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Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con):
May I, in the spirit of the words of the Minister, say that the Opposition agree with these amendments and therefore we will not vote against any of them? I do not think that that will come as much of a surprise to her. She is aware from the words of the shadow Home Secretary, my right
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hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), that we largely agree with the Bill. Our reservations were on the issue of religious hatred. As she says, we will come to that issue shortly.
We largely support the Bill. The Minister will confirm that it has been constructively debated in Committee and in both Houses. I believe that it has been improved. It has not had added to it the constructive approach that we took on intercept evidence. That has been debated in both Houses and there have been differences of view across the political parties. We regret the fact that that provision has not been included. We also regret that the provision for 24-hour fully manned surveillance and embarkation controls at our ports, which would have brought a big improvement to immigration and customs, has not been added to the Bill, although, as the Minister will be aware, that is a Conservative pledge in the forthcoming election. Had it been included in the Bill, it would have greatly improved it.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for outlining what the amendments will achieve. In Committee, Opposition Members were keen that the agency should have operational independence and that the Home Secretary should not be able to set performance targets. We fully accepted that the Home Secretary should be able to set targets in respect of strategic performance, but not performance targets. These amendments accept our arguments.
Amendment No. 12 concerns an important issue that touches on the role of constables. The Under-Secretary knows that there was disagreement in Committee and on the Floor of the House and we remain concerned that the Bill could undermine the role of the constable. She will have heard the words of the Police Federation and we are disappointed that the words of the Conservative party and of the federation appear to have fallen on deaf ministerial ears.
Again, these are mostly minor and technical amendments that relate to parts 3 and 4 of the Bill. However, I should like to bring the following amendments to the attention of the House. On powers of arrest, the amendments to schedule 7 and 18 simply make further consequential amendments and repeals in respect of existing powers of arrest made redundant by the new framework in clause 106. In relation to the identification of the British tsunami casualties, dealt with in amendments Nos. 27 and 44, the House will be aware[Interruption.]
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In terms of compulsory investigative powers, in clause 58, amendments Nos. 13 to 21 create a threshold of £5,000 for certain financial offences that must be met before disclosure notices may be used. These offences include those listed under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and the Theft Act 1968. This will ensure that the powers introduced by chapter 1 of part 2 of the Bill will be used proportionately to tackle only the most serious offences.
In relation to Queen's evidence, in clause 71, amendment No. 25 inserts a new clause that ensures that any hearing to vary a sentence following an agreement by the defendant to turn Queen's evidence can be held in camera, or subject to reporting restrictions, where the court considers it necessary to protect any person from harm and it is in the interests of justice. The issue was helpfully brought to our attention by the Lord Chief Justice.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The House will understand what the Under-Secretary has just said, but can she give an assurance that any defendant will know that the scales may be turned against him? For example, if two people are accused and one turns Queen's evidence and has a session with the judge in private, will that be unnecessarily prejudicial to the other defendant, although clearly the evidence will be given properly in court?
Caroline Flint: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the measure, requested by the Lord Chief Justice, was aimed at certain situations where it might be prejudicial to the person giving evidence if that were in open court. I hope to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are trying to make Queen's evidence more transparent than ever before so that, for prosecution and defence purposes, justice can be seen to be served. If he requires any detail on that point, I would be happy to write to him, but having a transparent system takes us a long way forward.
Clause 75 originally provided that the reports made by an offender under a financial reporting order must be at fixed intervals throughout the course of the order. The Lord Chief Justice was helpful in his suggestion and, as a consequence, amendment No. 26 would provide the sentencer with the flexibility to set different levels between reports. The change builds in a helpful degree of flexibility in the operation of these orders.
My understanding is that the amendment was aimed at giving some flexibility. For example, financial reporting orders can operate when someone is in prison and the time between reporting orders may be different depending on when someone is
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released from prison. I am happy to look at that particular issue for the hon. Gentleman and get back to him.
Peter Bottomley: For the sake of clarity for those who may read our proceedings, which may not amount to a very large number, imprisonment on summary conviction is liable to a term of 51 weeks in England and Wales, 12 months in Scotlanda difference of a weekand six months in Northern Ireland. That is an odd consequence of devolution. I do not necessarily expect the Under-Secretary to be able to answer in detail now, but I think that the inconsistency will look rather peculiar.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell: Let me reassure the Under-Secretary that we on this side of the House were very much aware that she had lost her place and, indeed, were rather concerned that we might have been focusing on the wrong amendment ourselves, which is very easily done at this level of detail.
As the Under-Secretary said, these amendments follow the debates in another place yesterday. We very much agree that, in respect of qualifying offences, the relevant offence must be of a value of £5,000 or above. That is the right level before a disclosure notice can kick in and was argued for eloquently in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). We accept the amendments.
I have already said that the amendments to schedules 7 and 18 simply make further consequential amendments and repeals in respect of existing powers of arrest made redundant by the new framework in clause 106. Amendments Nos. 27 and 44 are intended to deal with a particular problem that we faced in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami with the identification of British casualties. As hon. Members are aware, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 22 March that we currently estimate that there were 169 British casualties of the tsunami who were either
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killed in the disaster or who remain unaccounted for. We believe that it may be possible to identify a small number of those victims by cross-checking DNA samples and fingerprints taken from the deceased against the national DNA and fingerprint databases. These amendments would enable such checks to take place.
I am sure that the House would agree that we should do all that we can to help the relatives and friends of the victims of this terrible natural disaster by speeding up the identification of those victims by whatever means possible. I make it clear to the House that the amendments are not specific to the tsunami and would enable samples from any unidentified body to be checked against the national DNA and fingerprint databases for identification purposes.
The amendments to schedule 8 are designed to ensure that chief officers have greater flexibility when conferring powers on community support officers. As the provisions of the Police Reform Act 2002 are currently constructed, where a chief officer confers a power on a CSO to require a person's name and address, he must also confer on that CSO a power to detain for up to 30 minutes pending the arrival of a constable. We believe that chief officers should be able to confer the power to require name and address without the power to detain. These amendments provide such flexibility so that CSO powers can be tailored to meet local needs under the direction of chief officers.
The other matter that I bring to the attention of the House relates to Parliament square. It was evident on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report that there was passionate feeling on the issue on both sides of the House. [Interruption] Yes, there was passion from you as well, Mr. Speaker. Whether hon. Members are for or against what we are proposing to do, they cannot deny that there has been a great deal of discussion about it.
We have tried to listen to concerns. We still believe that, for the reasons that we have outlined in numerous debates, we have to move forward to deal with the area appropriately. I reiterate what I have said on many occasions: we are not trying to prevent people from protesting, and we are certainly not trying to stop them doing it in Parliament square, but we think that there should be a framework of conditions. We are aware of the concerns about notification and those about Trafalgar square.
As Baroness Scotland assured those in the other place, in exercising the order-making power in clause 135 we will ensure that Trafalgar square is excluded. As a result, demonstrations could continue there without the need for prior notification of the Commissioner.
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