|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Terrorism Act 2000, which received Royal Assent on 20th July 2000, makes provision for police interviews to be video recorded with sound and for the video recording arrangements to be governed by a code of practice.
Your Lordships will be aware that at present interviews with persons held under counter-terrorist legislation in Northern Ireland are subject to two distinct forms of electronic recording. Silent video recording of police interviews with terrorist suspects became mandatory on 10th March 1998; the police had been operating the system administratively since 12th January 1998. The operation of the video recording system is regulated by a code of practice. In addition, an audio recording system was introduced on the authority of the Chief Constable from 10th January 1999 and became operable formally from 24th May 1999. This system is also regulated by a code of practice.
The introduction of these additional safeguards has seen a significant reduction in the number of complaints of ill-treatment at the holding centres and has provided impartial and accurate records of interviews which may be relied upon in subsequent criminal proceedings. These have been welcome developments.
However, the Government believe that the effectiveness of the existing systems as safeguards could be further enhanced in a way that is fully consistent with our human rights obligations and provides additional protection for both interviewees and police interviewing officers against claims of verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment. Therefore video recording with sound will be introduced in Northern Ireland when the Terrorism Act comes into force on 19th February 2001. Separate audio recording will continue.
As your Lordships will know from previous debates on the subject, the Government's aim is to ensure that the treatment of persons charged with terrorist crime in police custody is fair, professional, transparent and accountable. The new video recording system will also
For many years the independent commissioners for the holding centres argued the case for video recording with sound. The Government are grateful to Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and Dr Bill Norris for their work and their thorough reports; and we are pleased now to be acting to put in place measures which they have long advocated. I am happy to say that the Chief Constable of the RUC fully supports and welcomes this move. This is a major step forward.
A significant range of statutory and administrative safeguards aimed at protecting persons in police custody are already in place; the introduction of sound and vision video recording will add to the safeguards and demonstrates that the Government continue to attach the greatest importance to the protection of the rights of those held in police custody.
Other safeguards are these: audio recording of interviews; regular visits and examinations by a qualified medical practitioner; the maintenance of detailed custody records; the right to a continuous period of eight hours in any 24 hours free from questioning, travel or any interruptions; breaks for all normal mealtimes; a requirement for continued detention of suspects to be reviewed every 12 hours; the right to legal advice; and the right not to be held incommunicado.
The draft order requires interviews of persons detained under Schedule 7 (port and border controls) or Section 41 (arrest without warrant of a person reasonably suspected of being a terrorist) of the Terrorism Act 2000 which are conducted by a police constable at a police station in Northern Ireland to be video recorded with sound and that the video recording is to be conducted in accordance with a code of practice. The Act provides that the order must be debated first because the power to require sound and vision video recording is optional: an option which we are now exercising. Today, we are concerned with whether sound and vision video is right in principle. If noble Lords pass this order today, the code will be considered through the affirmative resolution procedure at a later stage.
Your Lordships will no doubt want me to say a few words about the code, copies of which are available today for those who wish to read the detail. A code of practice will be made under paragraph 4 of Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act. Paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 8 requires the Secretary of State to publish a draft code and invite public representation. The publication of the draft code was announced on Monday 6th November. The draft code sets out a range of requirements which must apply when interviews with terrorist suspects are video recorded; it also gives guidance for police officers and others on the application and interpretation of the code. The closing date for comments on the code is 29th December and it will then be laid in both Houses after comments have been considered and any appropriate modifications made.
The Government are taking this step today to bring the new system and draft code of practice into operation on 19th February 2001. The Government take the view that the many benefits of video recording with sound make this a very worthwhile step. I commend the draft order to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive explanation of the reasons for the order and how it will be operated. These provisions are a welcome addition to the repertoire of the system of criminal justice in Northern Ireland. As the noble Baroness said, they will do much to eliminate rumour and suspicion about any undue harassment of detainees and help to ensure that due process is observed by interviewing officers.
However, I have a major concern. How secure will those tapes be? It is vital that they be kept under maximum security and destroyed when no longer needed. I hope that the Minister may be able to reassure me on that important question.
Lord Luke: My Lords, we, too, welcome this extension of recording what is said at interviews. Perhaps I may raise one small point. Did I understand the Minister to say that, although the new video equipment will be installed and available for interviews, audio equipment will still be used at the same interview? It seems somewhat over the top to have two recordings at the same time.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Luke. My understanding is that it is better to use the audio tape in order to provide a written transcript of the interview than to use the video tape. The noble Lord looks puzzled and I can understand his puzzlement. Should there be any further reason for the use of the audio tape, I shall write to him and put a copy of the letter in the Library.
Audio recording is primarily of evidential value, while video recording is meant as a safeguard for the detainee and for the police. Of course, the video could be considered in criminal proceedings if needed, but only if needed, whereas the audio recording would be part of the evidence.
Tapes will be held securely in the same way as other evidence and material which may be used for evidential purposes. If access to a tape is required, the written authority of an officer not below the rank of assistant chief constable must be obtained before that security can be broken.
The draft code of practice, copies of which are available from the Printed Paper Office, provide for the accessing of tapes, security arrangements and a number of other administrative arrangements to ensure the secrecy and integrity of the sound and vision recording system.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we are nearly at the end of the parliamentary Session and it is therefore appropriate to mark the point we have reached in the resolution of the difficulties caused to so many people by high hedges.
I tabled a Private Member's Bill, the Statutory Nuisances (Hedges in Residential Areas) Bill, at the very beginning of this parliamentary Session and, within days, I had a pleasant surprise--the DETR published its consultation paper entitled High Hedges: Possible Solutions. The closing date for consultation was 31st January 2000. My Bill had its First Reading on 1lth January this year so that seemed to be good timing.
It was hard to wait for an analysis of those responses and all efforts to get an answer before the Summer Recess failed. On 10th August, the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, appeared on television and was widely reported in the press, announcing that 94 per cent of replies supported new laws to control these hedges. He declared that the Government would legislate on that matter. The DETR press release of that date stated that,
On 14th September, I had a meeting in his office with Michael Meacher and I am grateful to him for making the time available to discuss the issue in considerable detail. I was impressed by his genuine interest in the subject and his stated intention of seeing that there is appropriate legislation. The only question which remained unanswered was: when? It is almost harder for people to have the need for a solution acknowledged without seeing the positive progress towards that solution.
That is why I wanted to bring this matter again before your Lordships. We cannot allow high hedges to be forgotten. Since our last discussion of this matter in July, I have received many more letters from those suffering nuisance hedges and each one makes me sympathise more with their plight. The famous case of Michael Jones took 20 years and close to £100,000 to resolve. As the founder of Hedgeline, Michael Jones has done much to help others suffering similar problems.
I have just received a letter from Alan Boulter of Solihull, who won the case brought against his neighbour. Her costs were £11,000 and she was ordered to pay 75 per cent of his costs. All those costs, totalling over £20,000, are being met by the taxpayer, as she was legally aided. That is a poor use of public money and a simple and inexpensive system operated by the local authority would be so much better. Local authorities are accustomed to dealing with planning applications and are regularly assessing the impact of their decisions on different parties. They will be the ideal bodies to deal with the hedge issue.
Some letters tell me that the hedges have been planted with the deliberate intention of reducing the value of the house they border, by causing invasive root damage and loss of light and visual amenity. Some people have lost everything in these cases. In other cases, there has been no evil intent, simply a thoughtlessness or lack of awareness of the impact of trees growing, usually but not always, quickly to great size. Often the planter has long since moved and the trees are just evidence of the lack of any attempt to control them or are too much for the new owner to cope with. While everyone knows leylandii as a menace, they are not the only plantings causing the problem of high hedges. A tree, or row of trees, which might be beautiful in one planting position can be a menace in another.
As your Lordships and indeed the general public are already familiar with the problem, I shall not delay the House on a Friday by going into great detail. I have before me a letter dated 15th November, sent by Chris Mullin to Robert Jackson MP, who had written to him about an Abingdon constituent. A six-page DETR
Another question asks why the Government do not support my Bill, a ready-made vehicle on nuisance hedges. The reason given is that it is not a public health issue, and I take issue with the Minister on that. It is acknowledged in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 that noise is a public health issue. In what way is it a public health issue? What effect does noise have? I believe that the answer is that it causes stress, which taken to an extreme could severely damage mental health. I do not believe that noise has a physical effect, and I see the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in his place today and he may be able to comment on that. I do not include sudden blast noise or gunshot, which can physically damage eardrums. I refer to anti-social noise of the type covered by the Environmental Protection Act.
The effect of noise above a certain level is to cause stress. My argument is that stress can result from the problem of high hedges, which can cause serious physical illness. I have received letters informing me of sad cases of severe heart problems, asthma and breathing problems all caused by the problem of high hedges. However, the most common damage is due to stress or stress-related illness.
Another question in the brief refers to the cost to local authorities. The answer is vague. I feel strongly that central government support for this system is not desirable. The answer to the question seems to imply that it might be covered in the rate support grant, or whatever is the current terminology equivalent. I do not find that satisfactory. Local authorities should have the right to charge directly for services in this matter, just as they do in planning matters.
My Bill has continued through some of its stages. Your Lordships have given support from all sides of the House, for which I record my thanks. Time has run out for my Bill, but the issue remains of great importance. I urge the Government to legislate in the Session of Parliament beginning on 6th December. People who are hedge victims want action before any more damage is done to their property and their lives.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, although my name does not appear on the List of Speakers, I rise to make a brief intervention in the gap. My noble friend, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has always been keen for action to be taken on the problem of high hedges. She states that she has support from all sides of the House, and I am sure she has. However, I should like the Government to know that not everyone is of that view.
It would be a great pity to have more government legislation on matters appertaining to individuals' private homes and livelihoods. We already have hedgerow officers, who tell us what hedges we may or may not remove. We have tree preservation orders. We are told that we must not wear the skin of a mink on our backs although we can wear the skin of a sheep. We are told that we must not dig up primroses and we are to be told that Jack Russells must not chase rabbits. If we are now to have orders stating what height of hedge we may have, I believe that is going too far. My noble friend has shown many examples, and I know feels strongly about this matter, I wanted the Government to know that not everyone follows her in that respect.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, from these Benches, we thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for so vigorously pursuing her campaign. We also thank Hedgeline which campaigns and supports the victims--I believe they are victims--of stress and nuisance.
We believe that the delay has been long enough. I shall not rehearse the points ably made by my noble friend Lady Thomas when this issue was last debated in the House. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is correct that an extremely high hedge, very often at the edge of a small garden, or sometimes not even a garden, abutting somebody's window, is indeed a nuisance.
In some ways it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, because it is so easy to disagree with him. Any nuisance, be it an extremely loud noise or a smell which is impossible to live with, should be rightly dealt with so that people can live their lives according to the standards we all expect. I am sure that none of us would wish to take a frivolous view of the sort of stress described by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
In preparation for this short debate I looked at Hedgeline's website. I have been aware of similar examples both in my own neighbourhood and in the press. However, reading through the website, I found an horrendous catalogue of real distress. Some people have had to spend their entire savings, and others without savings have had to bankrupt themselves, to try to deal with the problem.
We must support the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner in asking her questions. What plans do the Government have to introduce their own legislation? I do not expect the Minister to announce what will be in the Queen's Speech. However, she might be able to
Two local government Bills have passed through this House. Local authorities already have the mechanisms to deal with nuisance. If we had included what is, in effect, a small additional power, the matter could have been dealt with much more quickly. After all, we inserted into the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill a large section on AONBs. However, I understand that the time to include a provision in the local government Bills has passed. Another Session must not pass without this extremely serious matter being regarded worthy of parliamentary time.
Lord Luke: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes is to be congratulated on initiating this debate. Her persistence and drive in this matter deserve the greatest possible success. It is a strange fact that in spite of the mediation and the best efforts of all concerned, so many of these cases result in acrimonious non-agreement.
I have a large leylandii hedge which separates portions of my garden. It needs frequent attention but does its shielding work perfectly, so I readily appreciate this problem. My noble friend Lord Ferrers brought a different aspect to this debate, on the basis that we have too many regulations. I sympathise with him on that point. However, as long as legislation provides for the possibility of action only in the last resort by local authorities for specific cases, we should support it.
It has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the Government seem to be dragging their feet on this matter. We have had the consultations and the results are plain. The Government have stated that they will bring forward legislation. As my noble friend, Lady Gardner stated, at the press conference given by Mr Meacher, he was extremely encouraging. I am glad to hear that she had a meeting with him. However, nothing has happened.
I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we cannot expect the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, to say whether such legislation might conceivably be in the Queen's Speech. If she does not do that, I hope that she will give us some idea of the time-frame within which the Government hope to be able to introduce provisions which will do the trick.
I hope that if such legislation is introduced, it will be limited to local authority involvement and, as I said before, that that would be as a last resort. There is not much more I can add to what has been extremely well put by my noble friend for the second or even the third time. There was a Bill introduced by my honourable friend Mr Andrew Rowe in another place, which did
It took the Government two years to issue the consultation document in the first place. The results of that consultation were published earlier this year. In August we were encouraged to hope that something was coming. I hope that the Minister will give us some strong indications that action will now be taken.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for once more stimulating debate on the problems caused by high garden hedges. The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton--who I know wanted to be present for this short debate but had a previous engagement elsewhere--have both been persistent in making sure not only that the Government do not lose sight of this issue, but also that the House is kept informed of the latest developments.
From all that has been said prior to today and today, it is clear that noble Lords are aware of the problems. Neighbourhood quarrels about overgrown garden hedges hit the headlines with unrelenting regularity. What we see in the newspapers and on our television screens are often the more extreme cases where the suffering is severe.
Perhaps I can say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that someone with a large garden of their own next door to a neighbour with a large garden, who has a hedge a long distance from the living area, is in a very different situation from an elderly couple living perhaps in a bungalow which receives little daylight who, even in midsummer, have to keep the electric lights burning at all times and where efforts at reasonable resolution of the problem have failed. I understand that he does not want hedge inspectors visiting his garden in order to advise him on what he ought to be doing.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page