene.

The Chairman: I would like to consider that. We are in the middle of a debate, which we should complete before we go any further. The usual channels have not indicated to me whether this request is one of consensus or dispute.

Mr. Heald rose—

The Chairman: I should like to be given a little more information to enable me to consider the matter properly. The debate on the amendment should be completed while other matters take place. Perhaps some signals will come to me from some quarter or another during the course of debate.

Mr. Heald rose—

The Chairman: I will not take any further points of order on that issue, but I am prepared to return to the matter later.

11.30 am

Mr. Charles Clarke: First, on a nice point, I should like to add my congratulations to Mr. Gullick on the work that he has done in advising the Opposition. For a long time I considered myself the general secretary of NUPA—the national union of political advisers—during a period of opposition when I advised the then Leader of the Opposition. I am second to none in paying tribute to the sterling work of political advisers of those in opposition. I genuinely think that their work is good and important, and the situation is even better if the proposals put forward show respect for it.

The clause would allow reviews of the continuing need for detention before charge—which must be undertaken by an officer of at least inspector rank—to be carried out by telephone. That may happen under the condition that it is not reasonably practical for an appropriate officer to be present in the relevant police station to carry out the review or for the review to be conducted using video conferencing. The provisions will enable reviews of detention and other custody-related decisions to be carried out using video conferencing. It will also allow for certain reviews to be carried out over the telephone, but only—I emphasise—in extreme circumstances. Safeguards and supporting procedures are already included and our general position is that the amendments would detract from the flexibility and workability of the arrangements.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is talking about flexibility. However, would he bear in mind that the central committee of police inspectors, the Police Federation and Liberty have all said that one cannot sacrifice the principles of the police and criminal evidence legislation—known to all lawyers as PACE—for pure flexibility? The measures represent a retrograde step, backing away from PACE.

Mr. Clarke: I was wrong to take that intervention. I am dealing with those points as I go through, and it will help the Committee if I give way at the end as usual.

The argument has been advanced that the police position on these matters is that taken by the Police Federation and the inspectors council. The actual position of the police is that the Association of Chief Police Officers supports the proposals, which it perceives as providing a helpful option. The Police Superintendents Association supports the proposals because it supports inspectors' reviews by video; the association made that clear in its consultation response.

As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, the Police Federation opposes many of the proposals because it believes that the review should be undertaken in person. The Police Federation worries that the increasing use of modern communications technology represents a threat to police numbers and traditional police methods. We do not think it right, however, to ignore the development of technology.

I shall not comment further on amendments Nos. 248, 249 and 250, which I hope that my colleagues will agree to support. The clause would allow certain reviews of the continuing need for detention before charge to be carried out by telephone. The reviews must be carried out by an officer of at least the rank of inspector and must normally take place no later than six hours after detention was first authorised and then at intervals of nine hours. A detention for longer than 24 hours requires the authority of an officer of at least superintendent rank. It is not proposed to make the telephone option available for superintendents' reviews.

The clause allows the review to be carried out by telephone only when

    ``it is not reasonably practicable for an officer of at least the rank of inspector to be present in the police station''

and it is not reasonably practicable to use video conferencing for the review. Such situations might arise when, for example, the only inspector available to conduct the review is called away in an emergency.

Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 would replace the words ``not reasonably practicable'' with ``extremely difficult'' as the test of attendance or video conferencing. I do not think that the practical difference would be great, but I am not persuaded that the change would be for the better or even in the direction that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey wants. A review by telephone with no visual contact between the reviewing officer and the detainee is not satisfactory, for the reasons that he mentions. Such reviews are better than no review, but they should be reserved for circumstances in which there is no reasonable scope for alternatives. That is why we are proposing the term ``not reasonably practicable''.

``Extremely difficult'' is a more subjective alternative. It gives more scope for enabling the use of the telephone review in a wider range of circumstances. That is why it should be rejected. It is not a big issue, which is why I was exploring the hon. Gentleman's attitude. The practical difference is not great, but the phrase ``not reasonably practicable'' is a better way of dealing with it.

On amendment No. 246, it does not seem reasonable to restrict the review of detention, in the extreme circumstances in which reviews of detention are necessary, to a reviewing officer present at another police station. Where an officer is prevented from attending the police station where the detainee is held—by transport difficulties or other circumstances—we believe that the most expeditious method should be used.

On amendments Nos. 247 and 254, where any review or other decision-taking process is carried out by telephone or video conferencing, there is provision for any record required to be made by another officer present at the police station. There is no requirement for reviews carried out at police stations in the standard manner to be taped or video recorded, and there are obvious reasons for introducing such requirements where these processes take place remotely.

As regards amendment no. 251, we do not wish to restrict the scope for carrying out decisions about detention by video conferencing to circumstances in which it would not be practicable for an officer present at the station to perform the relevant function. PACE offers scope for any officer to act as a custody officer where circumstances demand it. We want to ensure high-quality decision taking and access to specialist expertise by enabling certain decisions to be taken remotely. There may be an officer present at the station who could adopt the custody officer role and, for example, take decisions about charging and bail. However, the proposed arrangements allow the alternative of contacting a skilled and experienced custody officer, via video conferencing, who could significantly enhance the process by bringing his or her full knowledge and expertise to bear.

Amendments Nos. 252 and 253 suggest restricting telephone reviews and video conferencing decisions to circumstances where secure communications are available. That would place unrealistic restraints on the options. Remote decision taking can improve the quality of decisions by giving access to skilled and experienced custody officers to another station. That is why ACPO supports it and wants to use the new technology.

Telephone reviews of detention were relatively common practice before the judicial review last year. However, they are not as satisfactory as reviews where the reviewing officer has visual contact with the detainee, which is why we talk about exceptional circumstances.

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