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Viscount Waverley: While being delighted that precursors are receiving much-needed attention, I welcome the thrust of the Bill. I did not speak at earlier stages, for which I apologise, but I arrived back from central Asia only this afternoon.
Anything that will achieve a tightening of co-operation in controlled deliveries is to be welcomed; is much needed and is required by all participants at all levels in the fight against drugs with regard to the impact of precursors. I drew attention to that point on 9th December in an Unstarred Question.
However, I oppose the amendment. It is clear to me that those involved in the fight against drugs need potential bottlenecks, with their inherent delays, avoided to ensure overall effectiveness. There needs to be much greater input in decision-making at junior levels. I believe that the amendment would be viewed as unhelpful.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: We do not really understand the need for the amendment, in that the purpose of the clause is to protect the supplier of scheduled substances from prosecution in circumstances which would otherwise be unlawful. The supplier is helping the police to bring to justice an illicit producer of controlled drugs--or a potential producer. He has no interest in where the consent comes from.
I understand the concerns of the noble Baroness about entrapment and the use of agents provocateurs. If any operation involving the sale of precursor chemicals involved the use of covert policing techniques, it would in any case be likely to require authorisation at ACPO level. The noble Baroness will remember the precedents: Sections 50(3) and 51(5) of the Drug Trafficking Act 1994 and Section 12(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. Those are sufficiently serious precedents, to which I imagine that my noble friend turned for assistance. A police officer would not be committing an offence by granting the consent which the Bill allows.
I am very grateful for the support of the noble Viscount who, on a number of previous occasions, has either corresponded with me or asked Questions in your Lordships' House about this very important matter.
Lord Evans of Parkside: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for the helpful discussions that we have had. I also congratulate her on the work that she has put into this small but very important subject. I have been very impressed by the work that she has done and the people she has contacted to ensure that everything humanly possible has been done to improve the Bill.
At Second Reading the noble Baroness referred to entrapment. This point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. A distinction must be drawn between entrapment and the actions of an agent provocateur. I understand that the guidelines of both the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers make it quite clear that the police should not act as agents provocateurs to incite or counsel offences. That seems to be right and proper, and I am sure that the Committee agrees with it. But, subject to the safeguards provided by the court, I do not envisage similar objections to operations that help to catch individuals who intend to commit offences anyway. There have been examples in the past which have brought many serious criminals to justice. I suggest that the Bill does not give rise to questions of principle about the conduct of operations involving precursor chemicals which already apply to other operations, for example drug trafficking. To treat it differently would be inconsistent and unnecessary.
The main amendment would set the lowest threshold at which the police could give consent to the supply of scheduled substances in circumstances that would otherwise be unlawful. I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to the chemical industry and individual companies which have worked very hard with the authorities to try to minimise the impact of the illegal drug trafficking which unfortunately goes on at too high a level in this and other countries. But it is unusual to specify in statute the rank at which particular action may be taken by the police. Such decisions are normally left to the discretion of chief officers of police. I understand that, in instances where a minimum rank is specified in statute, very important matters are at stake. For example, a superintendent is required to authorise detention without charge beyond 24 and up to 36 hours in the case of a serious arrestable offence.
It is important to remember that constables are entrusted with very considerable powers--for example, to stop and search people and vehicles and exercise powers of arrest. I also look to the Drug Trafficking Act 1994 and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 as the best precedents to follow in this Bill. Both go only so far as to specify that the consent should be that of a constable. The noble Baroness explained that she was not absolutely wedded to superintendent as the rank at which consent should be given. At one level that is perhaps a good idea because, as a rank, superintendents are not thick on the ground. But it is worth noting the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. He referred to the danger of creating bottlenecks in issues of this kind. For example, presumably a search would have to be made for the particular officer who might not be closely involved in the particular affair.
Based on precedents in other legislation, I do not see the need for any rank other than constable to be specified. While I appreciate the tremendous work that she has put in, in all the circumstances I hope that the noble Baroness, who has listened to the Minister, and, I hope, my own modest contribution, will not seek to press her amendment at this stage.
Lord Burnham: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may draw his attention to the custom of the English language whereby for at least 500 years the word "constable" has been used, as I am sure he is aware, as the definition for anyone who is connected with the prosecution of the law, and that therefore the use of the word "constable" may well be considered to be valid and reasonable in the context of the Bill for that very reason.
However, we are now at the end of the 20th century. Many of us are accustomed to the use of "PC"--not politically correct in this context, but as a police constable. We consider that the constable is the man of no rank. He does not have three stripes on his arm and has not become a sergeant. Therefore in the context of the Bill, should not the noble Lord be a little more definite as to what is the police rank of the man who may be permitted to give authority in these cases?
Sadly we are only too familiar, in the case of the Metropolitan Police, of instances of police constables who may be considered to have misbehaved in one way or another, and possibly be corrupt. We might hope that someone of the rank of superintendent or above may be that much more responsible. We must not have someone who is corrupt who may misuse his rank or his power in such cases.
At a later stage in the Bill it might be desirable that further thought be given to that matter. I am sure that at this stage in the evening my noble friend will not press her amendment. However, perhaps further consideration could be given to the Bill's wording so that we define a little more carefully for the public what we mean and who are the persons who may have the authority to give a judgment as to whether permission should be given for any of these things to be used. I thank the noble Lord for giving way.
Lord Evans of Parkside: The noble Lord has made some important points. One of the things that I have discovered about this place which is different from the other place, is that, unlike the other place, we have the opportunity to have a Third Reading at which further amendments may be tabled leading to further discussion.
I note the point that the noble Lord made. The noble Lord referred to the Metropolitan Police and some of the dreadful and sad cases that we have seen in recent months. The noble Baroness referred also to that matter. When we think of corruption within the Metropolitan or any other police force, we should not think only of constables. Sadly and unfortunately, there has been corruption and convictions which have gone far beyond the rank of constable.
We read from time to time about drug trafficking and the illegal drugs trade. I have read that a million pounds or hundreds of thousands of pounds offered in bribes is not uncommon. I shall consider what the noble Lord said about the word "constable", and, if necessary, we
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to my noble friend for his intervention at this late hour, which I warmly welcome. I am pleased that he wishes us to look more carefully at definitions. One of the definitions that I might remind the Committee was raised on Second Reading was that of agent provocateur. I look at the Government Chief Whip in the context of the timing of the end of our business today, and the definition of that phrase becomes a little clearer.
I return to the substance of the Bill. The Minister referred to the fact that the Bill would protect the innocent chemical manufacturers and I greatly welcome that. However, I believe that there is a necessity to bear in mind the protection of the public, too. That is the reason why I brought forward this amendment. An action as important as granting consent to a manufacturer to continue to manufacture substances, suspecting that they will be used in an illegal drugs trade, is so serious that it ought to be taken in the full knowledge of a senior officer of the police force.
I do not intend to divide the House or to press the matter further. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Parkside, mentioned, there is in this House the prospect of Third Reading. I give a commitment that I do not intend to seek a Report stage. I have no wish to prevent the Bill from becoming law as quickly as possible so that it may protect the chemical manufacturers who are assisting the police. In bringing the amendment forward, I am trying to ensure that we also protect the public. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.