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House of Commons
Session 2000-01
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Terrorism Act 2000

Seventh Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 7 February 2001

[Mr. Jim Cunningham in the Chair]

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers) Order 2001

4.32 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers) Order 2001.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Authorised Officers) Order 2001, the Terrorism Act 2000 (Carding) Order 2001, and the Terrorism Interviews (Scotland) Order 2001.

Mr. Clarke: On behalf of the Committee I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cunningham. We all know the fair and expeditious way in which you do business and we are delighted that you are chairing our proceedings today.

We are considering the first draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Authorised Officers) Order 2001, which was designed to bring into force the code of practice for authorised officers that was laid before the House on 15 January.

There is a requirement under schedule 14(5) to the Act for officers to perform functions conferred on them by virtue of the Act in accordance with any relevant code of practice. There is also a requirement under schedule 14(6) for the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice about the exercise by officers of their functions under the Act. Schedule 14(1) defines an ''officer'' as an authorised officer within the meaning of section 24 of the Act, that is a constable, an immigration officer or a customs officer.

The sections of the Act relating to the seizure of suspected terrorist cash by authorised officers are new. It is therefore right that there should be a code of practice to assist those who may need to seize cash. The draft code reminds authorised officers of the definition of ''cash'' under section 24(2) of the Act, which refers to coins and notes in any currency, postal orders, travellers cheques and bankers drafts. I notice that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is not present, but I should confirm that the definition would include euros, if that does not shock the Opposition too much.

The code also covers the use of immigration and customs officers as authorised officers. As in the case of examining officers, it is envisaged that they would be used only exceptionally in that capacity. The code states that authorisation prior to seizure should be obtained from a senior officer, which in the case of the police means an inspector. We believe that it is a sensible precaution in view of the potential interference with the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under the European convention on human rights.

The code also stipulates that there is no maximum or minimum amount of cash that can be seized. The Act makes no reference to that, not least because even small amounts of money can be used for furthering terrorist aims. Authorised officers are reminded, in paragraphs 7 to 10 of the draft code, of the scope of powers set out in section 25 of the Act. Those paragraphs suggest that the powers will normally only be exercised at ports. That is because, in reality, the need for their use is most likely to arise within the context of an examination under schedule 7 to the Act. The paragraphs also remind authorised officers that cash found elsewhere, which falls within the scope of section 28—cash in the postal system, for example—may also be liable to seizure.

The code sets out procedures for seizure, including important stipulations such as counting cash in the presence of the individual from whom it has been seized, and not removing cash from his or her presence until it has been physically seized. It also requires the notification contained in the annex to the code to be given to the individual concerned. That relays important information about the seizure process and about what will happen next in terms of seeking the further detention of the cash. An important stipulation is included in the code at paragraph 17, in respect of the notification, according to which the individual should be asked to sign a statement to the effect that he or she has read and understood the content.

Finally, the code makes reference to issues such as applications for forfeiture of and security of the cash. Procedures for making applications to a court for the detention, further detention, forfeiture or release of cash, to be provided for by rules of court under section 31 of the Act, include two sets of rules laid by the Lord Chancellor on 29 January, the Magistrates' Courts (Detention and Forfeiture of Terrorist Cash) Rules 2001, and the Crown Court (Amendment) Rules 2001, providing for appeals.

Schedule 14 to the Act includes a requirement to issue the code for consultation, which the Government did. That produced a number of helpful suggestions, and I thank those organisations and individuals who responded to our consultation process. One change that was made as a result of the consultation was the addition of a template of the written notification to the code.

4.37 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I join the Minister in welcoming you as Chairman, Mr. Cunningham. As the Minister will know, the Terrorism Act 2000 enjoyed cross-party support in the House. I am content with the codes of practice under consideration and the statutory instruments that will bring them into effect. I am grateful to the Minister for the explanation that he gave this afternoon.

I shall make sure that I send a runner post haste from Aylesbury to Buckingham to bring the news that euros are defined as cash within the meaning of the code of practice. However, I warn the Minister that I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham will believe that coins or notes denominated in euros should be seized and detained as a matter of moral principle rather than under the circumstances provided for in the code of practice. I am happy to support the measures.

4.38 pm

Jackie Ballard (Taunton): I have a few questions about the code of practice for examining officers. We should not take the code of practice too lightly. After all, it gives certain officers—not necessarily police officers—powers to detain and question someone for up to nine hours without having to caution him.

Paragraph 6 of the code of practice for examining officers states:

    ``Only exceptionally should an immigration officer or customs officer exercise functions under the Act and only when a police officer is not readily available''.

Will the Minister define ``not readily available''? In what circumstances would he consider it reasonable to say that a police officer was not readily available?

In relation to paragraph 18, I am sure that the Minister will know of people who are concerned about adults with learning difficulties. There have been occasions when adults with learning difficulties have said at police stations that they were guilty of a crime or inadvertently implicated themselves in a crime with which they were not involved because of the nature of their learning difficulties, not to mention the stress that they may feel when being questioned. Therefore, it is important that an adult is present when a person who has learning difficulties is questioned. At the moment, it is difficult to think of circumstances in which someone with obvious learning difficulties would be suspected of terrorism, but that is covered in the draft code, so someone has envisaged that such circumstances could arise.

Paragraph 18 says:

    ``These principles apply to other vulnerable people''.

It refers to the principles that apply to juveniles. I should like the Minister to clarify whether that means that someone with learning difficulties would not normally be examined without another adult being present—such as an advocate or friend—even if he or she were travelling alone. Again, that is difficult to imagine.

Paragraph 22 of the code deals with someone who does not understand English. It says that

    ``every reasonable effort should be made to communicate''

with that person. It is rather difficult to understand what reasonable efforts would be, apart from translation. If someone does not understand English, hand signals or body language are not likely to communicate what is happening under such an examination. Someone may be held for up to nine hours. There is time to find an interpreter if it is thought that the person will be held for more than an hour.

Paragraph 26 says that the examining officer

    ``need not give his/her name.''

I guess that that is for security purposes, because the code says further on that an officer must give information that would enable him or her to be identified if there were a complaint. Will the Minister respond to that?

The annex relates to the note that is given to the person who is to be examined. The first paragraph, under the heading ``General'', tells people that the fact that they are being questioned does not necessarily mean that they are suspected of being connected with acts of terrorism. That seems a little contradictory. I would have thought that the reason why people were examined in the first place was that there were reasonable grounds for suspicions. It seems that a wholly truthful explanation is not being given to the person who is held for questioning.

4.42 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: The hon. Lady has asked a helpful series of questions, which I shall go through backwards. On the wording of the paragraph headed ``General'' in the annex, it is important for the interview's legal status to be clear. The final sentence says:

    ``The purpose of the questioning is to enable him—

the examining officer—

    to determine whether you appear to be such a person.''

That means a person

    ``who is, or has been, concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.''


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