Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that because it is an important point that relates to the amendments. I shall return to it.

Part of the purpose of the Government amendments to PACE made in this part of the Bill is to recognise the increasingly international nature of much criminal activity. That is common ground on both sides of the Committee. We are seeking to do that in every sphere. We want to give the police clear statutory powers to co-operate fully with police forces in other countries or—to take a current and relevant case—with international war crimes prosecutors. In such cases, crimes that have been committed outside the UK might not constitute an offence in English criminal law. That is why we want to make the change, which the amendment would prevent.

If a request for information comes from a foreign police force and is supported by Interpol and NCIS, we do not think that the conduct being investigated should have to correspond exactly to an offence under English law. Achieving exact correspondence, and the arguments that would take place in the process, would inhibit the authorities' ability to build the international relations about which we have spoken. I acknowledge that Interpol and NCIS—the gateway to the process—will need to make the judgments on crimes that do not exactly correspond to UK law but would be considered crimes nevertheless. That is the reason for assessing the information that is received from foreign police forces. That assurance might help my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe).

That is an important issue, but to go the other way and support the amendment would remove a significant power that the police need to deal with some international crimes—I cite the international war crimes issues that are in the news. The precise types of offences for which people are being tried and for which many modern techniques are being used might not exactly correspond to offences in UK law, and we do not want the police's ability to use those techniques to be impaired by debilitating legal arguments.

Mr. Hawkins: At the moment, the gateway of Interpol and NCIS is not specified in the Bill. If the Minister were prepared to re-examine whether the safeguards should be included in the Bill, that would be a different matter. The hon. Member for Hall Green might not have been in Committee to hear this earlier, but I share the concern that he raised in his helpful intervention. If a regime behaves as appallingly as President Mugabe's, what in the Bill would stop such a leader using samples and fingerprints taken here against his citizens for offences that would clearly not be regarded as crimes in the UK?

Mr. Clarke: I accept the spirit of the comments of the hon. Gentleman and of my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green. I believe that safeguards exist, but I am happy to give the commitment that I will examine carefully between now and Report whether any clarification of those safeguards would be helpful.

I acknowledge the force of the points made by hon. Members of all parties and understand that everyone needs to be assured that the powers in the Bill could not be used by despotic or tyrannical regimes. I assure the hon. Gentleman—I have already tried to do so—that that is the Bill's intention. The intention is to ensure that nothing stands in the way of building the international co-operation that we increasingly need.

I apologise if I have spoken for too long, but I have attempted to cover the substance of the issue, because the clause is one of the most important in the Bill. I hope that I have not trespassed on your patience, Mr. Gale, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment and that hon. Members will vote for the clause to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hughes: This has been a good debate and I do not intend to repeat at length the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I have made clear. We see the amendments as a way of ameliorating the clause and we shall support them. We are unhappy with the principle of the proposal for the pragmatic reasons that have been raised. We are worried about the risk to people who give their consent but might not want to do so in the future, and about the fact that we are not yet, and probably never will be, able to ensure that the DNA system works accurately. We can never ensure that the management of scientific data and materials is perfect, so that things are always as they are described. Therefore, there are pragmatic reasons why we support the amendments. There is also a democratic reason, which the hon. Member for Reigate explained very well.

There is a real issue, but we have not had the real debate that we have had on other big issues in other forums. It was not in a manifesto, it was not debated at the previous election, it was not in the Queen's Speech, it has not been debated in the round in either House of Parliament and it had not been debated before it came to Committee. The Minister conceded that the measure had come off the back of a court case. I do not criticise him for that, because we are all aware that that case left the law in an uncertain state, and it is perfectly proper for the Government to say that they need to act. However, on this big issue, just to pluck one option and place it in a part of the Bill that has many other measures is entirely inappropriate.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and many other others, I understand where the police and the Government are coming from and the importance of trying to ensure that we secure convictions properly. However, we are still not persuaded on the issue on which we have had the most exchanges. What logic justifies the holding of information about people just because they have come into contact with the law on one occasion, but does not justify holding it in other cases? My hon. Friend said that it was an opportunistic additional method of collection. That is right. It is no more logical than taking the first name on each page in the telephone book or the electoral register.

There is a slightly more coherent process. I understand that those people happen to have gone through the police system and are linked with law and order and the collection of information, but that is chance and accident. I do not have the figure in my head— the Minister may not either—but a significant number of people are arrested, charged and acquitted. I am happy to say that the criminal justice system acquits people quite often. Many are innocent; some are not. We will never know the answers to those questions.

A debate is taking place on double jeopardy, which enters the realm of what the balance should be between citizen and state. I accept the Minister's perfectly valid alternative description, but the debate is about the powers of the state, what information it should hold and what consent the citizen gives to that being held, whether or not the state believes that it is in the interests of humanity. My hon. Friends and I therefore support the amendments, but whether or not they are defeated, we will oppose the clause. I give notice that, because the next clause is similar—although it relates to Northern Ireland—we shall also seek its deletion.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I have had a brief time to consider what the Minister said on our amendment No. 276. I give notice that this is a very important issue to which we shall want to return on Report, but we want to give further thought to the Minister's response, so I will not press the amendment at this stage.

We want to press amendments Nos. 277 and 278 to a vote because there is nothing in the Bill that provides a sufficient safeguard. We agree with the important point made by the hon. Member for Hall Green. I do not want to say anything more at this stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 277, in page 68, line 16, leave out `(whether'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division No. 40]

AYES
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hughes, Mr. Simon

NOES
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Question accordingly negatived.

5 pm

Amendment proposed: No. 278, in page 68, line 17, leave out

    `or of a country of territory outside the United Kingdom)'—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division No. 41]

AYES
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hughes, Mr. Simon

NOES
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman: As I indicated earlier, I intend to suspend the Committee. It might be convenient for hon. Members if I remind them that, later in the proceedings, we will come to a significant number of potential Divisions. At that point, I shall ask for the doors to be locked, and I shall not have the doors unlocked until the voting has been completed. I am telling hon. Members now that, at the start of the sequence of Divisions at 7 o'clock, they will have one chance to get into the Committee Room. If you're out, you're out.

The Committee is suspended until 5.20 pm.

5.1 pm

Sitting suspended.

5.20 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move amendment No. 177, in page 69, line 14, at end insert—

    `( ) In subsection (7)(a) (saving for power conferred by Immigration Act 1971), after ``1971'' there shall be inserted ``or section 20 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (disclosure of police information to the Secretary of State for use for immigration purposes);''.'.

 
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