Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hughes: I ask these questions in ignorance of the answer, so if the Minister can tell us it will help. First, is there a lowest rank of officer who, according to police guidelines or practice agreed across the country, must be present in a station or custody suite? Secondly, in relation to people held under the Terrorism Act 2000, is there also guidance on the minimum rank of officer who must be present or available to deal with people who are held in the custody suites designated for use by people held under the terrorism legislation?

Mr. Clarke: I am advised that the lowest rank, in both cases, is normally sergeant, but I shall reflect on the issue before giving an authoritative answer. If there are no more questions, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: We are not satisfied with the Minister's answers. We believe that he is wrong. We pay tribute to the work of ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association. However, those more senior ranks are inevitably more concerned about cost—especially ACPO, which receives so little money from the Government that it is bound to be concerned about cost saving—whereas the Police Federation and inspectors at the sharp end of the work think that the Minister is wrong, as does Liberty.

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

Mr. Hawkins: I will not give way, as I am being brief. We want to return to these matters on Report so, at this stage, I will not press our amendments.

Mr. Hughes: I want to thank my colleagues who work behind the scenes—in particular, someone who has ``looked after'' me since I took over responsibility for home affairs, our senior home affairs researcher, Steve Radford, who was trained by Alex Carlile and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and is therefore well equipped to do the job of supporting me and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, for which we are grateful.

I understand the Minister's reply about amendments Nos. 214 and 215, which would replace ``not reasonably practicable'' with ``extremely difficult'', and realise that there may not be a significant difference between the two. As he will understand, we tabled them as a marker in an attempt, in combination with other proposals, to make the clause more acceptable. Rather than take the Committee's time by pressing the amendment, I will ask leave to withdraw it. However, as I said, we will seek a Division on the clause, because we believe that it should not stand part of the Bill, in the hope that it will return in a different form.

Mr. Clarke: In answer to an earlier intervention I gave the hon. Gentleman a partial answer. I want to make it clear that the custody officer must normally be a sergeant, but a lower ranking officer can act as custody officer when no one else is available.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister. If the Bill is passed containing that provision, there is an argument for a review of both the general rule—that the custody officer should normally be a sergeant—and the exceptional circumstances in which the officer can be of a lower rank. When we are considering custody with such powers, especially custody under the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000, there is a strong public and professional case for an officer of more senior rank to be available, even if not immediately on the premises at all times. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I should like formally to move that the Programming Sub-Committee reconvene.

The Chairman: I take the point of order, but not the motion, because there is no provision for any Committee member to move that that Committee reconvene. It is open to any member to request that that is done; it is up to the Chair to make the decision, so it is not a question of a vote.

Mr. Heald rose—

The Chairman: No, it is all right. I have considered the matter carefully and taken advice; we are in slightly uncharted waters. Given the representations made to me, it appears to me proper to suspend the sitting. However, I have also been told that at present there is no cross-party agreement on the issue. Given the limited time that we have to discuss the remaining clauses that must be dealt with this morning under the terms of the timetable, I think that it would be inappropriate to suspend the Committee for long, because I have a duty to all members of the Committee to protect the time available. I therefore propose to suspend the Committee only until 12 o'clock. That will require the removal from the Room of all those who are not Members of Parliament. Any hon. Member is entitled to attend any meeting of any Programming Sub-Committee. What I am telling Committee members who are not members of the Sub-Committee is, ``Don't feel obliged to move, because if we finish before 12 o'clock, it would be helpful to have you here so that we can reconvene immediately.''

11.43 am

Sitting suspended.

12 noon

On resuming—

The Chairman: Before we resume debate on the clauses, we have a formal motion from the Programming Sub-Committee for the Committee to consider and debate.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move,

    That the Programming Order of the Committee of 6th February, as amended by the order of the Committee of 1st March, be amended by leaving out lines 27 to 43 of the Table and inserting—

    13thClauses 70 to 761 pm
    14thClauses 77 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules
    15thClause 77 to 86, Schedule 4, Clauses 87 to 101, Schedule 5, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 6, Clauses 107 to 127, Schedule 7, Clauses 128 to 131, Schedule 8, Clause 132, new Schedules.7 pm''
    The motion is an effort by the Government to give more time along the lines requested by the Opposition. The change in the cut-off was specifically suggested by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. Our practice throughout the Committee has been to agree to whatever division of time seems appropriate to the Opposition. That was the whole concept of the programming motions.

    I hope that we shall spend as much of our time as we can between now and 1 o'clock debating the substance of the Bill. We have spent a substantive time in debate on procedure away from the issues, as the Opposition will point out. There has been disagreement throughout about the end date of the Committee. The Government wanted 8 March and the Opposition consistently argued for an extra couple of sittings and an end date of 13 March. I will not reiterate the proposition that I made when we last discussed the programming resolution, but we have sought to deal with the Opposition's wishes by going even further than previously in proposing additional extensions.

    We have always been ready to consider other time scales in the event that the usual channels could agree a time to reach certain business, because we thought it important that we covered the wide-ranging issues in the Bill as fully and comprehensively as possible. I do not intend to return to the acrimonious tone of some of our previous discussions. I can see no merit in doing so. You, Mr. Gale, have been clear in your injunctions towards us, which I respect given your role as Chair and because you are right. Doing so would not help us consider the legislation.

    The Opposition moved an amendment in the Programming Sub-Committee that would have meant that the Committee's final sitting was on 13 March. The Government opposed it for the reason that we have done so throughout, which is that there is ample time to consider the issues in the Bill. I note that no decisions came to a vote when the guillotine fell yesterday. Debate was full on the whole issue.

    There are disagreements, but the Government consider that they should be about the substance of the Bill. The Opposition appear to believe that they should be about the procedures of the House. I have said, on several occasions, that there are concerns about the working of the timetabling of Committees. Such concerns arose in relation to the Committee of the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, where the proceedings of the Programming Sub-Committee were confidential.

    I would have hoped that all members of the Committee could accept that we should consider the matter in a constructive way. We are committed to doing so. As we have said throughout, we are tied by the system that we have. We have to work within that system, and we are trying to get the maximum possible debate on all the important issues in the Bill, in answer to public interest and concern.

    Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. These are important matters, and we should be paying attention to what is happening here. I want to ask for your guidance as to whether it is in order for members of the Committee to complete a large number of what appear to be Labour party birthday cards while they are attending the Committee. I believe that that is what the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) is doing.

    The Chairman: Members' conduct in Committee is entirely a matter for them. As far as I am aware, the House rules state only that Members may not consume food or drink in Committee other than water, and may not read newspapers. What Members do other than that is up to the Members concerned.

    Mr. Heald: I shall be brief, because my concern and that of other Opposition Members is well known. Bills of this sort usually have more than 20 sittings. That is true of the Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act 1982, and it is true of the Bill that became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Bills of this length on such matters always have more time allocated to them than the Government have offered on this occasion. That is why we have consistently made the suggestion that the out date should be 13 March, not 8 March. That is based on a tight view on the amount of time that is required.

    No time has been wasted in this Committee, as I set out at column 346. We have been dealing with the matters, and yet yesterday we lost 25 clauses and 44 amendments. There was no debate on those measures at all. The Minister will say that we did not vote on them at the end. We could not. We were not allowed to vote on our amendments. Some 44 amendments were lost, because when the guillotine comes down, all the Opposition's amendments and new clauses fall.

    We do not disagree with many of the principles behind the Bill, but we have points of detail to raise, which the Minister and his colleagues have, on numerous occasions, had to accept as good points. In the Sub-Committee today, we asked to sit all night, starting at 4.30 pm, because we want the time to scrutinise the Bill properly. That was rejected—the Minister would not wear it and he voted against it, as did other Labour Members. The change to the out date was also rejected.

    Finally, it is true that, with the Minister offering an extra two hours tomorrow, I thought that it would be sensible if we completed consideration of the Bill only as far as the end of clause 76 by 1 pm today. However, I do not agree that the Committee should be guillotined, and I made that perfectly clear. I do not consent to the principle at all—I am adhering to it only out of desperation, because we want to do the best that we can with what is a cack-handed and useless way of scrutinising legislation, with inadequate time. The system is an insult to the Opposition. I know that the Minister thinks that we should all be jolly nice about the matter, but we feel very angry about it. We have been insulted and the whole system of parliamentary scrutiny has been traduced. That is wrong.

 
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