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2 Apr 2003 : Column 957—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 105 to 108.

Hilary Benn: These are technical amendments to correct an oversight in schedule 4 to the Police Reform Act 2002. Schedule 4 allows designated civilian investigating officers to apply for warrants under section 8 or schedule 1 of PACE. In paragraph 16 we built in the usual PACE protections that would apply to a constable obtaining and executing a warrant. Those include, for example, giving full information in the application for the warrant, and those executing the warrant identifying themselves to the occupier of the premises and endorsing the warrant with what was found.

Unfortunately, some of those protections were not replicated in paragraph 17, which deals with warrants issued in relation to confidential material under schedule 1 of PACE. In summary, the amendments deal with that omission. They also make various changes to schedule 4 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to allow for the fact that someone authorised to accompany a designated civilian investigating officer in executing a warrant will, further to clause 2 of the Bill, be able to exercise certain specific powers. Relevant PACE protections must also apply to the actions of such persons. I hope that the House will accept the amendments.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I accept that the amendments correct omissions in the Police Reform Act 2002, as the Minister has just told us, but that leads me to ask whether the omission occurred as a result of the failure of the House to consider that aspect of the 2002 Act by reason of a guillotine. Can the hon. Gentleman assure me that the particular provision in the 2002 Act was fully discussed on the Floor of the House or in Committee and fully considered in the other place before that Bill became an Act? We know from this Bill that a great many of its clauses will never be discussed in the House. Much as I enjoy seeing the Minister in the Chamber, I do not want him to have to come back to the House in a year's time with another Bill to correct omissions from the present Bill.

Hilary Benn: The honest answer is that I do not know the answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's

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question, but I shall consult the record and write to him. In the process of legislating, which is an increasingly complex business, the honest truth is that we do not get everything perfect first time round. With his experience, the hon. and learned Gentleman will know that over time such oversights come to light and it is appropriate that we should use the next available opportunity to put them right. I hope that the House will accept the amendments in that spirit.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 105, in page 160, line 27, at end insert—

No. 106, in page 160, line 27, at end insert—

No. 107, in page 160, line 28, leave out paragraph 18.

No. 108, in page 161, line 2, at end insert—

"Persons accompanying investigating officers

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Schedule 2

Charging or Release of Persons in Police Detention

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I beg to move amendment No. 124, in page 164, line 18, leave out from 'section 38(1))' to end of line 19 and insert—

'(a) before "the normal powers", there is inserted "Subject to subsection (1CA) below,",
(b) after "section", in the first place where it occurs, there is inserted "37(7)(a)".'.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 123, in page 164, line 25, at end insert—

'(1CA) Where conditions are imposed by a custody officer, no condition shall apply for more than 28 days from the day on which conditions are first imposed on a person's bail without charge.'.

No. 127, in page 164, line 28, after 'application', insert 'by a constable or'.

Mr. Mullin: The amendments would place a time limit of 28 days on bail conditions imposed by a custody officer before charge. At present the police can impose conditions on bail only after a suspect has been charged with an offence. The amendments would bring about quite a large change, but when the Select Committee on Home Affairs considered the Bill before Second Reading, we accepted that it was a necessary and logical part of the move towards charging by the Crown Prosecution Service. We were reassured by the fact that the Bill contains a number of safeguards to protect the suspect—bail must be imposed by a custody sergeant; it must have the consent of the prospective defendant; and if, after he has initially agreed, he thinks it is too onerous or that it continues for too long, he can apply to magistrates to have it discharged.

The Select Committee was concerned to note that as the Bill is drafted, there is no limit to the length of time for which pre-charge bail conditions can run. We think that that is too onerous. Also, it does not provide the police or the Crown Prosecution Service with any incentive to get a move on. As we know, the criminal justice system can sometimes move a mite slowly. We therefore proposed a 28-day limit, which we based on the evidence of Mr. John Burbeck, the chief constable of Warwickshire and the spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on criminal justice matters, who I should have thought was an impeccable source.

I regret to say, however, that the Government rejected that. It has also since been drawn to my attention that some ACPO members are concerned that a 28-day limit is too tight in some cases. My amendment No. 127 attempts to address that concern by allowing for the police to apply to a magistrates court for a variation of bail conditions. It would then be for the court to determine whether it was appropriate to extend the conditions beyond 28 days.

It is not unreasonable that there should be some limit, given the delays endemic in our criminal justice system. I should have thought that the Government could quite easily concede the amendment without inflicting any damage on their objectives, and I look forward to hearing that they propose to do so.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) does a good service to the House in raising

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his concerns. Our view has always been that there was great merit in introducing the principle of bail conditions prior to charge. That may be universally welcomed throughout the House. Clearly, it is desirable because, as we discussed on an earlier group of amendments, it would allow the police to come to immediate decisions. If they can impose bail conditions that secure public protection while they are reconsidering the matter, that is a useful tool.

Against that is the fact that an individual would have restrictions placed on his freedom to behave in a lawful fashion if he wishes, without ever having been charged with any offence. As usual, the House must balance those two factors. We are comfortable, if I may use the word, with the principle of introducing bail prior to charge, but we agree with the hon. Gentleman that the current position in the Bill, which allows that to continue for an indefinite period, is gravely unsatisfactory. We concur with him that 28 days is a perfectly logical cut-off for the matter to be reconsidered. So the hon. Gentleman has our support.

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