Draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Drug Testing of Persons in Police Detention) (Prescribed Persons) Regulations 2001

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Mr. Ainsworth: First, I want to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about balance, because it has an impact on the questions asked by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. The test in the European convention on human rights is proportionality; the measures have been introduced to deal with class A drugs, which have been proved to be associated with a high proportion of acquisitive crime. Such problems in our society justify the measures proposed. We are not introducing the measures for class B drugs, which have no proven link with acquisitive crime. The measures are proportionate, and more than in line with human rights legislation for that reason.

All aspects of human rights legislation and entitlement, the provisions of PACE and custody procedures will be included in the training. Whether those involved work for a contractor or directly for a police authority or police force, their training will be undertaken by the police. Training on the operation of the equipment will be carried out in conjunction with the manufacturer to ensure that those using the equipment are familiar with it and its methods of use, and are aware of its limitations. The civilians working on the projects will work in custody suites, supervised by the police.

Hon. Members have raised other valid concerns, of which we are aware. That is why we are carrying out the pilots in three areas, not introducing the measure across the board. We want to make absolutely certain that the procedures put in place are adequate to protect the individuals involved and that they will prove effective in showing up drug users and abusers in the prescribed circumstances.

Norman Baker: How long will the pilots last, and what mechanism is in place for assessing their effectiveness? Will the Minister give an undertaking that the system will not be rolled out further unless Parliament is satisfied that the pilots have been properly undertaken and proven by result and do not give rise to the concerns expressed by many hon. Members?

Mr. Ainsworth: There will be an interim evaluation of the pilots each year to assess how they are working and to make any necessary modifications to the codes of conduct and to the PACE regulations. The programme will not be rolled out until such evaluations, and the necessary modifications, have been made. The hon. Gentleman should be happy with those assurances; I have explained the reasons for introducing pilots rather than placing an order before the House to allow the procedures to be introduced across the board wherever drug-related crime is a problem.

The samples will be tested in the presence of the detainee. As required by PACE modifications, the police will remind the detainee of his rights to consult a solicitor. The pilots will involve taking samples of saliva; that is all.

With regard to safeguards, civilian staff currently work in detention areas and carry out DNA sampling—a procedure similar to saliva sampling—to acceptable standards and in an acceptable way. There is no difference between DNA swabbing, which is already done by civilian staff, and taking the saliva samples proposed in the regulations.

On whether it is appropriate for contractors to be involved in such areas, the same code of conduct will apply to any contractor or its staff as to the direct employees of the force or the authority. As I said in my introductory remarks, the purpose of making that allowance—not that contractors are being used in such circumstances at the moment—is to give police forces maximum flexibility so that they can respond to situations without our having to make modifications to what we have already brought into force.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire said that PACE applies only to police officers, not civilians. The guidance will cover all the civilians involved and ensure that saliva sampling is correctly carried out.

I am not sure whether I have covered all the points that have been made.

Mr. Heald: Has the Minister consulted the Police Federation and the superintendents?

Mr. Ainsworth: In drawing up the regulations, we consulted the Association of Police Authorities and the drug sub-committee of ACPO. As far as I am aware we have not consulted the Police Federation. If the Police Federation has relevant views on the proposals that should be brought to the attention of members of the Committee, I will of course ensure that we do so.

Mr. Heald: Will the Minister try to involve the Police Federation and the superintendents in future consultations? The Association of Police Authorities and ACPO are the statutory consultees, but Ministers have said in debates on previous Bills and orders that they would be prepared to consult the Police Federation and the superintendents. If they were consulted, it would mean that men doing a job on the front line would get a say in the matter.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not opposed to that but, as the hon. Gentleman has recognised, I am newly appointed to my post. If he will forgive me, I shall reflect on the point before giving the assurance that he seeks.

Norman Baker: The Minister has been helpful and I am grateful for his responses. However, he has not fully responded to the point about the criteria to evaluate whether the pilots have been successful. Does he intend to make the criteria available in advance to hon. Members and the public—shortly after the Committee rises, perhaps—so that we can judge whether they have been met? Or will they not be announced, which will mean that we will not subsequently know whether they have been met? It would be helpful to know how the Minister will judge the success or otherwise of the pilot scheme.

Mr. Ainsworth: We have nothing to hide. The three pilots are being set up in very different situations, ranging from the Metropolitan police force at one end to a rural police area at the other. The evaluation will be done openly and the findings will be reported and made known. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears that we will try to keep them secret from him or anyone else.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): The Minister spoke about giving the police maximum flexibility, but if someone is stopped on suspicion of drink-driving, and a test for drugs—which will be something other than a breath test—is carried out, could that test only be in respect of the use of class A drugs and not cannabis?

Mr. Ainsworth: In the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes, the measures simply would not apply. We are talking about people who are arrested for acquisitive crimes, where there is a proven link between those crimes and the use of class A drugs, or where a senior officer, of the rank of inspector or above, believes that there are good reasons for suspecting the use of class A drugs. The hon. Gentleman referred to drink-driving; that offence does not fall into the category of acquisitive crime and is not dealt with by the order. The purpose of the order is to enable us to identify people using class A drugs as soon as they are detained, in order that the courts can take that matter into account when considering issues of bail and so on and detainees can be referred to the appropriate rehabilitative treatment.

Mr. Heald: Am I correct in my understanding that in a case of drink-driving where a senior officer took the view that drugs were involved—perhaps because the suspect had track marks on his arms—a test could be requested, but if a suspect were found to be in possession of cannabis or another class B drug, an officer could not request such a test?

Mr. Ainsworth: We are talking about reasonable grounds to suspect the use of class A drugs. To repeat my earlier remarks, the measures need to be proportionate to the problem. The problem is the use of class A drugs, which is the justification for the measure under human rights legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Drug Testing of Persons in Police Detention) (Prescribed Persons) Regulations 2001.

        Committee rose at one minute past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Anderson, Janet
Baker, Norman
Borrow, Mr.
Brooke, Annette
Cameron, Mr.
Cryer, John
Djanogly, Mr.
Gerrard, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Heald, Mr.
Khabra, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Randall, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.

 
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Prepared 9 July 2001